[holding answer 22 March 2010]: Sure Start Children’s Centres are becoming a universal service—on 16 March, the Prime Minster announced that the Government had met their target for 3,500 Sure Start Children’s Centres in England. Children’s Centres provide access to integrated services for young children and their families. They contribute to all Every Child Matters outcomes and a number of my Department’s Strategic Objectives, in particular: to secure the wellbeing and health of children and young people; achieve world class standards in education; and close the gap in educational achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The National Evaluation of Sure Start, which has been under way since 2001, is comparing the development of children living in areas with children’s centres originally established as Sure Start Local Programmes with children living in other areas. Its most recent report published in 2008 provides evidence of improved outcomes for children and families living in early Sure Start areas. Families living in early Sure Start areas used more child and family-related services than those living elsewhere. The reported benefits appeared to apply to all social groups, including those facing most disadvantages.
The National Evaluation showed that children behave better and are more independent if they live in early Sure Start areas. Parents have more positive parenting skills and provide a better home learning environment for their children, helping prepare children to do well at school and make the most of their talents.
The 2008 Foundation Stage Profile results show that 21,000 more five-year-olds are achieving a good level of development across a range of areas of learning and at the same time gaps have narrowed—lowest achieving children and children from disadvantaged areas are starting to catch up. These results suggest that our reforms and investment in the early years—including through Sure Start—are starting to have an impact on all children, and in narrowing gaps.
The latest report from the National Evaluation of Sure Start indicated that young children living in the early Sure Start areas were more likely to have received the recommended immunisations and less likely to have had an accident resulting in injury.
The Department’s research on the use of children’s centres, carried out by Taylor Nelson Sofres, entailed interviews with parents and carers of young children during 2008. The report in 2009 indicated that 78 per cent. of respondents knew about their local centre, and 92 per cent. who had used their local centre were satisfied with the service they received. The report also showed high levels of satisfaction with individual services provided through children’s centres such as child care, nursery education, health, and family and parenting services.