Sure Start Children’s Centres

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The government is committed to Sure Start Children’s Centres as pivotal in cementing the foundation years.


children playing As a professional working in the foundation years you will be aware that there is an expectation that children’s centres, rooted in their local community, will not only provide a range of integrated services to meet the needs of the community they serve. They also have a role to play in bringing together all professionals who work in the area; to learn from each other’s expertise and provide integrated support and extra help as required to families.


Have your say about the core purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres – find out more below…


Reflective questions: 


Find out about your local children’s centre – how can you in your role support the work they do?


Find out about evidence based approaches for the most vulnerable families in your local children’s centre – what can you learn from these?


Your voice is important as you develop systems and structures which will truly place Sure Start Children’s Centres at the heart of supporting children, families, and communities in the foundation years.


The Sure Start Children’s Centre core offer has been reviewed through an active, shared process of the sector working with professionals and the government – this process is called co-production. Following consultation on the DfE website the government has now agreed the core purpose of children’s centres.


The core purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres


Sure Start Children’s Centres should have a clear core purpose, focused on:


Improving outcomes for young children and their families, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged families, in order to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness.


This should be supported by improved:

  • Parenting aspirations, self esteem and parenting skills;
  • Child and family health and life chances.


young girl playing with playdough Sector leaders have worked together to consider what children’s centres can do to achieve the core purpose, including:


  • Assessing need across the local community;
  • Providing access to universal early years services in the local area, including high quality and affordable early years education and childcare;
  • Providing access to targeted evidence based, family-centred support;
  • Acting as a hub for the local community, building social capital and cohesion;
  • Sharing expertise with other early years settings to improve quality.



Click here to read the full document: ‘The Core Purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres’


Have your say!

We need to continue interactive debate with you as to the detail of what the core purpose means in action. Have your say by sending your comments, thoughts and suggestions on the document, The Core Purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres, to




Multi-agency working

The important role that children’s centres play in providing effective multi-agency working is widely recognised.


Children’s centre outreach and family support are a key source of early intervention. Health visitors, social workers, early years practitioners and other early years professionals need to work together to support the most vulnerable families. The government is working alongside the National College of School Leadership to appoint new ‘outreach system leaders’  who will advocate effective best practice and raise the profile of the profession.


Every children’s centre should have access to a ‘named health visitor’ who, as a minimum, will provide advice and run services through the children’s centre.


Children’s centres should also have access to a ‘named social worker’. This will help to build the confidence of children’s centres to deal with child protection issues, as well as support our focus on early intervention. The government is working with representatives in the early years and social work sector to decide how this might look in practice.


Reflective question:


As a professional working in the foundation years how do you  work with children’s social services?


Registering Births at Children’s Centres

Find out more about how children centre’s can work with local register officer to register births. 


Reports released by the All Party Parliamentary Group outlines how children centres can take an active role in working with their local register officer to register births. The material includes simple guide as to how to go about  registering births in children’s centres  and fuller information on the benefits.


You can view the full report with case studies here and a shorter summary is available here.


Payment by results

Payment by results is being trialled in 27 local authorities (forming 26 trials). The aim of the trial is to:

  • Get a real sense of the challenges payment by results poses
  • Inform the national measures
  • Determine what meaningful measure at a local level could be


Here are some key questions and answers about the payment by results initiative. (click to open)

Q: Why is the government introducing payment by results for children’s centres?”

A number of payment by results schemes are being introduced across government. They are each part of the government’s ambitions to improve public services and deliver improved value for the taxpayer. Government wants to increase the autonomy that Sure Start Children’s Centres have, but with this comes greater responsibility and accountability. The Department for Education’s Business Plan commits to working with local authorities to explore the introduction of greater payments by results for children’s centres.


The government wants to use payment by results to incentivise a focus on the proposed core purpose of children’s centres: to improve child development and school readiness amongst young children and to reduce inequalities. This includes identifying, reaching and supporting the most disadvantaged families to improve their parenting aspirations and skills and to promote health and well-being.

Q: Who will be paid by results? “

The Department for Education (DfE) is not proposing to undertake payment by results directly with individual children’s centres, although it expects trial local authorities to explore this in their local areas. Payment by results will be trialled at two levels:

  • National = DfE to local authority
  • Local = Local authority to individual children’s centre providers

The DfE recognises that not all the measures considered will be appropriate for local payment by results, and it wants to use the trials to decide which measures will work best nationally and locally.

Q:. When will this happen? “

A trial involving 27 local authorities (forming 26 trials) began in summer 2011 and will run until March 2013. The first nine local authorities were announced in July 2011 and those in the second wave were announced in September 2011. The trials will generate an evidence base from which Ministers can make decisions about how best to roll out payment by results more widely from 2013-14. Decisions on rollout will need to be taken by early summer 2012, to enable sufficient lead-in time for national and local data collection systems to be in place by early 2013.

Wave 1
Barking and Dagenham Barnsley
Blackpool Croydon
Devon Gloucestershire
Oldham Oxfordshire
Wave 2
Bolton Brent
Buckinghamshire Calderdale
Darlington East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire (joint trial)
Hertfordshire Knowsley
Lambeth Lewisham
Lincolnshire Liverpool
Plymouth Portsmouth
Shropshire Swindon
Q: Which results/measures will be included? “

Final decisions on the measures used for national payment by results (DfE to local authority) will be informed by early learning from the trials. It is for local authorities to decide which measures to use for local payment of providers by results.

Q: How much reward will local authorities get? “

In the short term:

Initially there is development funding for trial local authorities, (this will be in addition to Early Intervention Grant funding allocations for 2011-12 and 2012-13). The DfE intends to begin trialling payment by results on a relatively small basis, as a proportion of total funding.


In the longer term:

Decisions have not yet been made on funding for 2013-14 onwards. The DfE will use the learning from the trials to inform Ministerial decisions.

Q: What are local authorities expected to do with the reward money? How much reward will local authorities be expected to pass onto their children’s centre providers? “

This will be explored through the trials. National reward funding will give local authorities the opportunity to reward the most successful providers through local payment by results, and also to provide support to services that need to improve.

Q: How will payment by results encourage local authorities to involve the voluntary and community sector more? “

It will be important that payment by results supports greater involvement of organisations that have a track record of supporting families in children’s centres, including smaller voluntary sector providers. The DfE intends to begin trialling payment by results on a relatively small basis, as a proportion of total funding, being aware of the balance of risk for smaller organisations. The chosen trial areas are representative, including areas with a higher proportion of centres commissioned to voluntary and community sector providers. The trials will be able to consider whether local payment by results is easier to operate where children’s centres are commissioned and a contract is in place.

Q: Who is running the trials and how will the governance work? “

The Children’s Improvement Board is overseeing the work. It is a consortium of Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Group, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Department for Education. It is leading the arrangements for the development of a sector-led model of improvement support and challenge for children’s services, as well as providing governance for its operation. Initially, the Children’s Improvement Board has asked Serco and C4EO to support the payment by results trial at a local level.


Leadership and management

Leadership and management of children’s centres is a key factor to effective local services. As Supporting Families in the Foundation Years becomes embedded, more responsibilities will be placed on leaders as they respond to greater local responsibility, new models of accountability, sharing practice and expertise across the locality to improve quality, and acting as the local hub for the community.


Effective leaders need to:

  • Be inspirational and innovative in their vision for their centre
  • Be responsive to their families’ needs and engaging with all families in their community
  • Be focused on evidence based results and outcomes
  • Facilitate open communication with all professionals, agencies and the community
  • Champion integrated working and the sharing of expertise across professionals
  • Be motivational and empowering
  • Be reflective and committed to their own ongoing professional development

Find out more… (click to open)

  • Pen Green Children’s Centre and Research Unit – Based within one of the country’s largest Children’s Centres, Pen Green is a unique education and research facility.
  • National College for School Leadership – The National College for School Leadership works to develop and inspire great leaders of schools, early years settings and children’s services so that they can make a positive difference to children’s lives.


Good practice in Children’s Centres

The LGA has published a report ‘Bright futures: local children, local approaches’ looking at how councils are using children’s centres to help deliver early intervention through integrated health provision and getting children school-ready, to a more formal community budget approach


Local authorities understand the importance of a child’s early years in their future development and quality of life. Councils play a fundamental role in promoting children’s well-being and improving outcomes for young children and their families with children’s centres being one of a range of important resources councils use to help achieve this.


The plethora of case studies in this publication shows how councils up and down the country are using children’s centres to help deliver early intervention through integrated health provision and getting children school-ready, to a more formal community budget approach

You can download the report here



Case Study: Ann Tayler Children’s Centre

Steps into Music, An Early Years Music Project for Sound Connections

This project looked to provide Music and Movements sessions for children under 5 and their parents.


The report explains that “the Music and Movements sessions were really popular and ran at full capacity. The excitement and noise generated by guest musicians brought new users to the sessions from within the centre with much positive feedback from users.”

The sessions worked as a way of engaging often difficult to reach groups, with fathers frequently attending sessions and ESOL students recognising them as a great way to learn more English and meet other parents as well as settle their children in the crèche.

Parents have said that following the Music and Movements sessions their child’s language skills and interaction with other children have improved and parents have learned new ways to play with their child/ren.

Download Steps into Music: case study to read more.



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Comments (1)

  1. Sarah wilkinson, March 14, 2013
    I would like to know how I could apply for a job working as a family support worker, working in a children's centre, in the east riding of Yorkshire area.

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