How many ways to count a children’s centre?

Posted by Dan Breslin / Monday 10 September 2018 / Children's centres

The number of children’s centres currently open, and the number which have closed, is widely debated. It is also very political. Which makes having a simple, impartial way of getting an accurate number all the more important.

But it seems this isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

Action for Children are currently looking into the usage of children’s centres across England and how this has changed in the last few years.

Amongst the many interesting responses we are getting back has been details on the number of children’s centres in certain local authorities. The Department for Education operates the Getting Information About Schools (GIAS) – a real time database where contact details for each children’s centre in England are listed. This allows anyone to count the number in each local authority and the total number in England.

However, our responses are painting a very different picture of the number of centres to the one the GIAS shows.

In one local authority, the GIAS database currently list several centres available for parents to use. But when we contacted the local authority in question as part of our research on usage, we were told their last children’s centre closed in 2016.

This doesn’t appear to be an isolated problem.

Research from the Sutton Trust found an estimated number of centres closures on the Department for Education’s database to be significantly lower than the number which has actually closed their doors. The report highlighted the delays in local authorities updating GIAS as part of the problem. Guidance to local authorities says they should update GIAS ‘regularly’ I think we can all agree that not doing this once in over two years isn’t as ‘regular’ as you would hope.

The Children’s Minister has said that the responsibility for updating GIAS is shared between the Department for Education and local authorities. But there seems little attempt from the Department to correct the problems that lead to discrepancies in numbers. The Minister still believes that the GIAS is the most efficient and proportionate method for local councils to report children’s centre closures on a regular basis. The system itself might be proportionate, but it doesn’t appear to be all that accurate.

Of course councils are full of busy staff working long hours every day. But taking nearly two years update a database suggests a much bigger problem is at hand.

Not having an accurate count of centres is just one indication of how the Government has turned their back on these services. A 53% funding cut since 2010 and over 1,000 centres not inspected by Ofsted since 2015 is simply further evidence. 

This is why we urgently need a government review. We know public pressure counts, so we need you to add your voice if haven’t already.  

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