Dear Government, please read, please stop and think before it is too late   3 comments

There is general feeling of doom and gloom in the early years sector at the moment and many people (like me) are campaigning in various ways to try and get the government to listen to the sectors concerns.

That’s it really – to listen – because the sector has huge concerns that the proposals within ‘More Great Childcare’ are not in the best interests of the children.

However some in the media are calling those that are expressing concerns –  uninformed, against change, thinking of our own workload and our profit margins – some are going as far to say it is all nonsense.

Nothing could be further from the truth – our concerns are based on our knowledge and understanding of how children learn.

If you think about it – all the things that the government want to achieve through ‘More Great Childcare’ are all things that the early years sector  also want to achieve;

  • Lower childcare costs for parents
  • Better outcomes for children – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Higher qualifications for early years practitioners
  • Higher pay for early years practitioners
  • More effective regulation
  • More cost effective support
  • More ‘accountability’ from early years settings, local authorities and Ofsted.

What the early years sector does not agree with is how the government are proposing these admirable aims are met.

It is being said that instead of setting up petitions, campaigning, writing articles and blogs – what the early years sector should do is provide an alternative to the proposals in More Great Childcare – something ‘concrete’ that could actually work.

So here are my ideas – just common sense ones – as unfortunately I do not have access to the government’s financial figures – so there is a bit of guess work included.

Ratio’s in early years settings

We are all agreed that there are times when ratio’s need to be exceeded to meet the needs of parents, children and settings.

Therefore I think  a two pronged approach should be taken;

– first flexibility within ratios to cope with temporary overlapping ie for a an hour or two, or short term when a new child needs to start due to parents needs but the space will not be available for a week or two when another child is due to leave (for example to start school, or moving out of the area).

My suggestion is a set % based increase, so as an example a childminder could increase by one child for a maximum of 4 weeks. A nursery with 30 places could increase by up to 5 places again for a maximum of 4 weeks.

However it should be recorded with both Ofsted and the settings local authority every time that one of these exceptions / variations was in place. That way it would be possible to spot those who abuse the system, and anyone could check the number of children currently on role in any setting. This notification could easily be done via an email form – sent to both Ofsted and the LA – and a copy kept on file in the setting.

My own experience is that short term increases in numbers are possible to manage and due to being short term do not have a detrimental impact on staff, setting, and most importantly the child .

–      second, reinstate a version of the variation process whereby each early years setting could apply to Ofsted for an increase in ratio’s (that will last for more than 4 weeks or to exceed the % increase mentioned above)  to meet the needs of parents and children.

This should only be available to good and outstanding settings

Understanding that the government needs to save money, there should be a fee payable for this of say £10 each time

Process  would be;

Provider phones Ofsted says wants to apply a longer term or higher ration increase exception  / variation,

Pays fee over phone

Ofsted  email form to setting

Setting returns filled in form

Ofsted acknowledges receipt of form and gives immediate permission to apply the variation.

Copy of letter sent to settings local Authority

Simple, quick, straight forward

The benefit of this system would be that good and outstanding settings would have extra flexibility to meet the needs of the children and families

The local authority could monitor the setting – and pass on any concerns to Ofsted – again via a email form

Anyone wishing to know if a setting had a exception / variation in place could phone Ofsted or local authority to check.

Childminder Agencies

This process needs to be stopped. Childminders need to be Ofsted  inspected the same as all other types of settings.

Please note this peer to peer support outlined below is not the same as that announced for the hubs – this is childminder specific. However it should also  be noted that other early years settings could have the same type of peer to peer support.

My suggestion is to fund childminder peer to peer support – on a local authority basis. Membership organisations, local childminding groups, or private companies would be able to tender to provide these services. The basic services to be provided should be standard and free at point of delivery. Volunteers should be used to keep costs down but expenses and training should be paid for. A staff member should be employed to over see each areas scheme and to support the volunteers.

Additional services such as home visits, pre inspection advice and support , training and extended business support could be provided either direct from the local authority or via the peer to peer support scheme. These additional services should be charged for – at cost price, and be entirely optional for those who want them.

Local Authorities

Local knowledge is very important, as is local data. Local authorities have an essential role to play in this. Information recorded about training attended, meetings attended, participation in quality assurance schemes, visits by local authority staff to the setting, phone calls made to the local authority – all help build up a picture of the setting, the quality of that setting and indeed any concerns – far more than an Ofsted inspection every 3,4 or even 5 years.

It is recognised that the government can not keep funding services – especially to those that are essentially private businesses. However as the government considers it feasible to charge childminders for services provided by an agency – is it not possible to change for local authority services – either in full or in part?

Ofsted and EYFS

First EYFS – this needs to continue with the continuing process of reflection and review. There is still much that is open to an inspectors personal judgement, there is still too much perceived and actual ‘tick box’ requirement and assessment. We all know that children need high quality learning through play experiences, we all know that children learn in their own unique way and at their rate. Therefore unless there is a specific concern about a child then constant written observation and assessment is not needed. A practitioner who understands child development will be able pick up on any concerns through their ‘in the head observation’

There are also things that do need addressing such as inconsistency about level of safeguarding training or how often need to renew these things. This sort of thing needs to be set nationally not locally.

Next Ofsted – it is said that it costs too much to inspect childminders – I can well believe it does, you do not need a maths degree to know that 3 annual payments of £35 do not cover the cost of a childminder inspection. Surely the answer would be to increase the level of fee to a more realistic figure over a couple of years. A fee of £100 per year would give an income of £300 to help cover the cost of a 3 yearly inspection or in other words instead of aprox 55,000childminders paying a total of  £1,925,000 each year – Ofsted would have an income of £5,500,000.

Increasing qualification levels

I think everyone agrees with Cathy Nutbrown’s recommendations – and these should be implemented as specified – not as ideas in more great childcare.

Reducing childcare costs to parents

The government need to stop the huge amount of wasted money that is caused by the tax credit system. It is expensive to run, inefficient, not responsive enough, open to fraud and the money often does not reach the childcare provider. There is also a lot of wasted money through all the different funding streams, grants and so on.

All of these need to be stopped and the FULL amount of saving from doing so including staff savings, office savings and so on should be used to fund universal childcare free at the point of delivery for every child, with any difference between the amount saved from the tax credit system and other funding schemes, and the actual cost of free universal childcare being found through increases through the tax system.

As we pay for every child to access school based education why should we not pay for early years care and education in the same way?

As far as I can see this is the only way that we will reduce costs to parents, increase pay for early years practitioners – and by doing so provide the money to invest in higher staff qualifications and more staff to ensure every child benefits from high quality interactions and support  which will lead to improved outcomes for all children.

And to those who say – this is not a very fair system – I say for each of us through out our lives there will be times when we receive more than we put in, and times when we put in more than we take out.

Currently I am putting in more than I take out – but in a few more years I will be taking out more than I put in, as I reach retirement and require more support services – which will be paid for by the taxes of the very children who are currently taking out more than they put in.

Each child has a huge potential – if supported appropriately in the early years, and throughout their childhood, to be a great asset to this country – a scientist, a footballer player, a doctor, a inventor, a prime minister – and yes a tax payer who will support those who were born both before and after him or her self.

But each child also has a huge potential if not supported appropriately  in the early years and throughout their childhood to become a responsibility of the state, a burden on tax payers and never to support him or her self  – or indeed to be a tax payer.

In my opinion – we need to get in right in the early years, so those children can develop to their full potential  and balance not only the financial scales but also ensure survival of  our society.

Government – my ideas may not be practical or add up financially (and only you can tell me this)  – but please stop, listen and think again  – because the cost to all of us – not just the children, could be more than we can afford.

3 responses to “Dear Government, please read, please stop and think before it is too late

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  1. Well said Penny makes sense to me! I also want to thank you for all your work and campaigning on our behalf you’ve been amazing.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Carole Wardrop
  2. Well said.

  3. Brilliant as ever Penny – I totally agree with variations/exceptions that they should be agreed every time and small payment made to Ofsted each time application made; also that registration fees could be increased – I pay £103 annually in comparison to £35 for my registration as a self-employed home childcarer; also tax credits suggestions listened to instead of wasting copious amounts to either over-pay or hound people for repayment when ridiculous errors are made and if all this had been agreed in the first place, then none of this persecution of childminders and as a consequence parents need ever have happened. Yes Penny, each child has huge potential – and parents and childcarers – all should be nurtured and not undermined, bullied or persecuted. No I’m not uninformed, against change, thinking of my own workload and my profit margins and it’s not nonsense – it’s painful and soul destroying to see day after day, this drip-fed persecution of my career choice; sharing my passion with children and their families in order to provide them with security and the possibility that they will grow and develop into adults that can think informed and compassionately about the next generation.

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