Journal of Social Policy


From Sure Start to Children's Centres: An Analysis of Policy Change in English Early Years Programmes


a1 Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A WAE email:


Sure Start was set up in 1998 as a flagship policy of the first New Labour government, with the promise of ten years funding. However, in 2003 it was superseded by plans for the establishment of Children's Centres, a universal programme rather than one for disadvantaged areas as in the case of Sure Start local programmes. The government claimed that the shift to Children's Centres represented continuity, but, using historical methods and key informant interviews, this paper shows that there was considerable change, particularly in the programme content and governance of the new centres. The paper explores the reasons for the policy shift in terms of factors arising from changes in government's goals for Sure Start and for children's services more broadly on the one hand, and from evidence of programme failure on the other. It concludes by reflecting on why the shift to Children's Centres was claimed as continuity rather than change, and what this tells us about the nature of policy change.