According to its own website: “Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. It therefore seems bizarre that for the last three years it has not inspected a single Children’s Centre in its entirety. This news came in this article which explained:‘The government suspended Ofsted inspections of children’s centres in September 2015 “on a short-term basis” pending a consultation on their future, which is still yet to take place. The suspension came after the announcement of the consultation by former childcare minister Sam Gyimah in July 2015 and a promise that the government would launch an open consultation on the future of children’s centres in autumn 2015. According to analysis by Action for Children, had inspections not been suspended, an estimated 969 children’s centres – around 40 per cent of the total – would have been assessed for quality of performance and impact. Before the suspension, Ofsted was required to inspect centres no later than five years after the previous inspection. 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 Childrens Minister, Nadhim Zahawi was recently asked this question about Childrens Centres by Dan Carden who is the MP for Liverpool Walton. The question and part of the answer are:
DC: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of the closure of Sure Start children’s centres on the school readiness of children in Liverpool Walton constituency.
NZ: Due to the wide range of services that affect educational outcomes for young children, it is not possible to draw a causal link between children’s centre services and a child’s educational attainment….If a council decides to close a children’s centre, statutory guidance is clear that they should demonstrate that local children and families would not be adversely affected and local areas continue to have sufficient children’s centres to meet their needs.
Now clearly if the Childrens Centres were being inspected, there is a possibility that Nadhim Zahawi would have been able to answer this question with a bit more background knowledge. However it is not just Zahawi and his predecessor Gyimah who is now the Minister responsible for Higher Education who seem oblivious to the needs to carry out a comprehensive assessment of Children’s Centres. According to this article the Chief Inspector at OFSTED, Amanda Spielman explained to MPs that she is unconcerned that the regulator has not inspected a children’s centre for nearly three years, adding that a decision on future oversight is a matter for government. Appearing before the education select committee, Spielman said she is satisfied that current arrangements are sufficient. Responding to questioning from Labour MP Lucy Powell, Spielman said: “The short answer is I’m not concerned.” it is “a matter for government” to consider what the most appropriate mechanism for overseeing children’s centres is. “I’m not convinced from what I have seen inspection is the right tool to look at whether children’s centres are as effective as they should be. “I think it is fundamentally a question for the Secretary of State [for Education] about the future of children’s centres and the oversight of them.”
It seems reasonable for the OFSTED inspector if she does not believe an inspection is the best way of overseeing a children’s centre to express her view regarding what is the best mechanism and while she is expressing that, perhaps she can explain to MPs and the rest of society, if OFSTED inspections work for Schools, Prisons, PreSchools and Local Authorities?