Government 'letting down' families as 1,000 children's centres not inspected for over five years

Posted by Media team / Monday 22 January 2018 /

Nearly 1,000 children’s centres¹ across England have not been inspected for over five years, according to new analysis published today (Monday 22 January 2018) by the charity, Action for Children.

The Government suspended Ofsted² inspections in September 2015 ‘on a short-term basis’ pending a consultation on the future of children’s centres, which has not taken place. Had inspections not been suspended, the charity estimates 969 children’s centres³ - around 40 per cent of the total - would now have been assessed for quality of performance and impact. 

While the suspension has been in place, Ofsted has still been responsible for emergency inspections of centres if a safeguarding concern is raised. However, a Freedom of Information request sent to the inspectorate by Action for Children, in July 2017, revealed no such emergency inspections were carried out as none were required.

Before the suspension, Ofsted was required to inspect centres no later than five years after the previous inspection4. Inspections collect evidence on aspects such as the safety of the centre, how its public finances are managed, how well it serves young children and parents in the area and its success in identifying prospective families in most need.


"The Government acknowledges that children’s centres have an ‘important role to play’ in ensuring all children get the best possible start in life, but the ongoing freeze of Ofsted inspections is undermining them."

Sir Tony Hawkhead, Chief executive of Action for Children

Chief executive of Action for Children, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “The Government acknowledges that children’s centres have an ‘important role to play’ in ensuring all children get the best possible start in life, but the ongoing freeze of Ofsted inspections is undermining them.

“Without evidence from Ofsted about how centres can improve, central government has left local authorities with no clear national standards or framework for these vital services.

“How are we to know how well families are being supported, or the impact of the £1bn of public money spent on children’s centres since 2015? Would we allow all schools and hospitals to go uninspected for so long?

“While it continues to drag its feet, central government is letting down tens of thousands of children and families who need support now. It urgently needs to push through its overdue review of early years services so children’s centres have clarity about how they should be working, what they should be achieving and the accountability framework they are working to.”

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Huw Beale, Action for Children – 07718 114 038 /

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¹ Children’s centre: defined in law as a place or a group of places where local authorities make available integrated early childhood services are made available (either by providing the services on site, or by providing advice and assistance on gaining access to services elsewhere).

² Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills and inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. Ofsted is a non-ministerial department.

³ Methodology

To provide an estimate we used records of previous Ofsted inspections of children’s centres between 2010 and September 2015. Using postcodes and addresses, we compared inspection reports to a current list of children’s centres available from the Getting Information About Schools (GIAS) a real-time data on Sure Start children’s centres and children’s centre linked sites has been supplied by local authorities operated by the Department for Education.

Focusing on those designated children’s centres still open as of December 2017, we added five years to their last inspection date to give us an ‘Estimated Inspection Deadline’ (EID). We then counted the number of centres with an EID that fell between September 2015 and December 2017 – the period inspections have been suspended.

The 969 figure relates to designated children’s centres. There are a further estimated 216 linked sites which are now due an inspection. Linked sites are formerly children's centres in their own right, but they no longer meet the statutory definition of a children’s centre. However, they offer some early childhood services on behalf of another children's centre. These sites are likely to form part of a single inspection with the lead children’s centre they are linked to leading to a single report and judgment. We removed any centres from our estimate that may have been inspected as a standalone centre and then inspected as part of a children’s centre group later in the cycle.

Our approach produced an estimate of 969 based on centres meeting the following criteria:

  • Open as of 31 December 2017
  • Inspected by Ofsted at some point since 2010 and not subsequently inspected as a centre group after April 2013
  • Currently designated as a full children’s centre not a linked site
  • Would have been five calendar years since last inspection between 25 September 2015 and 31 December 2017

4 Under the Childcare Act 2006 Ofsted has the responsibility to inspect children’s centres at set intervals outlined in regulation. The Children’s Centres (Inspections) Regulations 2010 set out the intervals for inspection and state that centres should be inspected or before the fifth anniversary of the previous inspection of the centre.

  • On Friday 25 September 2015, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare wrote to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to inform him of the temporary suspension of inspection arrangements. The full letter is available here.
  • In an interview with Nursery World, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare announced government would be launching a consultation into the future of children’s centres and was set to launch in Autumn 2015. The article is available here. In a subsequent letter to the Education Committee, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare said outcomes of the consultation would be published in spring 2016.
  • In 2015/16 local authorities spent £737 million on children’s centres and £687 million in 2016/17 (real terms).
  • The Minister of State for Children and Families responded to a written response to a parliamentary question about whether it is government policy to conduct a consultation into children's centres on Tuesday 12 December 2017. In the response, the Minister said: ‘The government is committed to ensuring that all children, regardless of background, get the best possible start in life. Children’s centres have an important role to play. I am aware of the previous commitment made to consult on the future of children’s centre services. However, we rightly want to take some time to gather evidence and consider what steps would be appropriate.’ Children's Centres: Written question – 118316 is available here.
  • Action for Children helps disadvantaged children across the UK through fostering or adoption, by intervening early to stop neglect and abuse, by influencing policy, and by making life better for disabled children. With over 600 services the charity improves the lives of 370,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers every year.