Ofsted will scrap individual inspections of children’s centres in favour of local authority-wide assessments, childcare minister Elizabeth Truss has said.
Truss told the education select committee today that the inspectorate will judge local authorities on the effectiveness and reach of children’s centres, providing an overall rating for each council.
She said inspectors will judge councils under an entirely new framework, taking into account the quality of “early help” services and outcomes.
However, Truss said Ofsted will continue to individually inspect the few children’s centres that provide early education, judging centres under the existing early years inspection framework.
She said: “Ofsted are going to be moving towards a local authority inspection-based regime.
“They’re not just looking at what goes on in each centre, they’re looking at the reach of the centre and what is going on across the whole of the authority.
“What we want to see is where there is early education in children’s centres, that’s inspected in the early education framework. On the early help side, they will be judged as part of these local authority based inspections, which is how they are reaching out to parents, how they are helping families.”
Truss told the committee the move will allow the Department for Education to see what services are being provided across local authorities and how they are being delivered.
She said she has been working with Ofsted to devise the new inspection framework after deciding that the current regime does not fit with the core purpose of children’s centres.
Truss said: “I think one of the issues has been that Ofsted’s inspection regime wasn’t aligned to the core purpose – I think that has been creating confusion.
“The government has set out a direction for the role we see for children’s centres but the Ofsted regime, not going into local authorities and seeing that the overall provision is for an area, [was] out of step.”
She said Ofsted is about to consult on the new framework.
However, a spokeswoman for Ofsted said it is not ready to consult on the plans.
She said: “We are considering how to inspect children’s centres in the future and will build on it in due course. It’s not imminent.
“The current inspection cycle for children’s centres doesn’t finish until 2015.
“We haven’t done any work on what it might look like.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said changing the inspection framework would be a logical move.
She said: “There is logic in widening the Ofsted inspection framework to local areas as children’s centres bring together a wide range of services that need to be co-ordinated and delivered strategically.
“This will mean an enhanced role for local authorities in the co-ordination of children’s centres, monitoring, maintaining and improving quality.
“It will be important that they have the capacity to do this and the focus must be on ensuring quality.”
Truss told the committee that her work with Ofsted had distracted her from giving her full attention to the findings of its December report and said it was “quite difficult” for her to respond.
She was recalled to give evidence after the committee said her initial response was inadequate.