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Sure Start Children’s Centres

Volume 601: debated on Monday 26 October 2015

6. What assessment she had made of the effect of the services offered by Sure Start children’s centres on the families who use those centres. (901767)

It is crucial that we evaluate the impact of children’s centres for families. The Department for Education has funded the “Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England” research, and three interim reports were published in June 2015. I expect the full impact report to be published later this year, with a consultation to follow on how children’s centres can have the greatest impact for local communities going forward.

Palfrey Sure Start in my constituency has twice been rated outstanding for doing community-based work and culturally sensitive work, not just childcare. What further steps can be taken to ensure that it can continue to support parents with this vital work?

The hon. Lady is an excellent and assiduous MP. I congratulate the Sure Start centre in her constituency on the excellent work it is doing. That highlights the fact that, to look at the future of children’s centres, we must look at more innovation and other ways of delivering services that work for local communities and satisfy local demand.

In Enfield, some 12 children’s centres have been closed. Headteachers tell me that that is resulting in more and more children not being school-ready, which affects their progress throughout their whole primary school career and beyond. What does the Minister intend to do to address that problem?

Labour Members continue to count buildings rather than services when they talk about children’s centres. One million families have benefited from children’s centre services. Free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and for all three and four-year-olds is delivering the school-readiness that has seen record numbers of children ready for school, according to the early years foundation stage profile.

The Minister continues to talk about the services that are offered. However, he will be aware that the charity 4Children has recently highlighted that more than 2,000 children’s centre sites have had their budgets significantly cut this financial year and that fewer centres are now able to reach fewer families. Nearly 60% report cutting front-line services, nearly 30% have significantly cut the range of services they offer, 28% are now forced to charge for services that would otherwise have been free and 20% are reducing their hours. Is the Minister proud of the Government’s legacy on Sure Start?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. It is great to see that many of her predecessors are still in the shadow education team. It is wonderful that the new politics is being led by the same old faces.

I am proud of our record on children’s centres. We have seen record numbers of families receiving support, but there has also been a 50% increase in the number of health visitors and we have expanded the troubled families programme. We are on the side of the families that need children’s centres most, and we are doing something about it.