If I joined a childminding agency – some self reflection on the idea   19 comments


First, I need to be clear that I am not currently thinking of joining an agency, but as I am a reflective practitioner – I do consider all ideas and decide if it will work for my setting – and in particular if it will have any benefit for the parents and children using my childminding services.

The main reason that I have already decided that I will not be joining an agency is that I want to continue to have my own Ofsted inspection, as I feel this is the only way that parents will have a comparable indicator  of the quality of my setting against other early years settings.

However let’s assume for the purposes of this blog that the government make it compulsory to join an agency or so expensive / difficult to remain an independently registered and inspected childminder that I have no choice.

Self Employed or Employed Agency

If I am going to have to give up my right to an individual inspection – I can see very little point in remaining self employed as whatever I do in terms of continuous professional development, buying resources, providing high quality care and education, being flexible with hours worked and so on – will not be reflected in my Ofsted grade. Also I really don’t know why I should be expected to pay for services that not only have I provided for myself for many years – but have also provided to others as part of my role as a ccf network coordinator/ LA childminding development officer,  and more recently for free to colleagues who ask for my support. So a self employed agency model is not for me.

If I am going to be judged by agency staff, told what I should or should not do  – so that I meet the expectations and criteria of whichever agency I join – I might as well have the benefit of being employed and  able to enjoy some of things currently not an option for me as a self employed person – so  paid sick pay, holiday pay, paid for hours worked, not number of children attending. Plus of course if the agency is not successful and closes – redundancy pay. Maybe there will be a pension as well?

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say all these usual employee benefits must be provided by childminding agencies. If childminding agencies are not going to be providing these benefits – that it won’t be offering genuine employment, just all the disadvantages of being employed without the benefits of being employed.

The government are not giving any details only saying that each agency will develop its own ‘model’ – which to me appears to be passing on all responsibility to the agencies without thinking about the consequences of agencies avoiding their responsibilities as employers.

Mind you, if I do become employed by an agency – one of the first things that I would do is join a union as a full member – something else which is not possible as a self employed childminder. Therefore if an agency does not provide me with the full benefits of being employed, I will ensure details are given to the union.

What about my current resources and paperwork?

Of course if I join an agency and become employed, there will be no need for me to worry about maintaining my current extensive, quality resources and equipment – and to be honest Mr. Penny’s Place would be very grateful if I did sell my resources, as there is hardly a spare inch of space in our house that is not crammed full of ‘childminding things’ – and in his opinion I am obsessed with buying things for childminding reasons – (and he is right, I want to provide the very best resources and equipment that I can, and a safe and enabling environment). However if it is no longer my business, my reputation – nor of direct benefit to me in terms of Ofsted grade, attracting new customers, pride in my own setting – will I bother?

I think although I would want to – the other side of me that is currently very depressed due to the constant ‘knocking’ of my professionalism will say – let’s not bother, let’s do as little as possible because why should I do more than I need to,  for the benefit of  the agencies profit or the agency based Ofsted grade?

So I would sell ‘the extra’s’ (the stuff that not every childminder has – and certainly not every childminder has space for, financial means to buy, passion to spend hours locating and buying quality resources). I would of course keep the essentials – but would I? Why the heck should I provide the ‘essentials’ free of change – when I went to work for the local authority I was not told that I had to provide, a desk, a chair, a computer, stationary, the toys for the network childminders toy library – no it was all provided. So with further reflection I shall sell it all – and leave it to the agency to provide everything – maybe through a well stocked toy and equipment toy library?

I can almost hear Mr. Penny’s Place’s  cheers – no more car seats, no more double and single pushchairs, no more travel cots and highchairs, no more outside toys, no more what he calls ‘junk’ and I call heuristic play resources. In fact we would gain a spare room, a few cupboards and under bed storage, and the garage, and a garden shed, and the conservatory – oh and the loft – back for family use, because all we would need was space for that weeks resources and equipment – which hopefully we could return when we were on holiday or had visitors staying.

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say childminding agencies must provide toy and equipment libraries.

As to paperwork – I would be prepared to fill in whatever the agency required in terms of paperwork – provided I am paid to do so – or given free time to fill it in during the week. Maybe the agency will provide ‘playgroups’ for their agency childminders where the minded children will be engaged in activities and experiences provided by fully qualified staff, while I and fellow agency childminders are given access to computers, printers, paper – and of course the support of a member of agency staff to provide that essential help in filling in the paperwork.

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say that childminding agencies should provide a playgroup or the means to complete paperwork.

What about the number of children that I will care for as an agency childminder and my current opening hours?

Well, to be honest I will care for the number of children that I am legally able to care for, but it won’t be my responsibility to find the clients – and I would expect to be paid for any time outside my working hours that I spent showing people round my setting. I would also expect to be paid for times when I was not full in terms of  legal limits of children

Of course I would not have to spend time filling in contracts, permission forms, printing out policies, or child information forms, as the agency staff will do all this and I will just get copies. (My contract being with the agency, not the parents).

I would need to change the type of experiences that I provide – in fact I think I would sell my childminding car – as not all childminders have a car or can drive – so why should I provide a car and why should I offer a collection and take home service if it is not a standard requirement of the agencies? Hopefully I will get given a bus pass, or the name of a taxi company that I am able to use – free at point of use and the bill sent to the agency. If not I will be limited to places that I can walk to.

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say childminding agencies should support my business in this way.

As to my current opening hours, I am quite happy to continue to offer the same hours – as it meets the needs of working parents (my opening hours are currently 5:30 – 19:00).

However I am not prepared to offer these hours at standard fees (as I do now) – as an employed person I would expect a ‘overtime fee’, as paid to other employees who work non standard  hours. If this is not an option – I will not object but will just provide a standard 8 hr working day at the standard hourly rate.

And that hourly rate of pay that I would expect? At least the minimum wage, and all direct costs such as food paid for by the agency. However as I will be providing the premises and the gas, electricity, water, and paying through my council tax for refuse collection – I would expect to be reimbursed for this (not a problem for me as I have lots of accounts over many years to show the cost of providing these things )

I would also expect an enhanced hourly rate for my experience and my qualifications, so as a ball park figure I would expect around £10 an hour (and I am sure my colleagues with degrees and EYPS would require a lot more) so for my standard 40 hour week I would except a wage of about £400 plus direct expenses, plus overtime rate (if overtime hours used). Naturally if I had children under 5 of my own , I would expect less per hour – but in my case all my children have left home.

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say all childminding agencies should pay the going rate for the professional skills provided.

Mr. Penny’s Place would be delighted because although I currently earn more than £400 per week gross income, I work a minimum of 60 hours hands on with the children (often more) and work around 30 hours a week (minimum) on paperwork, sorting and preparing resources, buying resources, researching on the internet – so without training and meetings at minimum of a 90 hour working week. Plus of course I have to personally pay all the expenses – and because I do buy quality resources, do go to national conferences and so on,  my expenses take between 50 and 70% of my income – leaving me with far less profit than I would hopefully have (after tax and national insurance) from an agency wage.

So from my point of view – once I get over my personal pride in my setting, abandon my ethos and principles, and passion for childminding and my genuine desire to provide a service that meets the needs of parents and children – I will have a better quality of life, my family home back for family use – and per hour worked more money in my pocket – so I concede as a employed childminder in an agency – there would be some advantages.

And the parents currently using my service?

Well, personally I don’t think they are going to be very happy – their children will not experience the same type of experiences and activities, they will lose the collect and take home service, they will only get 8 hours of care instead of the current 10 hrs per day as standard, even if extended hours are provided they will have to pay an enhanced rate for those extended hours, they will lose their direct negotiation with me about pay and other contract issues.

But of course the government has promised these reforms within More Great Childcare will mean lower childcare costs for parents.

As an example the parents currently using my childminding service pay £2.70 per hour  if booking a 10 hr day – so £27 per day with all outings, food, and activities included.

So if the government are to reduce their fees even by a modest amount – let’s say down to £25 per 10 hour day – the parents may be happy to lose the other benefits of using an independently registered and inspected childminder .

Of course, I am only guessing that the government will say childminding agencies must reduce fees to parents and pay appropriately for the skills provided by the employees of the agency.


And – Of course, I am only guessing that the government has thought of all these things and has calculated that someone is going to have to pay for the shortfall between income and expenditure of the proposed childminder agencies.

BUT – as the government has stated very clearly that there is NO government money available for setting up or running childminder agencies – I guess that the government have calculated the costs – and wants to ensure that either the agencies, or the childminders, or the parents cover the short fall in the budgets.

After all – I believe the early years minister has lots of Maths qualifications – so she is bound to have thought the Maths through very carefully.

And my guess is those who plan to run agencies are very astute business people – so guessing it will be parents and childminders who cover all the costs.

So I take it back – I can see no reason to join any agency – and I don’t think the parents using my service will be able to think of any either.

19 responses to “If I joined a childminding agency – some self reflection on the idea

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  1. Pingback: Childcare reforms in 'chaos' as Clegg blocks staff ratio cut proposals

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  3. I personally would also factor in if working via an agency they wanted me to have far more children at one time than I do currently I would be so exhausted I would need a cleaner each evening and a gardener once a week, especially as some of the comments mentioned on newsnight is hours would be more helpful for parents so an 18 hour contact day 5, 6 or even 7 days a week would become the norm? Because my dh who is a wonderful at putting away the toys each evening and using the vacuum wouldn’t need to do this. One positive a full time employed job is only for 35 or so hours a week so already the hours are like working 2 jobs, therefore double the pay?

  4. Very well said Penny, all very true. I cannot comprehend how they can even imagine this will work when no plans or logistics are in place. The fact that its been written in to the Children and Families Bill is an ignorant and very arrogant attitude towards our profession.

    It’s just a way to pass on the financial ‘burden’ of registering and inspecting Childminders.

    Are parents and childninders going to want to foot the bill instead ??!!

  5. VERY well put Penny, but I have a sinking feeling that it will be pushed through anyway ……………


  7. Brilliant Penny, it seems they think the Agencies are a good idea, but have no idea how they are going to be implemented and the prohibitive costs of setting them up

  8. Penny, you forgot about the standard business practice of buying an existing business rather than expecting it to be handed on a plate.
    After all, we have invested thousands of pounds in our business. We shall expect some recompense. This is, after all, no different from Bright Horizons buying up Teddies.

    • You are right of course Julie – so if they don’t want us to sell our resources, they can buy them. If they want to take on our existing clients, the goodwill and reputation – they can buy that as well.

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  10. Although we don’t have details and we have to surmise how these things would work, I can’t possibly see how they can work for the reasons you have highlighted Penny. To say they think the cost of childcare is prohibitive to many parents now…..how on earth is this model going to make it more affordable????

  11. Brilliant Penny, 🙂

  12. Penny, a well thought out and written post as always.

    There is NO way that a non-govt funded agency (that wants to become a viable business and make a profit) is going to, in partnering with a childminder, make childcare costs less for the parents. They have to pay for said agency service, the childminder has to pay the agency a fee. An unnecessary middle man. Who will bear the end cost of this? The parent will.

    Add to that the fact that childminders offer varying services (different hours/some do school runs, some do not/some cook meals, some expect meals to come from home/some drive, some do not/varying grades and qualifications and experience… it is such a unique service, catering for our families needs… an agency model would just not work.

    We aren’t ‘agency staff’ material. We are small SELF EMPLOYED business owners who run thriving childcare businesses, who take great pride in our businesses and who love our mindees and our work. We don’t watch the clock nor do we need a third party to fill out our tax returns (unless we CHOOSE to pay an accountant to do so), we are there for emergency back up when our mindees’ mums go into labour, we are second homes to our families. Agency staff material? I think not.

    We attain excellent Ofsted gradings because we work VERY hard for them.. we deserve more than a blanket agency grading – how demeaning and totally undervaluing the huge role we play in the young lives of our mindees.

    Something too that Ms Truss/Ms Perry and the like have NOT considered either, which is unfair to childminders, is that they have conveniently forgotten that we work in our HOMES. WE choose the clients we take on… we use our gut feel and are careful in our selection, as those adults not only have daily access to our home when collecting/fetching their children, but they have access to childminders who have children of their own, plus the mindees in our care. I wonder whether Ms Truss would like being dictated to as to who will access her home, and have access to her children/mindees..?

    The govt is shirking their responsibility in not helping fund early years… looking after children at such a fundamental age, an agency will be wanting to only make a profit and not actually CARE about those little lives they are sending to and fro childminding settings, the childminders will NOT charge less by looking after more children if they take on higher ratios as also proposed (who actually thinks it’s a good idea, or even fair, to expect someone to do more work for less pay… more resources, bigger cars, more equipment?), and who will suffer? The parent… who will be paying MORE, not less, by using an agency.

    But… and most importantly, who will suffer the most?

    The children.

    And why? Because there will be a huge SAFEGUARDING risk involved with higher ratios (I won’t go into this here though, as this blog post is about agencies)… plus what do children need at this age? Consistent, loving, care and attention. They need the RIGHT childminder, who has been carefully placed, with much consideration, and CHOSEN specifically, by their parents, who knows their child best. What they do NOT need? An agency staff member to just place their child with whomever might have a vacancy at that point in time.

  13. Good one Penny’s Place!

  14. well said Penny. The government need to read this and take note!

  15. Pingback: Childminders in England and Wales (and UK General Discussion) - Page 58

  16. I was clear about what the situation was to be the minute the idea of agencies was announced. I predict… a childminder’s lot will be exactly the same as before, except that we will now have the option of giving away a significant chunk of our hard earned money for the dubious pleasure of letting someone else set and collect fees for us, and set new terms and conditions with parents/carers. The agencies will hike fees and/or set less favourable terms and conditions for parents to give us a bit of money to help pay towards their cut. These changes will alienate a lot of parents/carers as the cost of our flexible, quality childcare increases. Some parents, or those lucky enough to access some extra childcare funding, will take it on the chin and struggle on. Others will find it all too much, and, under financial duress, access the cheaper care options.

    If, as I suspect, agencies will suddenly become compulsory, rather than voluntary, I am sure a lots of childminders will lose money as parents stay home or take up nurseries, which would then be charging virtually the same as childminders and be offering the same amount of flexibility at the same cost, can afford more resources, as they can get access to more grants and subsidies, and can offer guaranteed care during staff illness. I can see many childminders finally giving up the ghost or virtually, “would work for free, for the love of the job”, (actually the type of comment a childminder made to Ofsted that they celebrated as an example of the type of comment an outstanding childminder might make! – I noticed that Ofsted didn’t give any examples of outstanding nurseries making any such comments!)

    Childminders are no great loss to this government. I don’t honestly think they care either way whether we stay or go – after all, we are not big business. We’ll never be high on their radar, unless as a way to make cuts. It’s a shame, lots of parent’s actually think we are brill!

  17. Interesting! I think they are already coming through the back door with the 4children proposal of using Children centres. It is intented that parents going back to work go to the children centre. The children centre will then find an appropriate pre-school or childcare provider to include childminders!!!

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