Four activity centres in England suspended over ‘serious’ safeguarding concerns

<span>Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Ofsted has suspended four holiday activity centres for children in England over “serious safeguarding concerns” including allegations of substance abuse by staff, in a rare move by the education watchdog.

The sites to have their registration suspended are Liddington in Wiltshire, Marchants Hill in Surrey, Osmington Bay in Dorset and Windmill Hill in East Sussex.

Ofsted said that some of the concerns identified were being investigated by other agencies and it was unable to provide specific details at this stage.

The safeguarding concerns included environmental health, health and safety, and the conduct of staff including substance misuse.

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The regulator undertook inspections this week at five PGL centres providing Ofsted-registered care and activities for unaccompanied children on half-term holidays and found serious safeguarding issues at four camps.

PGL Travel, the camp operator, provides residential breaks and activity holidays for children aged seven to 17. It operates centres across the UK and France.

The Ofsted reports relate to the provision of childcare to unaccompanied children under eight. The suspension only applies to the provision of those services at the four centres.

Ofsted is only able to inspect PGL’s registered childcare provision in England and does not have any power to inspect or regulate other activities that the company runs for children who are accompanied by their schools or parents.

The regulator said: “We recognise the impact this decision will have on many families. PGL has a duty to inform affected parents urgently, and we have requested contact details in order to do the same.”

In response to the action by Ofsted, a spokesperson for PGL said: “PGL is committed to the highest operational standards. Ofsted have highlighted potential risks arising from isolated administrative and procedural shortcomings at four sites.

“Over the next six weeks[…] we will be working with Ofsted to fully understand their concerns. We are passionate about delivering high-quality, inspiring learning experiences that change young people’s lives and will address any shortfalls identified.”

Elsewhere, two reports by Ofsted on Thursday concluded that legislation does not reflect the level of influence that early years multiple providers and social care groups have on nurseries and children’s homes.

The regulator said it was currently only able to inspect individual nurseries, preschools and children’s homes, and has called for enhanced powers “to make sure multiple providers and groups are having a positive impact on children”.

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It argues that regulatory oversight was needed at group level in addition to individual children’s home level.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for regulation and social care, said: “Stronger oversight of large providers is vital if we are to make sure children are getting the best deal. Current legislation is outdated and doesn’t reflect the early years and social care sectors as they operate today.

“The upcoming review into children’s social care could be a real opportunity to reform this legislation. Our research shows that these large providers have a significant impact on their individual nurseries and children’s homes, and ultimately the education and care that children receive.

“As Ofsted can only inspect individual settings, we are missing an important part of the picture.”