Safeguarding fears raised over suspension of Ofsted inspections

By Neil Puffett and Jess Brown

| 03 March 2016

Concerns have been raised over the potential safety implications of an ongoing suspension of Ofsted inspections of children's centres.

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Children's centres are rated, among other things, on policies and procedures around safeguarding. Picture: Phil Adams

The suspension of Ofsted inspections of children's centres was announced last year by childcare minister Sam Gyimah.

After revealing in July that the government would hold a consultation on the future of children's centres, in September he said he was “on a short-term basis”, suspending the requirement for Ofsted to undertake inspections, pending the outcome of the consultation, which was due to launch in the autumn.

In January CYP Now revealed that the consultation had been delayed and the Department for Education (DfE) is still yet to announce when it will take place. It has now been more than five months since the last Ofsted inspection of a children's centre.

Figures in the children and young people sector have raised concerns about the current lack of oversight, suggesting that safeguarding could be an issue.

Jan Cosgrove, national secretary of Fairplay for Children, said: "Children's centres are a venue where children are in contact with adults.

"You would expect the adults to be professional and maintain high standards just as in any other context where professional staff are working with children, but child protection incidents can happen. Why are children's centres no longer considered important in terms of safeguarding?

"I can't see people thinking that if another area came under review such as schools, youth clubs or nurseries, it would be appropriate to stop inspections.

"There is a lack of focus at the DfE about their responsibilities on this."

David N Jones, chair of the Association of Local Safeguarding Children Board Chairs, said his organisation is increasingly concerned by the significant reduction in children's centre provision across England. He added that the suspension of Ofsted inspections is also a worry.

"At this point, with all the pressures around, not having effective scrutiny of what is happening [in children's centres] is very troubling," he said.

As of 31 August 2015, 56 per cent of children’s centres were judged to be "good" or "outstanding", 33 per cent were judged to "require improvement" and two per cent were found to be "inadequate". 

Under the current framework, the effectiveness of the centre’s policies and procedures, including those for safeguarding and staff recruitment, is among areas that children’s centres are rated on.

Other areas include the effectiveness of governance, leadership and management, and the availability of resources and services to meet young children and families’ needs.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, said it is vital that children’s centres are inspected in some form.

“Children’s centres were envisaged as providing a range of preventative and supportive services in order to promote resilience in families and reduce the need for statutory safeguarding interventions,” he said.

“Whilst they may not need individual inspections it is vital that they are inspected as part of overall local authority children’s services inspections undertaken by Ofsted.”

Jaine Stannard, head of commissioning and safeguarding at charity School-Home Support, is concerned that struggling centres won’t have the support to improve.

“Often children's centres are the only place that children under five see professionals on a regular basis and if services are not effective the opportunity to pick up any issues in their wellbeing or development may be missed,” she said.

“Without inspections there is a risk that bad practice could be allowed to develop and go unchallenged."

Denise Burke, chief executive at Smallsteps, said centres that have already been rated “inadequate” will have no urgency to resolve issues including safeguarding, while other centres "could become complacent".

“The situation is untenable and chaotic," she said.

"I'm not sure government understands the implication of delaying the consultation."

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