As most people know I am a member of all the main organisations that represent childminders – and although my main organisation – and the one that I volunteer for is the Pre-school Learning Alliance, I am more than happy to attend meetings and support all the organisations in their challenging of childminding agencies.
So when UKCMA asked me if I would attend a meeting with them on Wednesday 16th October to meet with our Early Years Minister – Elizabeth Truss – I was happy (if a little nervous at the prospect) to agree.
After a successful meeting in the morning see Meeting with childminding organisations I traveled from Bromley, back into central London and onto Westminster.
There I met Linda, Jane and Mike from UKCMA outside Portcullis House. Mike was not joining us for the meetings but would be joining us later for a debrief before we traveled home.
Linda, Jane and myself then went into Portcullis House – a very grand modern building and in complete contrast to the historic Houses of Parliament. First though we had to go through the security checks – bags, coats, personal items into a tray to be scanned, then through the ‘person scanner’ and the individual check by the security staff – image my horror when the tray with my belongings in it – was diverted – having failed the scanning check!
However the lady checking the bag said straight away – ‘most likely a spray in your bag’ – and indeed it was – because the bag I had with me also contained my overnight things – including my spray. Once this had been found and checked – I was able to re join Linda and Jane.
First we met with David Ward MP and his researcher Andrew, We had a little look round while locating a place to sit and talk, which was a fantastic opportunity to see various parts of Portcullis House. We found a table downstairs, and Andrew kindly went and got us all a drink. David did a very good job of helping us think about what were the important issues that we wanted to discuss with the Minister – and in playing Devils Advocate – because of course it is important that we looked at things from the Ministers / Government prospective.
We were so deep in conversation, that time flew by, and in what seemed like next to no time, we were heading off through the tunnel that links Portcullis House to the Houses of Parliament, through several corridors, past visitors and MP’s, to the room where the meeting was to take place.
Now forget ‘office’ type room, or even cosy ‘lounge’ style room such as the one we met Lord Storey in – in June. This room was huge and very grand and quiet overwhelming – however a few chairs were being rearranged into a small circle – much less overwhelming. We were introduced to Elizabeth Truss’s researcher Sharon who works for the DfE and is involved in the childminding agencies - included the trails .
While we were waiting for the Minister to arrive, we had a brief discussion with Sharon about the pilots.
Then the Early Years Minister – Elizabeth Truss arrived, we introduced ourselves and she shock our hands ( I can not say for sure – but I got the impression that Ms. Truss knew who I was)
Before I start recalling the meeting with the Minister – I need to make it clear that this is my personal recall – others present may have a slightly different recall. Also as topics of conversation were returned to throughout the meeting, I am going to give my feedback per topic and not in time order as discussed.
So first my overall impression of our Early Years Minister, she was smartly dressed, polite, smiles a lot, gives a warm handshake, and appears to be listening, with body language to match – ie nodding head etc. In fact a perfect professional politician image.
I asked; Why childminders who want to join a childminding agency could not retain their individual Ofsted inspection.
The Minister said; It was not really needed, as agencies are a new way of working, and that the agency would ensure the quality of the agency childminders. She went on to explain in great detail about the agency model, and stressed that existing childminders would have a choice about if they joined a agency or not.
Maybe not needed as those in the room were fully aware of the basic facts, having read More Great Childcare numerous times – and everything that has has in the media. However we were very polite, and listened to the Ministers explanation.
I asked if once the pilots had finished – if there could be a ‘honeymoon’ period (did not use those words) whereby agency childminders still had a Ofsted inspection so that quality assurance could be verified as working. She did not really answer this – but time had run out – so hopefully she will consider this suggestion over the next couple of days.
My whole point about Ofsted inspections (which I tried to explain to the Minister) is about the need to have consistency across all early years settings – the Minister mentioned the similarity to a Nursery inspection – saying if practitioner B was not there on inspection day that his / her practice would not be inspected – and the same would apply for agency childminders not inspected in the sampling aspect of an agency inspection.
Maybe I am missing the point – but to my mind – that is not the same scenario at all – in a nursery there are other staff to ensure overall quality is maintained, there are room leaders and managers whose job it is to check the every day practice – in a childminder setting there are none of those safeguards in place. In my opinion – it is’ownership’ of the setting and the practice within that setting that ensures that quality is not only maintained but improved (and managers of group settings have this responsibility and therefore ownership), Ofsted inspection just confirms that this is being achieved – and in doing so reinforces the ownership of the setting. In basic terms – you get out what you put in – take away that ownership of setting and practice, and what motivation is there to improve or even to maintain current levels of practice.
Further more – unless I am mistaken – in a nursery chain – each nursery in the chain has its own inspection and its own grade and its own report – so if you think of agency childminders as settings in an agency chain – they should have an individual inspection
The Minister did agree that outstanding / good childminders were unlikely to join a childminding agency as they were already established, and were self sufficient in their business practice.
So I responded with – so the agency will only have childminders with lower grades/ standards of practice – to which she said something that I had not picked up on before – and to be frank I was very surprised to hear.
The Minister said – No not necessarily – agencies could decide NOT to take on childminders who did not have a higher enough grade, or who might damage the reputation of the agency – as the agencies needed to have a good reputation for providing high quality childminders to parents – and that their business success would depend on this.
My thoughts about this are – well, just who will join the agencies – and how will they be viable and successful?
And because I want this point to sink in and for people to think about it – here is what the Minister said – again and in bold
The Minister said – No not necessarily – agencies could decide NOT to take on childminders who did not have a higher enough grade, or who might damage the reputation of the agency – as the agencies needed to have a good reputation for providing high quality childminders to parents – and that their business success would also depend on this.
Part two to follow as soon as possible.