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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009

Children’s centres

603.The “early childhood services” referred to in the amendments made by sections 198, 199 and 201 (and in these Notes) are defined in section 2 of the Childcare Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”). They are:

  • early years provision (which means childcare and early learning for young children);

  • local authority social services relating to young children and their parents, for example, supervised contact and early intervention for families identified as needing support;

  • health services relating to young children and their parents, for example, health visitors, ante-natal and post-natal care;

  • services provided under section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973, assisting or encouraging parents (and prospective parents) to obtain or retain employment. (In practice these services are currently delivered by Jobcentre Plus);

  • the information services for parents and prospective parents provided by local authorities under the duty in section 12 of the 2006 Act.

Section 198: Arrangements for children’s centres

604.This section inserts new provisions into Part 1 of the 2006 Act imposing duties on English local authorities and others in relation to children’s centres.

605.New section 5A builds on the existing requirement under section 3 of the 2006 Act for English local authorities to make arrangements to secure that early childhood services in their area are provided in an integrated way that facilitates access to services and maximises the benefits to children, parents and prospective parents. Currently, a local authority is free to determine how best to do this. Children’s centres are just one example of how this can be done but local authorities are currently under no legal obligation to have any.

606.Subsection (1) of the new section 5A imposes a new requirement on local authorities that arrangements made under section 3(2) of the 2006 Act must include arrangements for sufficient provision of children’s centres to meet local need. This will involve a local authority assessing the need for children’s centres in their area, and then deciding what provision is required to meet that need. In making this decision about what is sufficient to meet local need, subsection (3) provides that the local authority is able to take into account other children’s centres which are being provided (or which they expect to be provided) outside the area (for example, where people in the area make use of a children’s centre in a neighbouring local authority area).

607.Subsection (4) contains a definition of a “children’s centre” for the purposes of these provisions and also those inserted by sections 194 and 195. For these purposes, a children’s centre is a place, or a group of places (to cover centres which operate on more than one site), which meets each of the three elements of the definition.

608.Paragraph (a) of the definition requires management of the centre by or on behalf of the local authority, and also captures arrangements where the local authority commissions a third party, such as a school governing body or a voluntary sector provider, to manage a children’s centre on its behalf.

609.Paragraph (b) of the definition requires that all the early childhood services are made available through the children’s centre. Subsection (5) provides that, for this purpose, “made available” means either that early childhood services are provided directly at a children’s centre, or that advice and assistance are provided to parents and prospective parents on accessing early childhood services elsewhere.

610.Paragraph (c) of the definition says that the children’s centre must provide activities on site for young children. This is to ensure that all centres captured by the definition in subsection (4) directly provide some activities for young children, rather than just advice and assistance for parents on gaining access to services provided elsewhere. This could be childcare, but if this is not provided at a children’s centre, other activities for young children such as “stay and play” sessions, where parents and children have opportunities to join in play activities together, must be provided.

611.Subsection (6) makes explicit that statutory guidance issued under section 3(6) of the 2006 Act may be used to provide guidance to local authorities on whether a children’s centre which they are responsible for should provide early childhood services at the centre, or whether it should simply provide advice and assistance to parents and prospective parents to help them access early childhood services provided elsewhere.

612.Subsection (7) provides that a children’s centre provided as a result of arrangements under section 3(2) of the 2006 Act and which meets the definition in subsection (4) is to be known as a “Sure Start Children’s Centre”.

613.New section 5B creates a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the staffing, organisation and operation of children’s centres. The regulations might be used to require that children’s centres each have a centre leader, or to impose requirements about the qualifications which staff members must have. Subsection (2) provides that such regulations may impose a requirement for governing bodies to be established for each children’s centre, and for such regulations to impose obligations and confer powers on governing bodies. The regulations will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

614.New section 5C places on local authorities a duty to ensure each children’s centre (or group of children’s centres) for which it is responsible has an advisory board. The advisory board will provide advice and assistance, for example, to the centre manager, the local authority and its “relevant partners” (defined in section 4 of the 2006 Act as the Primary Care Trust or Strategic Health Authority for an area, and Jobcentre Plus), with a view to ensuring that each children’s centre provides relevant and high quality services.

615.The local authority will specify which children’s centres a particular advisory board relates to. Each advisory board must include representation from parents of young children or prospective parents in the local authority’s area, the local authority itself, and each children’s centre covered by that advisory board. The advisory board may also include representatives of other persons or bodies that the local authority considers appropriate to be represented, for example providers of other services for children, and representatives of the local community.

616.Subsection (7) requires local authorities to have regard to any statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State when exercising their function of securing that advisory boards are established. Under subsection (8) this may include guidance about the membership of the board (including which other people or bodies it may be appropriate to have represented on the board), and the organisation and operation of the board (including the appropriate number of children’s centres for a single advisory board to advise in relation to).

617.New section 5D gives local authorities a duty to ensure that appropriate consultation is carried out when they are considering the establishment or closure of a children’s centre, or making any “significant change” in the services provided through a children’s centre (including a change to the location of those services). The consultation may be carried out by the local authority or by someone else such as a third party who is managing a children’s centre. Such consultation may be relevant to a local authority’s determination of what arrangements it should make to provide children’s centres to meet local need, including their number and location and which services a centre should provide directly.

618.Subsection (2) requires local authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State when exercising their function of ensuring that consultation is carried out. This may include guidance on what would constitute a “significant change” for the purposes of subsection (1)(b).

619.New section 5E gives local authorities and their “relevant partners” (the Primary Care Trust or Strategic Health Authority for an area, and Jobcentre Plus) a duty to consider, when deciding whether and how to provide a particular early childhood service, whether it should be provided through one of the children’s centres in the area. In considering this, subsection (4) provides that the local authority or relevant partner must take into account whether providing the early childhood service through a children’s centre would facilitate access to it or maximise its benefit to parents, prospective parents and young children.

620.The effect of subsection (6) is that the duty also applies where the local authority or relevant partner commissions a third party to provide an early childhood service, rather than doing so itself.

621.Subsection (7) clarifies that, despite the duty in this section, a local authority or its relevant partners are still free to decide that an early childhood service is better located somewhere other than a children’s centre, as long as they have in fact considered a children’s centre as one option for the location of the service.

622.New section 5F contains a transitional provision which ensures that, where a local authority has made arrangements before the commencement of section 198 for a children’s centre, but those arrangements were not made under section 3(2) of the 2006 Act, those children’s centres will count as being made under section 3(2) so that new sections 5A to 5E will apply to them. These transitional provisions are necessary for children’s centres which may have been set up before section 3(2) came into force, and therefore would not have been set up as part of arrangements under section 3(2).

Section 199: Inspection of children’s centres

623.This section inserts a new Part 3A after Part 3 of the 2006 Act which makes provision about inspections of children’s centres by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (“the Chief Inspector”) also known as Ofsted.

624.New section 98A places new duties on the Chief Inspector to inspect children’s centres. These inspections must be carried out at intervals prescribed in regulations, or at any time when the Secretary of State requests an inspection. Subsections (4) and (5) of the new section 98A give more detail about the sort of request the Secretary of State may make.

625.Subsection (2) gives the Chief Inspector a power to inspect a children’s centre at any other time the Chief Inspector considers is appropriate, for instance if a complaint or particular concern has been reported.

626.Subsection (3) creates a power for the Secretary of State to set out in regulations the circumstances in which the Chief Inspector is not required to inspect a children’s centre at a prescribed interval, for instance to enable a children’s centre inspection to take place at the same time as the inspection of a school which is co-located with a children’s centre, where this would otherwise not be possible. The regulations made under subsections (1) and (3) will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

627.The effect of subsection (6) is that an inspection carried out under subsection (1)(b) or (2) may count for the purposes of the Chief Inspector’s duty under subsection (1)(a) to inspect children’s centres within a prescribed interval, so that an inspection would not have to be repeated in order to meet that duty.

628.New section 98B of the 2004 Act requires the Chief Inspector to produce a report after inspecting a children’s centre under new section 98A. New section 98B(2) requires the report to address the contribution made by the centre to facilitating access to early childhood services by parents, prospective parents and young children, maximising the benefit of those services, and to improving well-being of young children. “Well-being” in this section has the same meaning as in section 1(2) of the 2006 Act, which is also the same as that set out at paragraph 588 of these Notes.

629.Subsection (3) of the new section 98B creates a power for the Secretary of State to specify in regulations matters that must be dealt with in a report, or matters which need not be dealt with in a report. Subsection (4) specifies some of the matters that the regulations may require a report to include. The regulations will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

630.New section 98C sets out what a local authority must do after receiving a report by the Chief Inspector of an inspection of one of its children’s centres. It also gives the local authority powers to send copies of the report to other persons (for example, any third party managing the centre on behalf of the local authority), and to publish the report or parts of it.

631.Subsections (3) to (5) require a local authority to produce a written statement setting out the action that the local authority and the person or body managing the children’s centre (where not the local authority) propose to take in response to the report, and when.

632.Subsection (6) requires local authorities to have regard to any statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State when exercising their function of producing a written statement.

633.New section 98D gives the Chief Inspector powers of entry and other related powers for the purpose of enabling the inspection of a children’s centre. The power of entry may be exercised only at a reasonable time and does not apply to premises used wholly or mainly as a private dwelling (subsection (3)).

634.Under paragraph 9(1) of Schedule 12 to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the Chief Inspector is allowed to authorise other persons to carry out the Chief Inspector’s functions, including powers of entry. Subsection (4) enables the Chief Inspector to place limitations on an authorisation to exercise powers of entry under section 98D, such as authorising a person to do this only for a certain occasion or period, or by placing conditions on the authorisation.

635.Subsections (6) and (7) give further powers which may be exercised once an inspector has entered the children’s centre premises, to assist with the inspection. These powers include the power to inspect the premises, inspect documents and records (and take copies of them), inspect children and interview staff in private.

636.Subsection (9) provides that section 58 of the Education Act 2005, which entitles the inspector to access and inspect computers and require persons to assist the inspector in doing so, applies for the purposes of the powers to inspect documents and records under section 98D.

637.New section 98E provides that an offence is committed if a person intentionally obstructs a person who is attempting to exercise the power of entry, or one of the other powers in section 98D.

638.New section 98F sets out what procedure must be followed before the police may assist the Chief Inspector with the exercise of the powers in section 98D. The Chief Inspector must first apply to a court for a warrant authorising a police constable to assist the Chief Inspector to exercise a power of entry or other power, including by using reasonable force if necessary. A warrant may be granted only where the exercise of the power of entry or other powers conferred by section 98D has been prevented, or is likely to be prevented.

639.Subsections (5) and (6) make provision about the type of court in which an application by the Chief Inspector for a warrant may be made.

Section 200: Children’s centres: safeguarding children

640.The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (“the SVG Act”) provides for the Independent Barring Board established under section 1 (but in practice now called the Independent Safeguarding Authority (“ISA”)) to maintain lists of persons barred in relation to work with children or vulnerable adults, and to monitor persons who have applied to be subject to monitoring. The SVG Act also sets out the type of work in relation to which monitoring is required, and which persons on the barred lists may not undertake. It also provides for a range of offences to enforce the monitoring requirement and the effect of barring.

641.This section amends paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 4 to the SVG Act to add children’s centres to the list of establishments used for determining whether an activity is capable of being “regulated activity” for the purposes of the SVG Act. As a result of this amendment, a person who carries out an activity in a children’s centre will be engaging in regulated activity if the activity also meets the other criteria set out in paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 4 (which deal with matters such as the frequency of the activity, and whether it affords the person opportunity for contact with children).

642.Whilst many of the roles being carried out by people working at a children’s centre (such as the provision of childcare) would already be regulated activity by virtue of other types of activity covered by paragraph 2 of Schedule 4, for example, the effect of this amendment is that everyone involved in working or volunteering at a children’s centre (and who meets the other criteria in paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 4) will be engaged in regulated activity. The SVG Act prevents people who are barred from working with children from engaging in regulated activity, and requires people engaged in regulated activity to be subject to monitoring by the ISA.

643.The requirements of the SVG Act relating to people engaged in regulated activity will be phased in over time and be subject to certain transitional provisions. The Government will publish clear and timely information to notify those affected when requirements will begin to apply to them.

Section 201: Arrangements in respect of early childhood services

644.This section amends section 3 of the Childcare Act 2006. New subsection (4A) which it inserts makes explicit that, in determining what arrangements for integrated services to make under section 3(2), a local authority must have regard to the early childhood services which are provided, or are expected to be provided, in the local authority’s area, and the location of those services. Both the quantity and quality of the early childhood services is relevant. So where a local authority decides that it needs to establish a new children’s centre, it may determine that the children’s centre does not need to provide an early childhood service such as childcare, given the availability, quality and location of existing early childhood services. However, in such a case the children’s centre would still be required to provide advice and assistance on gaining access to local childcare provision, and directly provide other activities on site for young children.

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