CHILDREN’S centres in Swindon are being left open to poor Ofsted inspections, a council report claims.
Despite efforts to convince parents to use their local centre, many are failing to do so.
A council report has said that while plans have been introduced to improve matters, the level of change is not quick enough.
Last year Ofsted changed the targets needed to achieve a ‘good’ rating, meaning that each centre must now have 80 per cent of under-fives in the catchment area signed up and 65 per cent of vulnerable children attending.
Before this change, parents in Swindon were able to visit any centre they wished. Earlier this year several children’s centres were rated ‘less than adequate’, largely due to a lack of data about people in the area.
Among them was the Salt Way Children’s Centre in Middleleaze and the Ladybird Centre in Highworth.
A plan has been put in place to enable more information to be provided, but the report has warned they are unlikely to meet the targets ahead of the next inspections.
Last year several of the town’s centres were merged in a bid to save money. Council leaders have denied this budget cut is responsible for the failures as other centres are not being affected.
Following the Ofsted report into the Ladybird Centre, Councillor Fionuala Foley (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn), the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This is not an issue about budgets. It’s about all the centres. Are there problems in the others, where there have also been cuts? No there aren’t.
“The Ofsted criteria for children’s centres changed a year ago, and around half of Ofsted inspections nationally have found similar issues with the data supplied by local authorities to children’s centres.
“There will always be a time lag between a new policy and the ability to implement it.”
Since these reports, children’s centres now receive regular monthly data for registration, attendance and vulnerable groups who are attending.
Monthly meetings have also been set up with centres that have yet to be inspected.
As part of the process the council is trying to encourage parents to sign up to the centres Coun Foley said: “Many parents know about the services at children’s centres and regularly make use of them, but there could be others who may feel they don’t need the services now.
“However, it’s important that they become members too, so the centres can send them information in the years when they are eligible to use them, because it could remind them that help is available just when they might need it.”
Parents can find out more and download a membership form at www.swindon.gov.uk/childrenscentres