Early years services get set for a major shake-up

Jackie Drayton
Jackie Drayton

Children’s centres may be closed or moved as part of a major shake-up of early years support in Sheffield.

But services will not be cut back, promise city council officers.

The council cabinet is expected to agree a range of proposals on Wednesday, fundamentally altering the way in which services are delivered over the next two years.

Changes will help to cut £1.151 off last year’s budget – around 7% of the total allocated to early years. But the savings will be achieved through rationalisation and natural wastage and the result will be a streamlined, more efficient service, say officers.

The proposals are the result of a year-long review designed to restructure and modernise provision for pre-school children and their families.

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children’s services, said she was very excited about the changes.

“This is a new vision that can change the lives of families across Sheffield,” she said.

“The early years in any child’s life are important in their development. Getting it right in their formative years does effect how well the children do at school, in training, employment and their health later in life.”

The review got under way last year with a call for feedback on the quality of services and the work of children’s centres.

More than 600 parents and carers responded and their views were taken into account in drawing up the current proposals.

These centre on three areas:

lA need to improve access to services, bringing them closer to the heart of local communities and making it easier for families to use them.

lMaking childcare more innovative and flexible, so parents can use services outside traditional 9-5 office hours.

lImproving quality through measures including the Sheffield Charter, to ensure that all children benefit, particularly those who do not currently access support.

Early years provision begins with ante-natal care and includes maternity, health services, family support and early learning.

The council believes this should be based in local shops and GP surgeries, where all young parents go, not necessarily in schools – which are used only by those with older children.

“Thinking creatively is the key and we believe we can do this,” said Coun Drayton.

The new structure will be based on a cluster system, so that instead of operating independently, providers in each area work together.

This should ensure that services in each community are appropriate to local needs.

It will also mean providers are held collectively accountable for improvement and accessibility in their area.

Jane Golightly, director of learning services, who has written the report, said: “There’s an acceptance that the service needs to modernise… We’re quite optimistic that this is the right way to go. It’s not just a reduction, it’s an improvement.”