Government and local authorities must get serious about early years

17 December 2013

The performance of children’s centres must be treated as seriously by local authorities as questions about the effectiveness of schools or other services for children, says the Education Committee

Launching a report that examines Sure Start children’s centres, Education 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.

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.”

The report also calls for:

  • The core purpose of children’s centres to be reviewed and reshaped to focus on achievable outcomes, and to make clear whether centres should prioritise services for children or for parents.
  • Government to develop a new national outcomes framework to increase the accountability of individual centres.
  • Government to restore the requirement for every centre to have a link with a qualified teacher. 
  • Closer integration of services delivered by different agencies for children and families but not necessarily co-location.
  • More effective procedures for passing on information from children’s centres to schools and nurseries.
  • Local authorities to be clear about the outcomes they expect from programmes run by centres and their own role in commissioning programmes.
  • Stronger and more effective governance of children’s centres linked to their statutory duty. 
  • A new duty on local authorities to put children in need and their families in contact with services, including children’s centres.
  • DfE to restore the national collection of data on the reach of individual centres in order to identify both good and poor practice.
  • Government to examine how a longer term view of children’s centre funding can be taken within current spending decision cycles.
  • Local authorities to monitor availability of places for two year olds in good and outstanding settings and the Government to introduce flexibility in the use of the two year old funding so that authorities can offer direct support to families as well as early education to the child.
  • DfE to set out a strategy for ensuring the survival of maintained nursery schools and encouraging the development of nursery schools with children’s centres.
  • Ofsted to check that all centres have training plans for their staff and that the plans are being implemented.
  • National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) to take on a role in developing Early Years Teaching Centres and to set out a career structure for children’s centre staff.
  • Leadership qualifications to be overhauled and redesigned with the involvement of practitioners.

Further information

Image: PA

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, Education, Communities and families, Children and families, Local authorities, Pre-school education, Special educational needs, House of Commons news, Commons news, Committee news

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