Children’s centres at Seaton and Honiton condemned

PUBLISHED: 08:59 31 July 2013

St Clare's at Seaton home of the Children's Centre which has been heavily  criticised by Ofsted inspectors. Photo by Chris Carson

St Clare's at Seaton home of the Children's Centre which has been heavily criticised by Ofsted inspectors. Photo by Chris Carson


Ofsted officials brand them “inadequate” and say they are failing to help those most in need

Children’s centres serving the Axe Valley and Honiton have been condemned by independent inspectors

Ofsted officials have branded them “inadequate” – their lowest rating – highlighting their failure to help those most in need.

The report says the centres, operated by The Children’s Society, are below acceptable standards in all three key areas – access to services by young children and families; the quality of practice and services; the effectiveness of leadership, governance and management.

It says:

* “Leaders and the advisory boards do not make sufficient use of all available information to check, plan and review activities and services. As a result they do not have a secure understanding of the performance of the group.”

* “Leaders do not track the participation of those families most in need and therefore the difference that services are making for these groups is not known.”

* “The group does not have clear priorities for its development and target setting is weak. As a result the centres are not improving rapidly enough to ensure what they offer is improving the lives of families, particularly those who need the most help.”

* “The organisation and development of staff and services are not well thought out. Consequently some families who require one-to-one support have to wait too long for help they need. Others are not able to access relevant services.”

The Children’s Society was awarded the contract to run the Seaton centre – based at St Clare’s - by Devon County Council last year. It already operated the Honiton one.

The charity pledged to continue delivering services for families, children and young people across the area.

It said it would “build on the strong work carried out previously at the centre, and would focus primarily on working with families in the Axe Valley to make childhood better for every child.”

Andrea Davis, Devon County Council spokeswoman for children’s services, said at the time: “We have chosen organisations to run our centres who are committed to providing the highest quality services and ensuring best value to families in their local communities.”

This week Axminster town and district councillor Douglas Hull, who resigned from the Axe Valley centre board in protest at the changes, said the county council had failed local children.

He told The Herald: “It is absolutely frightening the disservice that this group have done to the children of the Axe Valley.

“They way they have handled this has left many parents caring for children in the lurch and the people responsible for all this is Devon County Council who decided they wanted a new system – joined up with Honiton - instead of the old one which had been working well.”

Commenting on the Ofsted report Damian Allen, director of children and families at The Children’s Society said: “We are very disappointed that the Axe Valley and Honiton children’s centres did not meet the very high standards we set ourselves across the country.

“We are fully committed to running first class services for children and families in Devon. Parents can be confident that we are working closely with the council and taking immediate steps to address the issues raised by Ofsted.

“Ofsted was clear that our staff are highly-committed and effective and that parents highly value the service we provide. So we are confident we have the building blocks in place to move quickly and make the necessary improvements.

“We do not just want to make these two children’s centres better, we are determined to bring them into line with the vast majority of our ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ children’s centres across the rest of country. Eighty-five percent of our children’s centres are rated good or outstanding - 20 per cent better than the national average.

“The Children’s Society have deployed an experienced team to the area, as well as working closely with Devon County Council to rapidly produce and deliver an improvement plan.

“We are also meeting with parents to set out the detailed steps being taken and answer any questions they may have. And going forward, we are very keen to involve local parents more in the running of the centre.”

** Ofsted inspectors did make some positive comments about the centres. They praised staff for their commitment to improve the lives of families and their work on building strong links with a range of relevant partners, which was particularly well established in Honiton.

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