An early year’s charity has expressed concern over the number of Sure Start children’s centres, which closed down last year.
Along with the Labour Party, the Pre-School Learning Alliance, say 156 Sure Start centres closed across England last year, up from 85 the previous year.
The issue was put forward in the Commons by Labour MP Dan Jarvis, via a written parliamentary question. In it, he called on junior education minister Caroline Dinenage to explain the cause of the closures, calling them “deeply concerning.”
The Sure Start closures have been criticised by the Pre-School Alliance, as running counter to the government’s policy on improving early-years life chances across society.
Labour launched Sure Start back in 1998, with a focus on helping infants from deprived areas to compete with their more well off peers once they started school.
In her answer to the minister’s question, Dinenage gave figures on Sure Start closures dating from 2012. The Commons hear that
Dinenage’s answer showed that increasing numbers of the centres had shut under the coalition and Conservative governments, with 12 closing in 2011, 27 in 2012 and 33 in 2013. In 2014 the number increased to 85, and then 156 last year.
As of 31 October this year there were 3,259 main children’s centres remaining, she added.
The Department for Education has previously explained closures of Sure Start centres by saying many of the cuts involve reorganisations or mergers, denying any large-scale reduction in capacity.
But Jarvis said the government needed to explain the figures.
“Sure Start centres are a proven success,” he said. “They provide families with childcare in addition to being a one-stop shop for extra support with things like healthcare or securing job opportunities.
“This shows how wrong the Conservatives’ priorities are. Because every Sure Start centre that is lost closes a door on a child’s chance to get on in life.
“A child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. So early interventions like Sure Start should be the priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will give children the best start in life. With child poverty set to rise by 50% over this parliament, thousands of families will be affected by these closures. We will all pay for this failure in years to come.”