01 February 2008
Children's centres and extended schools are improving the lives of children and their families – but local authorities have little evidence that they provide value for money, education inspectorate Ofsted has warned.
Ofsted looked at children's centres, which provide services for the under-fives, and extended schools, which offer extra services, such as study support, sport and music clubs, childcare and community IT facilities, in 54 local authorities. It examined their impact and their contribution to meeting the outcomes of the government's Every Child Matters strategy.
In a report, How well are they doing?, published on January 23, the inspectorate says users were being well served by extended schools and children's centres, although more needed to be done to attract people who were unaware of or reluctant to use the services.
The report adds: 'In developing extended services across an area, children's centres and schools benefited from local authorities' strategic guidance.
'However, the local authorities rarely knew if these services provided value for money, since only a small minority of schools and children's centres were gathering and using evidence to judge whether outcomes had improved for children, young people and their families.'
Local authority support for monitoring and evaluating the impact of the services was 'limited', Ofsted found.
Chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: 'It's encouraging to see that extended schools, and children's centres in particular, are making good progress overall in the range of services they offer for children, young people and their families.
'However, monitoring and evaluating the impact of these services is an area for improvement – especially in relation to academic attainment.'
A Local Government Association spokeswoman said councils were committed to making sure children's centres and extended schools were a success.
'The programme is still in its early stages and councils are working hard to make improvements wherever necessary,' she added.