Children’s centre growth must not be at expense of quality, staff told

Standards must not be compromised in the rush to meet the
government’s targets on the creation of children’s centres over the
next five years, children’s services workers were warned last

Daycare Trust chair Lisa Harker told delegates at the annual Sure
Start children’s centres conference that quality had to come first,
and that the thinking and principles behind children’s centres must
not be lost in the race to expand.

“There can be no compromise on the standard of services provided
for children,” said Harker, adding that there was a danger of the
process becoming a “rebranding exercise” with anything and
everything being called a children’s centre in the drive to meet
the government’s goal of 2,500 children’s centres by 2008 and 3,500
by 2010. Currently there are just 188 children’s centres across

“We have to avoid any centre that provides an additional service
automatically being called a children’s centre,” Harker said. “We
have to know what we mean by children’s centre.”

Delegates at the conference raised concerns about whether the
agencies they were working with – in particular councils – were
ready to take on their role in expanding children’s centres

“For those of us at the forefront, we are faced with uncertainty,”
Carol Pitman, programme manager of Weymouth and Portland Sure Start
in Dorset, said. “A lot of those agencies that we are trying to
change are not ready to go there yet.”

Education secretary Ruth Kelly, who was giving her first early
years’ speech since her appointment, accepted that the government
was expecting “huge change”, but added that it would do whatever
was necessary to make sure children’s centres worked.

She said that this could involve placing a duty on local
authorities to involve parents to ensure the “grass roots up”
approach at the heart of Sure Start was not lost.

“It is essential that, in moving towards a universal system, local
authorities and voluntary sector partners ensure parents remain
involved,” Kelly said.

“We want to see local ownership, and parents directly involved in
the design of Sure Start children’s centres. We will have to work
with you to get this right.”

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