Archive for May 2013

Friday 31st May – Shared thinking, team working and generally a lovely time in the garden.   Leave a comment

With the appearance of the sun this morning, Penny sent a text to Carol saying that we would be in the garden this morning if she wanted to join us. Carol replied that she only had one little one and would love to join us.

So by 9:50 Penny, Carol and 6 under fives were all in Penny’s garden enjoying the sun. The children were in the splashsuits as the grass was wet, the bark round the climbing frame was wet, and there was water on the patio where Penny had uncovered the sand pit.

As well as the continuous provision in the garden of climbing frame, sandpit and chalkboard, Penny had put out the weaving frame and a basket of things to weave with, a large basket of assorted sized reels, and the wooden planks.

The children were very excited to see the planks as they were new – and the immediately picked then up and carried them over their head – brilliant for muscle building and balance – but not so good for any friends who happen to be in the way as the planks were twisted and turned!

So a ‘lesson’ in how to carry the planks sensibility and the need to think about what you are doing with the plank. So the children did – and put the planks on the grass and walked along them. Before long the had worked out how to balance the planks across the reals.

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Then they wrap the treading things round the planks – Chinzia asked Erin for help – Erin didn’t help her but Archie did  – working together to wrap threading things round the plank.

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They wrapped threading things round the trees

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They made a ramp between the gravel area and the bark area surround- and tried various different number of planks, angles of the ramp – some safe – some not. They thought about what to do if their ramp wobbled, – move some planks, What to do if the pile of ramps a bit high – Chinzia stood at the end and held each persons hand as the jumped off the end.


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They worked together as a team, sharing their thoughts and ideas – but at other times they worked alone, they solved their problems – and created different ones. They disagreed at times, supported each other emotionally at other times. They accidentally hurt each other and themselves as they developed their risk assessment skills.


All in all a brilliant morning in the garden

Oh and Carol’s little one? Carol was very pleased to observe that her mindee played in the sandpit when she does not usually like wet sand, and that she did some chalking and some weaving



Tuesday 28th / Wednesday 29th May – Linking rainy days to Hungry Caterpillar Theme   1 comment

After the lovely sunny Bank Holiday weekend, the children and Penny found themselves faced with a wet Tuesday, so Penny decided to offer the children the opportunity to use the new paint dabbers that she had brought at the car boot on Sunday

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Of course a bargain at £2 for a set of 6 bottles of washable paint – ok there were 2 brown ones in each pack (Penny of course brought 2 packs) but that does not matter.

So the children had a go – the dabbers are very easy to use – take top off, hold container upside down, press sponge end onto the paper. Penny let the children ‘do their own thing’ which they really enjoyed

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Then one child noticed that sometimes the dots of paint spread out a bit and looked like raindrops – so of course the children then experimented to see how to make raindrops on purpose. Turns out, you hold the container a little higher over the paper then do your dot – very effective.

The children then  did lots of pictures – and even Penny did one – and enjoyed it.


In the car later, Shona started singing ‘It’s raining, its pouring’ (it was) and all the children joined in. We thought of and sang lots of songs with rain in them. Then Alex noticed that the car was splashing in the puddles – so we thought of other words – coming up with ‘Splish, Splash, Splosh’

I am coming to the link with our Hungry Caterpillar theme


Roll onto Wednesday morning and – yes raining again. Chinzia and Erin were already playing when Alex and Shona arrived. Discussion about the rain and needing coats and wellies/ boots.

Penny posed the question ‘I wonder how the Hungry Caterpillar keeps dry in the rain?’

The children all had ideas – some sensible possibilities, some a little ‘strange’ but nevertheless their ideas. Lorna (Alex and Shona’s Mummy) who was still doing the morning handover with Penny – helped support the children with further questions about their suggestions – and of course Penny did the same

‘Trees’ said Alex ‘they go up the trees’

‘Leaves’ said Chinzia ‘They hide in the leaves’

A bit of further discussion  – then it was time for Lorna to go to work and for Penny to finished breakfasts for those that wanted breakfast and so the discussion cam to an end.

But in Penny’s head the ‘thinking’ was still going on – Penny had a visual image of some printed leaves that were already cut out – and left over from another hungry caterpillar activity, and was designing a activity in her head as she got on with breakfasts.


Later on – Penny asked the children if they wanted to use the paint dabbers again – they did. So Penny suggested they might like to paint a small caterpillar, and hide it under a leaf to keep dry from the rain.

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This is what they did


And because they had enjoyed making a caterpillar so much, they all then made more caterpillars – as you can see

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Penny thinks the money spent on the paint dabbers was money well spent

My Tweet to DfE and their response – and a little story about preparing for things and informing others   1 comment

This morning I sent a tweet to the DfE as follows;

@educationgovuk When are the government going to provide the details to the proposals in MGC, especially about childminder agencies?

A few hours later I got a reply, as follows;

@PSW26259 Childminding changes need primary legislation and are included in the Children and Families Bill:

Now I am grateful that the DfE took the time to respond to my tweet – and realise that the person replying may not know who I am, or know anything about One Voice but even so the question was not answered – not even an approximate date.


So I thought I would tell a little story for the benefit of the DfE and anyone else who does not understand that in most things in life – you have to do a little preparation – you have to state in your head or publicly your intentions should the thing you are waiting for becomes a reality.

My story relates to when I decided to leave my job with the LA and re register as a childminder

Although I knew that I could not operate as a childminder until it was legal to do so and I had my Ofsted registration certificate on the wall – this did not stop me doing a lot of preparation before that day arrived.

Plan when to give notice for my LA job

I located and booked myself on to the appropriate courses, paid and attended them

I filled in the Ofsted application form

I thought about what I wanted to achieve in terms of my setting and then I wrote my policies and procedures, and my parent pack  explaining how I would run my setting IF I became registered

I did some research into fees charged in my local area and spoke to other early years settings – then I set my fees

I decided that I needed to spread the word about my POTENTIAL childminding service – and so set up a website, making it clear that I was not yet registered and so the information was just to inform people of my intentions.

A lot of thought, a lot of research, a lot of work and sharing of information – all for something which may not have become a reality.

Of course as it turns out – I was re registered and went on to have my graded inspection a few months later – however things had changed, policies and procedures had already been updated and changed to meet my actual needs rather than my educated guess based ideas. My fees had already been reviewed and changed.

What I am saying of course is that in order to set up, register and operate as a childminder, I had to provide initial information- state  my intentions. This did not mean that I could not reflect upon or review my stated intentions – far from it – nothing was set in stone and unable to be changed, but people reading the information that I provided had a good idea about my ethos, what my practice would be like, how much my fees were likely to be, the hours that I would open and so much more.

So government – with childminder agencies – I understand that the law needs to be changed, I understand that you can not state how things will actually be until the law is changed ……..BUT ……………. I do not understand why you can not set out your intentions – what you hope will be implemented, what the approximate costs will be both to be part of an agency and to stay independently registered and inspected, how you see agencies and hubs working side by side, the role you see for membership organisations, the role you expect childminders to fulfill, how all the different aspects will join together and work together for the benefit of parents,  children and childminders.

At least if everyone knew your intentions, knew what you are thinking will unfold, everyone will be able to engage in professional debate, decide on the their own futures and make their own plans ready for day when the governments actual intentions are made known.

I know that there will be proposals already on paper, I know that meetings are already taking place with those interested in running agencies, I know that the government has a ‘grand plan’ for the future of early years settings and for childcare and education – so please share it with those that these plans, these intentions are going to impact on – and stop drip feeding snippets of information, that confuse, worry , lead to rumours and a great deal of distress, and do not appear to be part of any ‘joined up’ thinking.

And should the government really have no idea how agencies will look and operate …………………

I have been waiting for this …… it needs confirmation ….. but if true ……..very worrying for all early years settings   21 comments

I have mentioned / commented on the possible Ofsted fee for childminders who want to remain independently registered with Ofsted.

I have commented on the fact that the DfE / Ofsted have not published this information yet – or even given a ball park figure.

Well, today I have received information from a reliable source that my worse fears may well be right – and that if childminders want to remain independently registered with Ofsted (rather than join one of the proposed childminder agencies) then they will have to pay the full cost of that inspection – and the figure quoted is …….. about £700 per inspection.

Whilst I hope that this figure is not the fee that will be charged, I will not be surprised if it is correct – nor would I be surprised if it is a ‘leaked’ figure designed to scare  in the hope that people start to express an interest in agencies ahead of the publication of  the actual fee – so that the government can say that there is interest in agencies, and continue to push ahead with agencies.

If the figure is correct – it does of course open up a ‘can of worms’ and a whole load more questions.

Will other settings have to pay the full cost of inspection?

This Ofsted factsheet Ofsted fees says that

Childminders pay £35 per year,

Childcare providers on non-domestic or domestic premises who operate for less than four hours per day, or less than five days per week, or less than 45 weeks per year £50,

Childcare providers on non-domestic or domestic premises who operate for:  four or more hours per day; five or more days per week; and 45 or more weeks per year (Please note that only those providers meeting all three of the above criteria qualify). Pay £220 per year

So even in the most expensive example – unless inspections are 4 or more years apart, less than £700 is paid to Ofsted between inspections – and I would think that the actual cost of inspecting a bigger setting – where 2 inspectors are present and / or inspection take more than one day – will be more than £700?


One thing that the rumour that I have heard did not clarify is – is this figure of £700 to be charge for every actual inspection or to be collected via an annual fee that adds up to £700 – so a annual fee of about £230??

So as always – more questions if the rumour is correct

– and if it is not factually correct – just when will the government issue some guidelines / ball park figures

– and when will we know if increased inspection fees are on the cards for all early years settings rather than just those childminders who want to remain independently registered and inspected by Ofsted?


And for me – as a childminder – I have to ask why are the government so ‘anti childminders’ when their own figures say other types of early years settings  do not cover the true cost of inspection – and that a %  of other early years settings are graded less than good and therefore needing support.

In my opinion,  it seems to me that the government – despite their statements about valuing childminders and wanting to increase the number of childminders – actually don’t want independently registered and inspected childminders – they want ‘add ons’ to nurseries, children’s centers, schools and so on – so that a) wrap around care is provided and b) the governments idea that formal learning is better, is pushed forward and c) that direct guidance on what to do or not do, can be not onlybe provided but insisted on.

Which maybe judgmental, may be harsh, may be spreading rumour when facts are not known – but I blame the government for not providing the detail and not answering the very many questions asked by myself and thousands of other childminders.

May be if the government started responding, started providing detail – there will be lass spreading of rumours , less trying to guess what is behind the governments headline statements – and  more opportunity for professional engagement with the government, and professional personal decision making , based on facts, about the whole More Great Childcare proposals.



What a fantastic Bank Holiday – and as a bonus Mr.Penny’s Place has been very busy.   3 comments

Of course we have had lovely weather here in Kidderminster for the whole weekend, with the rain not arriving until the early hours of Tuesday.

Penny and Mr,Penny’s Place have had visitors as their daughter Claire, husband Chris, twins Ben and Josh – and dogs Alfie and Thomas came to stay.

Ben and Josh thought the garden make over was fantastic and played on the climbing frame and in the sand pit – however the best thing was Penny’s (Granny’s) large tub of wellies. Children are required to have bare feet or wellies if they go in the sandpit – and Ben and Josh wanted to wear wellies – so out came the tub.

The boys then spent ages finding pairs, trying wellies on, talking about sizes, ones they liked or didn’t like – and then they found a small pair of red wellies and were surprised when Granny told them that their Mummy had worn those wellies when she was a little girl (in fact so had all Mummy’s sisters). Penny was teased about this – ‘what only one pair of wellies for all four daughters?’ Well yes – times were hard and of course they did not all wear the wellies at the same time due to age difference. Rosie, (Penny’s and Mr.Penny’s Place youngest daughter) and her husband Chris popped round and of course the boys wanted to know if Aunty Rosie had worn the little red wellies.

We spent most of the day in the garden – which did make things easier with the dogs – the two visiting ones and the three who live at Penny’s Place.

On Sunday morning we went to the car boot and met eldest daughter Michelle and her youngest Selena there. Ben and Josh were a little overwhelmed as it was very busy. However they managed to find things they wanted to buy – and Ben smiled at people and was given a free car and a free pencil sharpener. Josh was not so lucky – even though he preferred the broken toys – no one gave him anything.

The visitors all then headed back to Cheshire – and Penny had an important commitment to keep. Scarlett (daughter Gillian’s middle child)  is now walking well and so, as she has with all the grandchildren, Penny took Scarlett to the shoe shop to buy her first pair of fitted shoes. £32 later and Scarlett is now the proud owner of a beautiful pair of white shoes with sparkly bits and flowers.

Then on Monday – Mr.Penny’s Place started on the task of making the shelves in the garage to store Penny’s resources. So Penny had the job of emptying the resources out of the garage, holding bits of wood while Mr.Penny’s Place fixed bits together, making cups of tea – and of course looking for the things that Mr.Penny’s Place had put down and forgotten where he had put them.

Mr.Penny’s Place worked very hard all day – and only got cross a couple of times – and by bedtime this is what he had created

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And a couple more pictures of part of the unit

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As you can imagine Penny has had a great weekend and is delighted with her new storage unit

Now Penny is wondering when will Mr.Penny’s Place have time to build the shelves on the other side of garage?

The government figures about increased ratios impact on costs, fees and pay   4 comments


So today’s news is all about this document

Where a Freedom of Information request has resulted in the release of the governments reasoning for increasing ratios and how it will lead to higher pay for early years practitioners, lower childcare fees for parents and higher qualifications for staff.

I acknowledge that I do not run a nursery, that I do not have a degree in Maths – and that I am writing this in the very short period of time when the children in my care are having their nap. So this is just a quick snapshot of my initial thoughts – I am sure that someone will come along who has more time, more knowledge and a calculator to hand.

So this is what I think;

  • Do any childcare businesses base their financial figures on 100% occupancy? I would be surprised if they do because everyone in the childcare sector knows there are times when 75% occupancy is hard to achieve. Also due to the part time hours that many parents require even if a full quota of children are on the books there will still be times when there is a gap in hours of children using the same place. There will be times when parents cut hours for various reasons, there will times when parents lose their jobs or move or are on maternity leave. There will be times when lots of children leave at the same time to go to school or to go to the maintained nursery for their FE hours.

Without a doubt there will be times when any childcare setting is not at 100% occupancy

  • Yes, a lot of the children are 3 and 4 year olds – and almost all of them are in receipt of the FE funding – so for those hours the fee to parents is not set by the childcare provider but by the government. Therefore you can not just multiply number hours by hourly fee.
  • The government are requiring a lot more places for funded 2 year old places – therefore the potential 1:13 ratios and associated income increase will not be achieved as the space in the nursery will be taken up with 2 year olds
  • Is the government suggesting that early years settings let their loyal staff with out degrees go – so they can replace them with graduates? (the example suggest that, as the staff not currently degree level). If not who is going to pay for the staff to gain these qualifications, to pay for staff cover etc – while still not able to operate at higher ratios as staff yet to complete  their degree. What if one of the degree qualified staff goes off sick – what will happen to the ratio’s then – will it possible or financially feasible to hire temporary degree level cover?
  • I see that national insurance and pension mentioned as a cost – but does this figure also include holiday pay, and more importantly sick pay (as I think staff will go off sick  more frequently with stress, with back injuries and so on). If the ‘admin’ person is covering for sick leave – what happens if need more than one person to cover on some occasions – if long term who is actually doing the admin?
  • Who is preparing meals, cleaning and so on – because IF 100% occupancy achieved the staff working with the children won’t be able to do this task – because of the ratio requirements?
  • Who is attending the ‘team around’ child meetings – and any other meetings – which are bound to increase in number due to the increased number of funded two year olds?
  • How are staff going to access week day training events if at 100% occupancy – additional staff – maybe agency or bank staff who cost more per hour might need to be employed.
  • What if a setting is currently charging less than the quoted figures – the % related figures will all need adjusting.  Many settings also offer a weekly fee which works out at a lower fee for the parent per hour – so again the figures won’t add up
  • Would a decrease of around 50p an hour really make a difference to those families who receive tax credits, as if getting say 50% help with fees that is only a saving of 25p per hour, and if getting 70% a saving of only 15p an hour. And for those in receipt of 15 hours funding it is not a full week of hourly savings that will be made.
  • Oh – and do the government think all nurseries have 60% staff costs, 14% non staff costs – AND therefore 26% profit????

My time is up – as my little ones are starting to stir- I am sure there are a ‘lot more holes’ in this example that I have not mentioned but as a final point

  • How does this all relate to childminders or pack away groups that may operate morning / afternoon sessions rather than full daycare?

4Children funded hubs versus non funded childminder agencies   2 comments

I read this article about the government funding to 4children to set up community childcare hubs when it came out on 14th May, and was confused.

My confusion stems from the fact that these community childcare hubs seem to have many of the aims of the proposed childminder agencies – and yet while childminder agencies are reportedly to be self financing with no government funding at all, 4children have been given  £750,000 of funding over 2 years to develop the hub model in several pilot areas.

The article explains that the idea behind hubs is different to the idea behind childminder agencies – and indeed it is , BUT there are areas of overlap, and it is these overlaps in the aims that is going to add yet another layer of choice and even more confusion for childminders and parents.

Details are limited at the moment and so may explore this subject a bit more later when detail is known – but for now going to use the information from the article above and the this article published in Nursery World on 20th May

The first similarity is where both hubs and agencies will operate from, anyone can set up a childminder agency but it is suggested that Children’s centres, schools, nurseries, childminding networks would all be viable options

While the places chosen for the pilot hubs are according to the Nursery World article;  an academy with a private provider; a free school with a voluntary provider; a private provider; a children’s centre; and a nursery class and Reception class.

4Children have stressed that providers will have to want to be part of the hubs, but childminders will have to also want to be part of agencies – so another similarity.

The aim  of hubs will be to put structures and processes in place to develop a financially sustainable childcare offer, with different providers working together, but so will agencies as it is mentioned that childminders might provide wrap around care to the nursery, school or children centre that is running the agency. Both agencies and hubs will support parents to find childcare that meets their needs. So another similarity.

Hubs will have a leader (in the pilots employed by 4 Children), each agency will have a leader employed by whoever is running the agency. So another similarity.

Agencies will support the childminders with sharing good practice and training – as will the hubs .  So another similarity.

Of course there are many differences – mainly that agencies will be just for childminders to join (based on information supplied so far) and agencies will be able to register and inspect childminders, where as (again on information supplied so far) hubs won’t.

The other is difference is that those working with hubs will be able to do so for FREE where as with agencies childminders will either have to pay a fee or a % of income, or be employed (and therefore paying in other ways such as a lower pay, or longer hours )

It is not clear if funding will be available for hubs after the piloting period though 4Children, nor is it clear if agencies will use the hub model being piloted in future, if it proves to be successful, or if agencies will be ‘superseded’ by hubs or vice versa .

However what is very clear is that childminders will have to make decisions about if they want to join an agency, if they want to remain independently registered and inspected by Ofsted – and if they do remain independent if they want to be part of a hub.

Mind you it is not yet been said if an agency childminder with an ‘outstanding’ agency based grade (therefore the agency grade not their own individual grade) will be able to be part of a hub as well as an agency. More detail on this clearly needed.

For parents the choice of where to go to for help and support in finding childcare is going to be in plentiful supply but I think very confusing and difficult to work out the best option for them.


–      if childminder agencies are such a good idea (in the governments eyes) why have they commissioned these pilots for hubs – rather than just enabling all providers who want to join an agency

–      Why have the government not either provided pilot funding for agencies or not provided pilot funding for hubs – as this seems to be unfair and gives hubs an edge as their start up costs are covered where as agencies have to self fund – and pass those costs o to their future childminder / parents clients.


I am also confused with the time scales – the pilot hubs are to start end of May13 and run for 2 years, whereas the childminder agencies pilots are to start in Sept 13, be evaluated in Spring 14 and (if successful) rolled out from Sept 14 – so how does this all fit together?

And are not hubs very similar in some aspects to the NDNA pilots as below?

Integrated wrap-around care – 12 trials bringing together day nurseries, childminders, schools and Academies

So yet more choice, yet more confusion – yet more unfair funding for pilots of very similar ideas.

There are other issues connected to the recently announced government funding that I think causes confusion and is not very ‘joined up’ thinking  – and I shall focus on this in a future blog.