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Children’s centres' aims are ‘too vague’ – MPs

The core purpose of children’s centres must be reviewed, the education select committee has urged. The MPs have called for the government to focus on achievable outcomes and longer-term strategy in their new report.

Committee chair Graham Stuart MP said: “Education is too important to wait until children reach school age. The Government needs to prove that it is serious about closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children by setting out coherent, long-term thinking on early years and children’s centres.”

The report recommends that government should develop a new national outcomes framework, restore the requirement for every centre to have a link with a qualified teacher, and for centres to develop stronger and more effective governance.

The DfE should restore national collection of data on the reach of individual centres and Ofsted should check all centres have training plans for their staff.

A longer term view on funding is essential, and the committee also recommends close integration of services – although not necessarily co-location. A new duty on local authorities to put children in need and their families in contact with services including children’s centres could improve provision of care.

Stuart said: “Ministers should start by making clear the Government’s strategy for realising its aspiration to put in place a highly qualified workforce with equal pay and status between early years teachers and those in primary schools.

“The Government also needs to be clear what children’s centres should be offering and who they are for. We identified three different types of centres but this is not reflected in current policy. We also found that the stated core purpose is far too vague and broad. The core purpose needs to focus on achievable outcomes and reflect the difference between centres, especially where they do not offer early education or childcare.

“We want stronger accountability for how well individual children’s centres perform and, critically, for how effectively local authorities use children centres to improve outcomes for children in their areas.

“Closing children’s centres should go ahead only after proper consultation and where alternative options have been considered. While some changes may make the network as a whole more effective, it should be up to local authorities to decide how best to organise and commission services.

“We also recognise that funding pressures mean some targeting of services is inevitable but we believe all families should be able to access the services they need and that universal services of some sort play a significant part in encouraging families to engage in the first place.”

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(Library image, copyright Blackpool Borough Council)


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