Tuesday 5th February – A few minutes of your time please Mr. Cameron ……   13 comments

NOTE TO READERS

I am happy for the below to be shared via a link to this blog.

Also  via copying and pasting – including being used in by the media provided used in its entirety. Should anyone want to use an abbreviated version please contact me first to ask permission.

Dear Mr. Cameron

I do hope that you will give me just a few minutes of your time ……. and forgive me from addressing this to you – but as the Prime Minster of this country and the person who ultimately is responsible for the appointment of the Education Minster (Is this now the right title? – It is what is being quoted in some media reports – or though I thought  Ms. Truss was the Under Secretary) I feel I must bring these matters to your attention.

I write  as a grandmother, a parent and a registered childminder – tonight my 8th grandchild was born  and it made me think – what will the future hold for her?

You will be aware (maybe) that even before the momentous occasion of my granddaughter’s early entry into the world tonight , that I have been outspoken about the proposed changes to ratios in early years settings – and indeed I have started a petition which over 21,000 people have signed so far.

It is unlikely that you will be aware that I have have also been campaigning for about a year against the idea of agencies for childminders.

On my return home this evening, I noticed a new article in Nursery World (that had been issued during the afternoon when I was busy  childminding, caring for for my daughters two older children and  delivering a training session to colleagues)  and so of course, although late in the evening, I read it.

It is an interview by  Elizabeth Truss , Education Minister, and she was talking about ‘Why we are introducing childminder agencies’  – she  also talks about childminder ratios

I had to read the article twice because I thought that the government had an ‘open’ consultation and that views were being gathered – and that the document ‘More Great Childcare’ was to support the gathering of those views.

However it seems that childminder agencies will start to be implemented by September 2013 – and furthermore that interest has been expressed by some in running thee agencies.

You may consider me to be cynical – but this seems a ‘done deal’ – like it or not, bother to respond to the consultation or not – childminder agencies will be introduced by September 2013 – and as I am not a fool – and neither are my colleagues who work in childcare -( both those with and without GCSE’s in maths and English, with or without degrees) – we know that meetings and agreements about how agencies will be run and the rules and regulations of running them will already be taking place.

So why bother asking for views? Why bother having a consultation?

Assuming that the reporting in Nursery World is an  accurate account (and I have always found it to be a reliable source information) then`with regard to changes to childminder regulation – there is very little left to discuss as the Minster states; not only will the childminder agencies start to be rolled out from September 2013, she hopes that they will be fully functioning a year later – so by September 2014.

That seems very odd to me because having been very involved in the process of consultation and piloting of the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012 – I know it took about 4 years for this process to be completed and I also know that Ofsted’s inspection cycle and the ‘end date’ of EYFS 12 – is August 2016.

So a direct question Mr. Cameron – How can such major changes to the legal document that all early years settings work to – be changed in such a short space space of time?  Without full and proper consultation? And for only one sector of early years settings regulated through EYFS 12?

We are not just talking about further guidance on how Ofsted will inspect against the framework, or even a few corrections of things that ‘slipped through’ the quality checks, such as we saw when EYFS 08 was first implemented and we had a revised version published with months of the first version.  We are talking about radical changes to the point that some childminders will not even be inspected directly by Ofsted, that the ratios of children will change, that things like the role of the local authority will change so they no longer will decide on the suitability of first aid or safeguarding courses, or the criteria for those providing the funded sessions.

It has not escaped my notice that a lot of focus has been put on changes to childminder regulation – and that very little has been said about group care settings – apart from the increase in ratios.  There seems to be a change in focus from ‘weaker settings’ as seen in the 2011 / 2012 Ofsted Early Years report, and the idea that weaker settings could be part of an agency to help drive improvements. Maybe that snippet of information will be released in the next day or two – maybe as I have suspected for some time, this is not really about driving improvement in outcomes for children, this is about saving the government money – because all the things in the Ofsted report,  all the reasons given as to why these changes are needed apply to those group settings that have lower inspection grades, those group settings where children are not making the progress that the government wants to see, as well as to childminders not achieving the higher grades.

And why is there this focus on childminders?

It just does not add up ……

Reading the article in Nursery World again, I have picked up some lack of understanding of EYFS 12, some flawed reasoning – that I am going to share with you Mr. Cameron.

First, is the view that childminder numbers have dropped – and the reasons given for this drop in numbers.

Figures provided by Ofsted themselves show that yes, there was a drop with the implementation of EYFS 2008 – as some childminders decided that rather than get to grips with the new framework, they would retire or take up other employment – and indeed many of those ceasing childminding at that time had not actually been actively childminding for a while – I know this because at the time I worked for the local authority and I had to phone childminders to  ask why they were leaving.  However the biggest drop has been in the number of childminders providing care for school age children,, not care for under fives.

Another fact not considered is the number of childminders who register but never actually take on children – often because they cannot recruit families, or their circumstances change – such  as become pregnant, get offered another job, move because of their partners job, changes to health or financial situation both improvement meaning that don’t need an income from childminding or a financial crisis meaning that they can not wait for their childminding business to become established. Then there are those who find out that they are not really suited to childminding – it seemed a good idea but in reality it is not for them. Then there is the conflict of interest with family life – it just is not the right profession for many.

Any  problems in becoming registered,  have  not been due to Ofsted or even local authority issues – it has been because of limited availability of the approved training course and first aid training – with people having to wait months for one to run in their area – add to that the further complications re times the courses run and ability to travel to the course and you have a huge problem. Having said that in many areas this is now less of a problem that it was a year or two ago.

It is true that by having agencies in each locality that training SHOULD be more readily available – but this issue could have been resolved without agencies and simply by ensuring more options for undertaking the courses were available.

Ofsted have had very strict guidelines for completion of new applications to become registered – and in my experience from when I re registered in 2010 – it was not Ofsted that caused the delay – even after I had found a course I could access there was another huge problem – that of the CRB checks – some went through quickly – mine didn’t, despite the fact that I held several CRB’s  already – BUT changes have already been made that should help solved the problem of the time to have records checked as to suitability of childminder applicants.

But  there is another issue –  the health declaration – some GP’s are very quick at doing this – some are not, some GP’s provide this service for free or for a reasonable price – some do not. For some applying to be childminders this up front fee is  not affordable – so will the agencies be paying for these health checks – even if later it needs repaying? And if so what will happen if the applicant does not pass the health, suitability or premises checks?

So you see Mr. Cameron the reasons for drop in childminder numbers are many, the reasons for not completing the registration process are many, the reasons why some register but never actually look after any children are many. The problem, of course, is that statistics  and graphs do not show all of this, they only give limited information –  however if you asked – the local authorities actually could have told you this – given the local details, the local reasons – and if you want a picture of the situation across the whole country the National Childminding Association has lots of information on this.

Which all leads to another direct question – who is going to cover the costs of these agencies that in future will support, register and inspect and train  childminders?

The government? If so why make the changes as already provide funding through local authorities and colleges for this ?

The childminders? And if so will there be a one off fee or an ongoing fee? I suspect that it will be ongoing and deducted from the payments made by parents – but what about those applying to become childminders? Will they have to pay up front with no guarantee that they will be able to complete the registration process? And if not will those childminder that are already registered and signed up to the agency be paying for this indirectly through the fees they pay.

Businesses? Through sponsorship maybe? If so would that make the childminders using the agencies, employees of these businesses – or at the very least subject to terms and conditions set for business reasons not the interests of the children?

Mr. Cameron unless you are going to fund these agencies through the direct government budget – all these details need to be made known and clearly explained.

Then there is the actual inspection of the agencies  – How big will an agency be? How many childminders in each one? Will the cost of the agency inspection be proportionate to the number of childminders in it? Will childminders be paying a % all year round or will they have to pay at the point the agency is inspected? Will each locality have its own agency inspection or could we see a head office somewhere being inspected?

AND THEN – what about those who choose to be independently inspected by Ofsted – What will the cost be? How often will the inspections be carried out?

Then there is the training – if removing that role from local authorities and giving it to the agencies – how will those childminders who choose to be independently inspected access training – and while talking about training- what about group settings? Where will they access training – Who will put it on?Will it meet the local need? How much will it cost?

In fact, will the fact that local authorities will no longer be providing free or subsidised training mean that this will be an increased cost to settings, that then gets passed on to parents via higher fees.

You are not making this clear Mr. Cameron are you? – Is it not possible by the removal of funding and the local authority role in providing training that settings will have to pay more either through agency fees or through paying for independent training – and that this will increase settings costs and potentially will lead to higher fees to parents?

The whole thing has the feel of someone trying to ‘pull the wool’ over my eyes, of someone trying to hide their own agenda of cost savings and hoping that no one notices that rather than reducing the costs of childcare, that actually the end result of these changes will be that settings costs rise – and sooner or later childcare costs will rise to cover these increased costs.

It is not fair, or democratic – to make announcements of such major changes with giving details of how the changes will impact on individuals including parents and childminders, and group settings and organisations.

Going back to the article in Nursery World – I have to ask questions about some of the reasons given for making these changes, because on top of the ‘blinkered view’ about childminder numbers and reasons for people not registering, staying registered or resigning – there are more statements in the article that show a complete misunderstanding of childminding registration.

Funding – yes local authorities do have different criteria – some even prevent childminders from providing the funded places – but this could have easily been solved – issue guidance from government! So as planning on doing now but without the whole agency thing involved.

How will the money get to the front line workers?  Will providers of the funded places be paid direct from central government? If not, will the money be ring fenced and local authorities told how much to pay in each area (to cover regional differences)? If so, where will the money come from to pay for the administration of the funding? Will it be set by central government how much the local authorities can claim for providing this service? And if any of these measures are to be put in place – and I assume they are,  as group providers and independently inspected childminders, will not be going through an agency – why can these measures not just be put into place now?

Why are agencies needed – to my mind it is just adding another level of management – another ‘middle man’ that will need paying.

Moving onto ratios – there seems to be a lack of knowledge about EYFS 12 – Of course places can be provided for twins – special permission is not needed – the childminder just has to assess if will be able to meet all the children’s needs – and provided stays within the overall 6 under 8 rule – applies an exception. Even before EYFS 12 and when variations needed to be applied for – twins were one of the reason that a variation would be given. However the point being missed is that is not the fact that there might only be one under one place available  that is the issue – it is the availability of two spaces within the overall number of 6 under 8. I know this because my daughter who has twins was unable to find a childminder with two spaces when she returned to work before the twins first birthday, and from the enquires that I personally get – in fact finding a good childminder with two spaces even for siblings of different ages is very difficult – unless it just happens that a family with two children is leaving just as a parent is looking for childcare for two children. It is not rocket science – most childminders can not afford to remain in business if they have two spaces and so will take on one child or a couple of part time children just to remain financially viable. Therefore these changes in ratios will make no difference – there is already flexibility within EYFS 12 to take on twins if have spaces within the 6 under 8 rule.

Secondly – the overlap issue – again EYFS 12 has the flexibility for this so if 2 sets of parents shifts overlap, a childminder can apply an exception if they want to. On the issue of a parent being late – this is unavoidable, can not be planned for and most childminders would apply a emergency exception while contacting the parent to see how late they will be, or contacting the emergency back up person, as specified in the details provided by parents – for that person to collect the child as soon as possible.

And the example of two childminders working together with 6 children and needing to go out for milk is plain silly.  Under the changes to ratios – if the two childminders  continued to have 6 children – the one popping out for milk would still have to take two children – and if the two childminders increased their numbers to 8 between them (assuming planning permission in place if needed) the one popping out for milk would have to take four with them!

It is the above examples –  Mr. Cameron,  that has made me realise that Ms.Truss  has yet to grasp the basic facts about childminding or a full understanding of the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012.

There is a lot more I could include here – but to be honest – there seems to be very little point in trying to reason or debate or even ask informed questions – because until the minster (and by default, you and the rest of the government) understand the rules,  regulations and indeed law under which registered childminders work – I (and my colleagues) will not have any impact in trying to explain why the governments plans are ill informed and not in the best interests of children, parents, childcare settings or indeed society as a whole.

A lot has been said about the need for early years staff to have appropriate qualifications for the job they do – I know that government minsters will never have appropriate qualifications in the area that they are minster for – but is it too much to ask that before making sweeping changes that they at least understand the issues involved and have read the appropriate statutory framework?

Rather ironic don’t you think Mr. Cameron? Childminders have been accused of finding the Early Years Foundation Stage ‘challenging’ and ‘having difficulties in understanding it’  – it seems the education minster faces similar challenges and difficulties.

Yours

Penny Webb

Registered Childminder

 

My good friend and colleague Beth Thomas has very kindly edited my letter – and made it a bit shorter. You can read Beth’s version here

Beth’s blog

Posted February 6, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

13 responses to “Tuesday 5th February – A few minutes of your time please Mr. Cameron ……

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  1. Pingback: Agencies, ratios and EYFS- Early Years

  2. Outstanding Penny. I hope that somehow, someone close to the PM gets to read this, but I don’t hold out hope.

  3. Penny You are a star…. well said!!!! I too believe there is a hidden agenda and it has nothing to do with saving parents money and everything to do with saving the government money in its funding of early years through Ofsted and Local Authorities. In the Wigan area we have wonderful support from our local authority who have set up accredited networks for the delivery of early years funding, Lead and Link child minder support schemes that provide peer to peer support for new and existing child minders as well as having a fantastic early years team ensuring training is appropriate, available and current, visiting child minders regularly and assisting them as needed. Rather than pull this rug out from under us, replacing it with an agency that is likely to be more interested in profit margins than child minders actual needs, the government need to come and visit areas like mine and see how best practice in local authority and child minder partnerships can work effectively. Hope you get a response to this email as I have still yet to have a response from Liz Truss via her twitter account

  4. Wow. Well said Penny.

  5. well done Penny – it really beggars belief some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that are constantly being paraded around in articles and so on. I wonder if along with the pulling the wool over our eyes regarding the real agenda here that the aim of the message going to parents and businesses will just see us as inferior to other childcare providers. Documents that are clearly trying to make us out as less efficient. less qualified and that we ‘struggle’ to understand the EYFS. Its all such rubish!
    Absolutely brilliant point about the fact that Liz Truss herself clearly has;t got a clue about the EYFS – she also obviously has no comprehension of childminders either. I wonder whether the Early Years person (from local council, pre-school or education) she consulted with, really had a clue either?!

  6. Well said Penny

  7. Penny I do not know where you get your energy from I was dead on my feet after training last night and that you had been up since 4 and then did this letter and it says everything that needed to be said. Well done.

  8. Can’t think of anything to add, Penny – Well Done (especially after the day you had, anyway) – You are an unbelievable inspiration to us all xxx

  9. Well written, I am currently planning my letter to Prime Minister, my local MP and Elizabeth Truss. I’ve just read the Consultation on Early Education and Childcare Staff Deployment. There is no mention of Childminder Agencies. Do you think there will be a separate consultation for this?? I doubt it, think according to Liz Truss’ Nursery World article it’s already happening. This has made me feel angry and cheated, they have not listened to us at all…. Kind regards Ruth Denton BA (Hons), EYPS, Accredited Childminder – Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

  10. Pingback: Sample Letter to send to MP’s « Penny's Place Childminding

  11. Well said, there’s so much uncertainty and I have spent years training and building up my business to an ‘outstanding’ grading. In my local area we had a strong Childminding Support team which the local authority cut and I feel we are constantly fighting for our rights. People like you are doing a fantastic job in raising awarenesses so keep up the good work.

  12. Pingback: Writing to your MP – an example letter for early years professionals to send « ONE VOICE

  13. I have been a Registered Childminder for 14 years, with two outstanding grades since Ofsted started the grading. If we choose to go in the agency, we will loose our ‘self-employed’ status and be ’employed’ by the agency. I cannot see the agencies doing all of our paperwork, e.g. observations etc. Also if some childminders in the agency recieve satisfactory gradings, our outstanding grades will be demoted to satisfactory, where’s the logic in that after all the hard work, over the years?
    I feel, by looking after more babies/toddlers would be dangerous. You could be the most fantastic childminder, but if you cannot keep your eyes on every child, every minute of the day, all of the time, while trying to do observations, finding out the children’s level of developments and giving one-to-one attention, then you are giving the best care. Each childminder knows their own limits in the numbers of children they look after, so it seems like we are being forced to care for more children, then we feel comfortable looking after. We as childminders, value these children and their parents by giving the best child care, without risks! I have also spoken to some parents and they are not happy with these changes because they want the best, safe care for their children.

    I will not be joining the agency and will only take on the number of children I feel is safe with, for all parties, this being as I have looked after three children under three years, with one child after school and two over 8 year olds, at the same time; therefore having safe numbers, still having fun, still learning and still SAFE!!

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