After a meal out with Carol and lots of discussion- Penny has lots to think about and write about   Leave a comment

Apologies for the delay in posting this particular blog post – as often happens – Penny gets sidetracked into writing other blog posts in response  to articles in the media.

Penny and her  very good friend  Carol  meet up for play dates, go to conferences and such like together,  and generally share similar thoughts on a lot of things related to childminding (but not all ) – and  every so often  go out for a meal together and a good chat.  Tuesday 2nd April was one of the  BOGOF meal occasions.

After discussing  family and current minding issues – oh and their  ‘dream’ of finding the ideal property for their home base community childminding co-operative – Penny and Carol  moved onto the on going discussion and worry about the proposals in the governments document More Great Childcare, Ofsted inspections and more.

The rest of this blog is written about Penny’s views (as per the conversation with Carol and her thoughts since the meal) – as it would be unprofessional to suggest that all the views expressed here were Carol’s – but lets just say – there was a lot of nodding going on – and verbal agreement to various parts of Penny’s discussion.

Part one – about Penny’s thoughts on childminder agencies.

Penny has a long standing opinion that the government has a long term aim of ‘getting rid’ of childminders – at least  as we know them now. She also think that the government will do everything needed to ensure this happens – a lot of it has to do with saving money and the misconception that childminders are not as ‘good’ as other types of settings.

However Penny thinks there is more to it than meets the eye – she thinks it is about  moving to center based care or at least a centrally controlled model – hence the agency model. She thinks the government have the opinion that children do better in a structured environment  and despite all those slightly condescending remarks about valuing childminders and the work they do, the government thinks that childminders are only any good at ‘baby sitting’

However the government also has a huge problem in that they need more childcare places – and especially for 2 yr olds, so they can’t ignore the potential that childminders could provide these places – and so need to retain some form of home based care.

Penny also thinks the government may have been a bit shocked at childminders reaction to the agency proposals,  and are constantly having to move the ‘goal post’ – not through an admission of ‘we got it wrong’ or even ‘we have listen to your concerns’ but through little bits of information slipped in here and there such as in responses to childminders letters, in media articles and at meetings – as if it was all part of the grand plan.

For example at one stage we were led to believe that all childminders would be part of agencies ……..later led to believe on that childminders would have a choice and could remain an independently registered and inspected childminder  – but  if part of an agency we would be employed

It was then revealed  we could be able to be part of a self employed agency or an employed agency

We were led to believe that we might have to pay a % of our income but then that we would pay for services ‘as used’ – oh but then again not if we choose to be part of an employed agency.

Of course the government will say rubbish – it has all been part of the proposals since day one and that each agency will – to a large extent – set its own criteria / terms and conditions – and indeed they are saying that BUT if that is genuinely the case why is the government writing to childminders who express concerns and giving information about what an agency will / could do? Surely if each agency is to have genuine freedom to set their own criteria then the government should simply be saying ‘We can’t give any further details until the agencies are formally set up’

Although Penny recognises that the government have finally issued some documents about agencies (interesttinly dated March but issued in April), This giving snippets of information up to this point has been misleading, confusing and to be honest completely unprofessional – as some people read one thing and some another – and some read nothing, waiting for their LA to tell them. It is difficult to keep up to date with what the current information is, what is fact (and if actually from the government), what is rumour or ‘Chinese whispers’; It is no wonder that there is confusion, no wonder that people – especially childminders have given up trying to make sense of it all and that some childminders are already leaving the profession or considering other employment options.

Then there is the whole ‘pilot’ thing – is it a pilot or isn’t it? Some suggest that the pilot agencies won’t really be fully functioning agencies – but providing  ‘in theory’ activities and ‘what if?’ scenarios, because so it is said, until the law changes, agencies won’t be able to implement all aspects of an agency. Common sense says – they won’t be able to register or inspect or employ childminders, won’t be able to set criteria for practice that must be followed – in fact common sense say ‘what will a pilot agency be able to do?’ Certainly what will they be able to provide in the way of evidence for the evaluation of the pilot agencies – that has already been agreed on as happening in early Spring 2014.

It is now clear that the government are not commissioning anyone to pilot the agencies and not putting any money into agencies at all, they will have to self financing – and to Penny’s mind those running the agencies will need to cover costs at the very least but far more likely will need to make a profit. – and it does not take a maths GCSE to work out that to pay for inspection, support or monitoring visits and training – both statutory and not statutory, to cover travel costs and office costs and hidden staff costs such as sick pay and maternity pay – agency childminders will be required to pay a hefty fee each month or year ( and it is not clear yet if parents will have to pay to access the agencies services or not)

Then there is the issue of what the models will actually look like, and how many different models of agencies will be piloted? Guidance issued by the DfE recently indicate that a range of models will be piloted – but it is any ones guess ‘what a range is?’ Maybe one or two – or maybe seven or eight different models – who knows?

Furthermore with such limited data available due to not being able to carry out or offer all aspects of an agency –  how will any worthwhile conclusions be made? how will they know what works and what doesn’t?

Surely the government could have given much more detail about the  different agency models that they think would be workable – that way EVERYONE would know what the potential agencies could be like. Then an evaluation could be made as to if some, all, or none of the piloted models were suitable and would be made available. Again this would enable everyone to know what was happening.

Maybe Penny is cynical – but the whole thing feels like a ‘done deal’ – that agencies will be announced as a success and the way forward – even though neither those interested in running agencies or those who volunteer to take part in the so called pilots will be able to provide evidence for any of  things that they have not actually experienced / taken part in.

And Penny has to ask – If – as she expects them be – agencies are announced to be successful – and the way forward – will further changes to the statutory framework be made so that childminders either have to join an agency or give up childminder or become part of a network of  childminders that although individually inspected, have to operate more like a setting in a nursery chain – or indeed to actually be part of a nursery or school or children’s center ‘hub’. Putting it bluntly – in the future will childminders be able to work alone and run their setting as they wish?

Some will say that Penny is being very negative and jumping to conclusions that are not based on fact – Penny’s response is that she does not trust this government – having spent a considerable amount of time pre EYFS 12, responding to consultations, attending meetings and indeed taking part in the pilot inspections – Penny – at that time believed everything she was told by the DfE, Ofsted, the Local Authorities and the membership organisations – that – NOTHING could be changed until the end of the inspection cycle of EYFS 12 – so 2016.

Penny was therefore shocked to find that just a couple of months after the implementation of EYFS 12 that major changes were being considered and only about 5 months after the implementation of EYFS 12 – More Great Childcare was published – and with it the realisation that some changes would be made by September 2013.

It has to be asked if the government wanted to make these changes – why the heck were they not changed before the introduction of EYFS 12 – would have saved a lot of time and money.

BUT the biggest concern that Penny has about the whole agency ‘thing’ is the almost complete lack of information about those childminders who wish to remain independent – of course it could be that nothing will change with regard to Ofsted fees and inspection BUT we already know that there will be changes to training and support as the government have announced that the role of the LA will be changing and support and training will either provided a realistic market driven cost or not provided at all – leaving providers to arrange their own training. As those who join an agency will have training and support provided as part of the services they pay for – questions need to be asked and answered about availability of training and support for independent childminders – and the costs.

Part Two – Penny’s thoughts on Ofsted Inspections

Regular readers of this blog will know that Penny has been saying for a while now that she is not over bothered about the outcome of her next inspection – and going further, now has to say that her current grade of outstanding does not mean as much as it did when she first was awarded it in 2010. In fact, Penny has changed her practice so much since that 2010 inspection, that she doubts that if using the criteria of the EYFS 08  she was inspected again,  that she would get an outstanding. Furthermore although judged to be oustanding for the pilot inspections for EYFS 12 – Penny thinks that some inspectors would not recognise her practice as outstanding practice because Penny does not do things ‘by the book’.

(Please Note – Penny still considers her practice to be outstanding at best and very good at least – but knows that those who do not understand Penny’s ethos and practice will think differently.)

Penny (and all the others taking part in the pilots for EYFS 12) was led to believe that Ofsted inspections under EYFS 12 would focus on the child , that observed evidence would be the primary evidence and paperwork would be secondary evidence. In other words that the children attending the setting on the day of inspection, would through their play, behaviour, level of understanding, language, enjoyment, interaction with the each other and the adults be the main form of evidence.

Penny was also led to believe that inspectors would not be able to say ‘thou must’ do it this way or that way, or be able to quote chapter and verse from development matters and insist through actions that providers must implement that practice. Penny believed that providers would have responsibility to explain why they did things the way they did – and why it worked for their setting and for the children and families accessing the services of their setting.

However it would appear from comments of those who have had inspections under EYFS 12, and the reading of many Ofsted reports that this is not the case AT ALL. On this blog there are other blog posts about things that Penny has questioned and written to Ofsted about – particularly the use of wording from development matters in actions. Also Penny has heard from many childminder practitioners that they have been downgraded for not planning formal activities, not pre recording potential development and not recording development to the development matters statements. None of which are actually specified within the Statutory Framework as in ‘must do this way’

All of this leads Penny to think that all that talk of Every Child Matters, an individualised curriculum, learning through play, trusting practitioners to know the children in their care well and therefore be able to provide a enabling environment, changing the focus of inspections – was in fact just talk.

So Penny has been thinking – how will she get her point across to Ofsted, if the inspector does not understand Penny’s ethos and way of doing things – and thinks that Penny’s practice is less than outstanding , indeed even less than good ……..

….. and Penny has an answer which is is going to share now with everyone – so that if practitioners want to they can challenge a judgement or actions in the same way as Penny plans to.

First

Listen carefully to what the inspector has to to say – don’t interrupt

Second

Stay calm on the outside even if shaking with the injustice of it all / getting upset /wanting to shout or run out of the room

Third

Say in the most professional voice that you can (and watch your body language)

‘ Thank you Mr. or Mrs. Inspector for your professional opinion about my practice and more importantly about the progress of the children in my setting.

Focusing on the children present here today please can you aid my reflective practice and the possible actions that I might take in light of your feedback, and explain how implementing the actions you have suggested will improve the outcomes for these particular children.  I would be grateful if you could be specific and talk about each child in turn as they are all unique and are all at different stages of development and have different interests.

Whilst I recognise that for some children that I may care for in the future, your suggested actions may be beneficial – I am sure you will agree that as in line with the EYFS, I must plan and implement appropriate activities for these children (not future children or hypothetical children) based on my observations and knowledge of these children, and I must safeguard these children again to meet their specific needs, and I must work in partnership with their parents.’

If the inspector comes up with things like ‘Well it says in Development Matters ….. ‘  or ‘Research shows …. ‘

Just says for some children those would be a good starting point but for these children ……..’

Because of course the children in your care will be making good or excellent progress – and if not you will have identified the difficulty , discussed with the parents (and maybe involved other professionals) and agreed on an action plan to support that child.

 

Of course the short answer is less polite, less professional but more to the point

‘Mr or Mrs Inspector you do not have a clue about the needs of children here today, or the needs of their families – I do.’

 

As it says in the title of this blog post Penny has a lot to think about and write about … no doubt further thought will lead to further writing in due course 🙂

 

 

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