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Evaluation of children’s centres in England

Young boy playing
Published: December 2015


This multi-strand project is aimed at developing an in-depth understanding of children’s centre services: looking at which services they deliver, in which ways and how much it costs, as well as at how families use children’s centres and what impact it has on their lives.


From our interviews with families that use children's centres we found

  • Mothers were far more likely to use family services than fathers.
  • The activities and services that families most often used at their local children's centre were 'stay and play' (47%), midwife or health visitor drop-in sessions or clinics (47%) and organised sport or exercise for babies or children (19%).

From our interviews with managers of children’s centres we found

  • 81% of centres were led by the local authority, schools or both.
  • Over half of all the staff delivering services were employed by the children's centre. Staff employed by other organisations made up 28% and volunteers made up 18% of staff.
  • 46 different types of services and programmes were offered by the centres - the most frequently cited service was 'Stay and Play'.

In February 2016, we held a seminar that explored the findings from the Evaluation of Children's Centres in England ahead of the launch of the Government's children's centres consultation. You can download the slides here:

Slides 1, Emily Tanner

Slides 2, Kathy Sylva

Slides 3, Pam Sammons 


The evaluation has a number of elements and will run till 2018.

NatCen leads on two elements of the study: surveys with children’s centre managers (telephone and web) and surveys with families using children’s centres (face-to-face and telephone).

Oxford University visit children’s centres for multi-method assessments to look closely at how children’s centres operate and what the best practice is. Researchers from Oxford University also lead on assessing impact of children’s centres on parents and children in the families that use them.

Lastly, Frontier Economics visit children’s centres to ask about the costs of delivering different services and to conduct a value for money analysis.

Strand 1: 1st survey of children's centre leaders

Strand 2: baseline survey of families using children's centres

Strand 3: delivery of family services by children’s centres

Strand 3: reach report

Strand 3: parenting services

Strand 5: case studies on the costs of centres

Follow-up survey of families

Follow-up survey of centre leaders

Strand 4: changes in resourcing and characteristics

Strand 4: impact on children and families