Children's centres

Children's centres – Sure Start children's centres to give them their full name – provide a range of services for children and their families from pregnancy right through to when a child goes into reception class at primary school.

In 2004 the Government said its target was to have a children’s centre in every community by April 2010. Since 2004, children’s centres have been set up in stages starting with the most disadvantaged communities.

Children’s centres provide families with, or make arrangements for them to have access to:

  • early learning and childcare
  • family support
  • health services
  • support into employment
  • other specialist services.

There is introductory reading about children’s centres on the Directgov and Every Child Matters websites.

Improving outcomes for young children

The Government sees children’s centres as an essential way of:

  • improving outcomes for young children
  • closing the gap between the most disadvantaged children and other children.

Outcomes for children are taken from the Government’s Every Child Matters guidance: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving social and economic well-being.

Ofsted inspections

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families asked Ofsted to inspect and report on the effectiveness of each children’s centre in England. Parliament passed a new Act – the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 – that gives us the legal duty to do this.

We will begin our inspection of children’s centres in the summer term 2010. New regulations laid by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and approved by Parliament, will determine how often we will inspect a children’s centre.

The inspection framework and main inspection documents for inspectors

We have developed a framework for inspecting children’s centres; it is complemented by guidance for our inspectors and children’s centres. The framework describes how we will apply the general principles and processes of inspection to children’s centres.

Main inspection documents for children's centres


We have developed a children's centres self-evaluation form that children’s centres can use to reflect on their practice and identify key strengths and areas for improvement. There is guidance on completing the self-evaluation form.

Briefing events for local authorities

In February 2010, we held a series of four briefings on the arrangements for the inspection of children’s centres for all local authorities in England.

A set of four PowerPoint presentations has the details of these briefings. Each presentation is available in its own zip file. Local authorities and others may use the presentations and their accompanying notes to give guidance and training to their own staff about how we will inspect children’s centres.

Questions and answers

The PowerPoint presentations page also has a comprehensive question and answer brief that local authorities, children’s centres and their partners can use to answer any questions they have about our inspections of children’s centres.