Archive for May 2013

The NDNA Funding from DfE – Have they sold their ethos, principles and members trust for £1 million?   7 comments


The news story in Children and Young People caused a bit of a ‘throwing arms in the air’ and ‘scratching heads in disbelief’ from a lot of the early years sector.

It also resulted in a number of emails and phone calls to me personally.

I expressed immediate concern about the funding that NDNA are to receive and the truth that maybe hiding in the press release the NDNA issued.

However – I do like to check my facts and to give benefit of doubt as I know that some times media reporting is designed to ‘provoke a reaction’

So I was pleased when Claire Schofield from NDNA issued some further clarification about the funding.

I have decided to comment in sections to Claire’s clarifaction.

Claire says;
Following an article in Children and Young People Now, NDNA has addressed some misunderstanding of the work that it is planning to do to support members under its Department for Education Grant.

Penny says;

Good idea considering that lots of people see this grant in negative terms

Claire says;                                               

Over the next two years NDNA will be working under the grant to support the early years sector in England to develop high-quality, sustainable childcare to meet the needs of children and families. The funding we will receive from DFE is £500,000 in 2013-14 with a similar amount in 2014-15.

Penny says;

An admirable aim – but it is the detail that is needed to be unpicked. ½ million £’s a year is a lot of money that should be used to wisely and with clear outcomes planned from the start
Claire says;
Our activity will include:
· Fifty-four training events across England over the next two years. These events will use up the majority of the grant to roll out subsidised training to nurseries, responding to the feedback we’ve had from members on the reduction you are seeing in local authority training and support.

Penny says;

That is good news for NDNA members  but what about non members, what about NDNA members who can’t access the training, and fifty four training events does not seem very many for the whole country and to enable all to access. Also it seems that the government are saying they are making the cut backs to LA budgets because the government need to cut budgets and because the LA’s are not consistent in what they offer from one area to another. Surely by providing this funding the government has shown it does have some money available but is making accessibility even more restricted. And yes I know some other early years associations have had funding for training – but not all associations – and more important some practitioners / settings are not members of any early years organisation

Claire says;

The first series of these events is now underway on the theme of Supporting a Child’s Journey Through the Early Years, covering tracking children’s learning, promoting positive behaviour and meeting children’s individual needs. See:

Penny says;

I find it interesting that these events are already underway – surely a sign that NDNA knew about this funding ages ago? And I also wonder why the government have funded this when I would have thought that by now most nurseries had a good idea how track children’s learning and plan to meet children’s individual needs – so with this in mind the funding is going to an impact on even less settings and less children.

I am maybe being a little bit negative but this funding appears to be more of  a ‘sweetener’ to ensure than NDNA undertake  the ‘less acceptable’ part of the government funding criteria.

Claire says;

· Two small pilot projects (NB I have moved details of other pilot projects further down so the ‘staff flexibility’ issue statements from Claire are presented together)

o Staff flexibility – working with 15 daycare providers to test models of staff deployment and flexibility
To prevent any misunderstanding of NDNA’s staff flexibility trials NDNA has shared more details on the trials. There has been an overwhelming message from NDNA members that relaxing the childcare ratios is a risk to the quality of care for children. NDNA has been asking government to stop, rethink and listen to evidence from the sector and academics. The trails are not about testing out government plans to alter ratios, but to contribute to the evidence which is lacking in the UK on how staff can be flexibly deployed to ensure high-quality provision that meets the needs of every child.

· Trials will take place within the overall ratio and qualification requirements of the current EYFS

· A total of 15 high-quality nurseries will be asked to volunteer to take part in the trials

· Trials will run for one month, with a strong focus on evaluation of the trials and learning from the experiences and expertise of the practitioners involved

· The trials will be practitioner-led, with the practitioners involved putting forward their ideas on using staff differently across the nursery to meet individual children’s needs

· The proposal for trials was discussed with NDNA’s Board of Trustees and National Policy Committee – made up of elected regional chairs, sector experts and academics. There was a general feeling that international comparisons are unhelpful as they do not compare like with like and we need to have evidence from UK settings on deploying staff more flexibly within the current EYFS regulations whilst ensuring quality

· Trials will be on provision for 2-5 year olds and not involve under 2s.
We’ve been in touch with members who’ve voiced concerns about the story in CYP Now yesterday to set the record straight on what we are really doing – here’s the message we’re sending. We’re clear that the trials are about deployment under the EYFS as it is now, not trialing government’s proposals for ratios

Penny says;

Personally I am not convinced – this sounds like testing out increased ratios to me. My reasoning being that under EYFS says that with the right qualifications settings can have a 1:13 ratio of 3 and 4 year olds , by having the age range as 2 – 5 year olds AND using staff flexibly, it would be feasible to test out the higher ratios without specifically saying so.

And please correct me if I am wrong – but isn’t flexibility of staff within the setting already part of EYFS 12?    3.27 if I’m not mistaken.

So this brings several questions to my mind

  1. Are there not any settings currently using staff ‘flexibly?’ – if there are surely it would be better to ask those who have more ‘real life’ experience and most likely over a period of longer than a month
  2. If there are not any settings currently using staff flexibly – surely the question is why? And not to set up  a very limited ‘force trail?’
  3. 15 settings over a one month period? Hardly a longitude study, hardly a worthwhile study. And from my personal experience of working with increased ratios (under exceptional circumstances) it is possible to ‘manage’ for short periods of time – such as a month. However in the long term it is a different picture and there are 3 possible outcomes, First the staff throw everything they have into doing ‘a good job’ for the sake of the children, but they get behind with other things, their own health and well being suffers, they become stressed, second the staff are either unable or unwilling to keep on ‘doing ‘a good job’ and the quality of the care and education starts to slip thus impacting directly on the children, third, the only way to keep on ‘doing a good job’ is to restrict activities, introduce new procedures that limit opportunities but keep children safe.

So in my opinion – this study can only have one purpose (in the governments eyes) to say look it works as long as practitioners have the appropriate level of qualification – it works.

  1. I am assuming that those settings that take part will be broadly in favour of increasing ratio either within the current EYFS or under new regulations – either way the results / feedback will be biased.

Claire says; ( this is the other part of pilot information that I moved – as mentioned above)

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

Penny says;

As a childminder I am not happy about this because this suggests that childminders are being viewed as the ‘wrap around’ bit – the extended hours that no one else wants to do.  Some childminders will be happy to do this work – many will not.

And again correct me if I am wrong but haven’t 4 children had funding for doing something very similar?

Again 12 trails – are not sufficient to base future plans on

Claire says;
· Maths Champions – recruiting EYPs as local maths champions to inspire practitioners to develop their own maths skills and to lead innovative practice in maths for under fives.


Penny says;

I find this depressing and insulting and my big question is WHY? You do not need to more than average maths skills to inspire under 5’s or to implement innovative and effective maths.

Unless of course we are not talking about the maths through play, routines and everyday experiences.

Again I have to ask what is behind the governments thinking?

Well those are my initial thoughts – I hope that I am wrong, I hope that NDNA do not find out when it is too late – that the government have been creative in the wording for the criteria for this funding and that NDNA do not end up with ‘egg on their face’

(By the way I don’t like being negative but I feel I should speak my mind – as I did when CYPN announced Pacey were to be involved with the ‘turn parents into childminders scheme’ – the whole thing shouted ‘AGENCIES’ to me – and so I did blog about it. And of course we all know now that Pacey have withdrawn because they did not agree with some aspects of the scheme. I guess I will never know for sure if I was right about the scheme being linked to agencies – but certainly something major made Pacey withdraw)

I may well be wrong in part or in full – and it will give me no pleasure to say ‘told you so’ if I am right – but hopefully by writing this blog I will have added to the debate, made people think and reflect on the details of the scheme

Early Education National Annual Conference 2013   1 comment

My main membership organisation – and the one that I am a volunteer for is the Pre-school Learning Alliance, however I am also  a fairly new member of Early Education, having just renewed my membership and now in my second year.

Last year when I joined Early Education it was too late to book the annual conference, and so this year I was keen to attend and see for myself what the organisation is all about. Personal experience has taught me that it is those face to face interactions that tell you far more about an organisation than its website or member information pack.

And so I found myself on a train journey to York where this years conference was being held. A straight forward journey with just one change at Birmingham and the hotel just a few meters from York station. However after a full days work with the children, a journey of a total of 4 hours from my front door to the hotels front door was maybe a bit much and I was shattered by the time I had checked into my room at the hotel. I had also missed the Friday get together and pre conference talks etc.

It is a difficult call for me to make about conferences as national conferences are often on a week day (s) or as with the Early Education conference have the main event on a Saturday but other related conference activities on the Friday. As a registered childminder this means I have to either not attend week day conferences or events, or I have to close my setting – which has two major consequences – one I lose a days (or two) pay and the parents of the children I care for have to make alternative childcare arrangements or take a day off work themselves.

So not an ideal situation , however if I want to continue with my own professional development, I have to make these decisions, because to have the opportunity to listen to a wider range of speakers, I have to travel and attend on whatever day it is that these conferences are on. This year for the first time I have decided to take unpaid training days – and the parents of the children have been very supportive, making the decision a little easier to make.

I think it is going to become even more important, for me personally in the future as the local authorities role in providing training (and maybe in  providing support) decreases or even disappears completely, meaning myself (and other practitioners) will have to be more proactive in accessing appropriate training. For childminders this is going to difficult as those who choose to remain independently registered with Ofsted – rather than joining one of the proposed new ‘childminder agencies’ – will have to not only ensure they access appropriate training but will have to find training put on at appropriate times and at a price that they can afford.

Please bear with me, I know I am digressing – but I think the points that I am raising will need to be considered by everyone – those attending conferences and those organising them.

So continuing with my digressing, I want to write about the price of national conferences and training events, and how to make information more accessible to more practitioners.

The Early Education Annual National Conference was actually very good value – especially for members. As a member I paid just £105, non members  paid £145 – very reasonable for 3 very good speakers, with each presentation 1 hour 15 mins long – plus an excellent opening address – and the opportunity to network with  other professionals – and some well known early years ‘experts’.

However for some childminders (and I assume some other small settings such as pack away groups) this represents a huge % of their profits – especially if you have to add travel and hotel costs – and for some childminders one or more days pay (needs to be remembered some childminders work on Saturdays; and also often have to travel on their own making travel more expensive than for those that can car share).

Another factor for many childminders and younger practitioners is arranging the childcare of their own children, as this adds another financial cost and / or time constraint ( it was commented on during the conference about finding ways to encourage younger practitioners to join Early Education – and I would say membership organisations in general)

Now I am not suggesting that organisations such as Early Education must cut the cost of attending conferences or training, as these events are very expensive to organise and every organisation has to cover costs and ensure the organisation remains sustainable. However I do think that consideration needs to be given as to how to help support those practitioners who find it difficult for whatever reason, to attend these events.

As I am a believer in offering possible solutions to things, here are some ideas for consideration;

  • Provide the presentations as individual download options from the website – low price or free to members, more expensive but still reasonably priced for non members – and maybe an option that if become a member at same time would get at members price or as a ‘welcome gift’?
  • Give permission and provide the appropriate powerpoints / handouts to a network of trainers, so that the training / information can be cascaded to others. This could be done through a ‘royalty type’ fee payable to the original speaker and a token fee to the organisation that arranged the event. Trainers such as me, who could then deliver to local colleagues. Let’s say the ‘royalty fee’ – from each person who wanted permission was £30 to each original speaker and £10 to the organisation – that is just £40 per presentation used. Localised trainers, like me, could then hire community rooms and deliver the training in evenings or Saturday mornings – one presentation at a time to meet the professional development need and current interests of local practitioners. I know that I could personally cascade this training on this basis to local colleagues for about £10 per person (or less) per presentation.  Schools and nurseries who are able to use their own buildings would maybe be able to do it for less or even free if they use the settings training budget. The presentations would be great for in house training / focus for staff meeting discussions.
  • However, maybe the lead could be taken from Community Playthings excellent free training materials – I have personally used these materials and love the fact that I can just deliver as provided – or that I can add extra images and text to meet the needs of colleagues. And because I share Community Playthings ethos of sharing good practice – I do not charge to deliver these sessions.

Before I move on to my personal feedback about the speakers at the conference – I have one small but very important observation to share.

Early Education is open to all early years settings now – including home based ones which is why I felt it appropriate to become a member and to attend the Annual National Conference. However while at the conference I did not feel completely included – one of the speakers mentioned the word childminder, the word ‘settings’ was used on occasions and it was mentioned that open to all early years settings – but other than that the words I heard most in relation to practice and settings (other than child and children) were; schools, classrooms and teachers, I think if Early Education want to promote themselves to all early years settings then they need to consider the language used and ensures it includes everyone, and this would include ensuring that the speakers are informed of the diversity of membership. I hope this observation is not seen as a critical comment – as it is not intended to be. I am aware of the history and beginnings of what is now Early Education and realise that the terminology used is historic rather than intend to exclude some. I also acknowledge that childminder members are very few – I think I was the only childminder member present at the conference.

Another observation, was although other delegates were very welcoming, that when I introduced myself to some as a childminder there was a bit of a ‘confused look’. Again this is not meant to be critical, as public perception of registered childminders is led by the negative comments from Wilshaw, Gove and Truss – and the media backing of those views. There is also still a general lack of knowledge about registered childminders and some still do not realise that childminders are (currently) all registered and inspected by Ofsted to the same requirements as all other early years settings – ie, the EYFS, and that childminders can and do provide the 2,3 and 4 year old funding.

This is maybe something that Early Education could look into – maybe something on the website about the different types of members and the work they do, I would certainly be very happy to draft something about childminders. As I say it is not a criticism, because if I had not worked for the local authority for 7 years, or been a volunteer for the Pre – school Learning Alliance then I would not have a very good understanding of non childminder settings, so I don’t expect other practitioners to be fully aware of childminder practitioners.

At a couple of recent conferences the person opening the conference has made a point of saying – ‘In the room today we have …not names of individuals but ’general descriptions’ which certainly I found useful.

As always, just my thoughts, to be used, or reflected on and not used if not appropriate. However if these thoughts have occurred to me – they may occur to others.

Moving on then, to the actual content of the conference. Please note that I do not take notes but rely on memory – and usually have a very good recall.

However on this occasion as will be explained later on – there is a very good reason why my recall may not be that good this time – so if I have attributed things to the wrong speaker or added my own thoughts as if the speakers thoughts – please, a) forgive me for my errors, but also  b) take my feedback as a holistic recall rather than a factual account. (and look out for the explanation!)

When I arrived there was opportunity to network, have refreshments and browse the displays and things to buy. The one good thing about travelling by train is that you really do have to think about weight and size of anything that you buy.

So I limited myself to one catalogue, and one book purchase ‘How Children Learn – Characteristic of Effective Learning’ by Nancy Stewart. Not because I don’t have any knowledge and understanding of this matter but because I am always looking for references for my training sessions and the articles that I sometimes write.

I chatted to a few other practitioners and was delighted when Helen Moylett recognised me, (we had previously met at a Worcestershire conference) gave me a warm welcome and we had a chat about the days news re the head teachers conference grilling of Mr.Gove, and Nick Clegg’s voiced concerns about the ratio proposals in More Great Childcare

Julian Grenier opened the conference – he is the interim National Chair of Early Education, as they, are currently recruiting a new chair due to their current chair Megan Pacey standing down.

Personally, I was pleased to be able to put ‘a face to the name’, as I have been putting links to Julian’s blog on the One Voice website – a site I set up to provide as much information as possible about anything and everything related to ‘More Great Childcare’, and also personally commenting on his blogs (which is why at first break I took the opportunity to have a quick chat to Julian and to introduce myself).

After Julian had completed the usual welcomes and thanks, he mention the difficult and challenging times that the early years sector is currently facing, before handing over to Helen Moylett who is the president of Early Education. Helen also mentioned the difficult times and the challenges we face in ensuring that our voice is heard and that we can continue to provide the best early years care and education for the children in our care.

Helen then introduced Angela Anning Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Education at University of Leeds.

Angela  presented the opening address and set the scene for the day ahead.

She spoke about creativity and it being at the heart of everything, because creativity is not just about painting and drawing or even involves an end product, it is about how people think and link ideas and skills together – and therefore find solutions to problems.

As an example of this we were shown a clip from ‘Strictly’ – 

Problem being of course bringing skills of a gymnast and a dancer together,  being able to communicate emotions without words and needing to take risks – all of which were solved with ‘spine shivering’ brilliance.

The clip was so powerful at getting the ‘creative’ message across that it was referred to throughout the conference.

The next speaker was Anna Craft who is Professor of Education at Exeter University. Anna talked about ‘Possibility Thinking’  and the fact that children will need skills in the future to cope with things that we don’t even know exist at the moment. Furthermore that teaching for a specific purpose such as to pass tests or exams – although has its place – should not be the primary reason behind the curriculum – either early years, primary or secondary.

Anna presented the image of a maze and asked us to think about how we could navigate the maze – was there one way? Could we be creative in our thinking? Where there other ways to use the maze? Did we have to reach the end? Could we pause and ponder? Could we back track? – and what about the children and how we present activities to them? Do we impose our ideas? Do we allow the children to be creative?

Anna also touched on the current situation within the early years sector and how we might all be feeling – I admit that she used words that I would not personally have used to convey the meaning, and so I had to use my skills to supplement different words that had more meaning for me personally – and surely that is another skill that we can help foster in the children we care for?

So my understanding is that Anna was asking if we felt in control of our own settings and would be able to cope with whatever changes were implemented or indeed not implement them if we did not agree, or if we felt that we had no control and that things were being done to us (as the early years sector) that we did not have opportunity to do anything about, or did we feel that we could take an active part in expressing our concerns and our combined knowledge and experience for the overall benefit of the children and the early years sector. There were 4 things and they were presented as a plus sign grid with one thing in each quadrant but that also suggested that we could be a bit of one and a bit of a different one at the same time. Feedback after a short discussion was that some did not know where they personally were, others that at different times they were at different points – and some that they were at all points – on different aspects at the same time.

Personally I thought this was very enlightening and a result of the confusion created by the governments ‘drip drip’ of information, lack of information on some things – and in some cases conflicting information.

By then it was lunch time and I was very hungry – I had had a good breakfast and did not take the opportunity to have refreshments when I arrived – and was taken a little by surprise when there was not opportunity (or time) for refreshments at the first break.

As a diabetic I do have to be careful with when I eat (and to some extent what I eat). So I was looking forward to lunch – unfortunately for me though it was not to my liking! And although I did try it, I could not eat it. However I did manage a coffee and a very nice cup cake.

Most of lunch time was spent talking to a lovely elderly lady called Peggy who told me that although she had not been a member for the whole 90 years of the association, she had been a member for rather a lot of those years! I have to say, I did feel a certain responsibility for Peggy – to chat to her and to ensure she was passed food and so on, not that I am ‘moaning’ it was lovely to chat to Peggy – but it did prevent me from chatting to as many people as I might have, and it stopped me from fully considering my own need to eat!

I did however chat to a lady from Scotland – a teacher who currently had a secondment to work in the early years team of her local authority, and I also chatted to one of the Community Playthings ladies about their products and their training materials – while looking at the trains displayed bellow us in the museum.

Although it was a long lunch break before I knew it, lunch was over – and I had not eaten – other than the cake! You may be beginning to work out why my recall of the day is not as good as it usually is.

Back into the main hall for the afternoon session, Megan Pacey spoke about the history of Early Education – including showing some photo’s of key people involved in the association when they were children. She also spoke about the future and made some very interesting links to things from 1923 and 2013 – which of course is the period covered by Early Education in its various forms.

Then it was time for the next speaker Katherine Finkill who runs Playwise and who speaks the same language as me – to the point – as it is  – based on reality.

Katherine uses props such as puppets and role play such as taking the part of different ‘parents’ – of course those in the room could relate to different brain connections that the ‘children’ in these scenario’s would make – the shut up and sit there parents, the not perfect but supportive parents, the ‘you do it my way’ parents, the you will be going to Oxbridge parents, etc. and the impact on their future development.

She also talked about her family members and if having a maths ‘O’ level has been a useful skill or not – but how even in adulthood having or not having the appropriate exam success still determines if get a job or not, with  non exam based skills and knowledge gained since leaving school having very little influence on job success.

This is not from Katherine – but from me – It seems to me that we value the wrong things in our society putting more value on short term memory and ability to convey that knowledge on paper than we do life skills, caring attitude, flexibility and that ‘possibility thinking’ that Anna Craft had spoken about. Even now the government are devaluing those with years of successful childcare practice – and giving higher value to exam based qualifications with or without hands on work experience. Shame, as both aspects are important and both needed.

Back to Katherine now – she had a wonderful easy to demonstrate way of showing the characteristics of learning in action with a few plastic cups and paper plates – I will be using that one.

Katherine also spoke about if we need an end product – and what indeed is the purpose of an end product – saying as had all the other speakers, that it is the thinking skills and the creative skills of possibility thinking.

Katherine finished with a lovely video of two year olds in different settings demonstrating all those characteristics of learning, all that hands on learning, all that possibility thinking, and loads and loads of creativity.

However I am afraid to admit that I missed bits of Katherine’s presentation as by now I was having a few difficulties with my blood glucose  levels – I kept closing my eyes and was struggling to pay full attention – I knew what was happening and kept looking in my bag for the glucose tablets and emergency chocolate biscuit bar, and cartoon of fruit juice that I always have with me – but without success because my bag was too full – full of all the things I needed for the day, with the things given out at registration, the catalogue and Nancy Stewart’s book. Plus my brain was refusing to remind me that in actual fact all the things I needed were in the bright orange medpac – a fairly new acquisition and so most likely the reason why my brain was not giving me that information. I did have on the wristband (but out of sight under my jumper sleeve) – so if I had actually collapsed someone would have been able to support me – but what I had not done was make anyone in the room aware of my medical needs (usually I am with people who know me and therefore ‘keep an eye on me’). A valuable lesson learnt – always tell someone – even if a stranger.

Anyway – I did manage to find the mints in my bag left over from the train journey – and though far from the best thing to eat – they did have a slightly positive temporary effect.

In the break, I went to the loo – but nothing else because my brain was still not cooperating and telling me to eat and I was sat back in my chair well before the start of the last speakers presentation.

The last speaker was Miso’shi Proctor who is from Ghana but lives in Lancashire now. What a brilliant speaker, passionate, factual, child orientated, cross curricular, based on music and stories.  Very interactive for the audience – well apart from me because I soon found out that clapping, standing up and sitting down was asking too much of me at that moment in time – so I stop trying and listened as best as I could. I hope that I am going to remember how to fold a piece of material into a bag, a skirt, a thing to carry a child on my back, and a thing to carry objects on my head – all of which Miso’shi demonstrated and gave some in the audience the opportunity to try.

Then before I knew it Helen Moylett was on her feet to do the final thanks and I have a vague memory that she asked if anyone had anything important to say – well I did but by that stage there was no way I could have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and spoken about my campaign against increased ratio’s or the ‘Reclaim Early Years’ day on 1st June.

So if you are reading this feedback and do not know about my campaign or any of the related ‘stuff’ – please can I ask you to take a look at link to One Voice site

After the conference I staggered in a not too straight line in the general direction of York  – then because I was getting warm – I pushed the sleeve of my jumper up and I saw the bright orange band – my brain made the link and I quickly found a bench, sat on it, opened my medpac and took glucose, ate chocolate bar, waited for 30 mins before finishing the walk into York where I found a fish and chip shop and brought my tea.

So all was well.

A brilliant conference (even with the half remembered bits) and an important lesson learnt about my own well being!

Posted May 20, 2013 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended

First Ever National Children’s Day UK – 15th May 2013   Leave a comment

In case you had not heard about this, take a look at this link

The children at Penny’s Place were very excited about the idea and without exception all said they wanted to go to the arboretum but specifically to roll down the hill.

The children are used to planning their own play and know what they like to do best – and at the moment it is rolling down the hill at the arboretum. Of course this choice will change over time – but for now hill rolling it is.

So although Penny does not really do pre planning because this was a pre set date for the event, Penny put the info in the parents weekly newsletter. Nothing else needed planning as permission for trips to arboretum are already in place, ‘puddlesuits’ and wellies belonging to the setting are in plentiful supply, and the new ‘explorer packs’ brought last year but not used yet were in the shed ready and waiting (Penny hoped that the children might find some minibeasts at the arboretum and would be able to use the equipment in the explorer packs)

So all was set, and the day arrived ……

……pouring with rain and for May – cold,  plus Penny woke with the start of a cold. Still not enough to cancel the day because Penny also has wet weather gear and was sure a hot lemon drink would help with the cold symptoms.

Then Chinzia arrived – she had been off with a cold for a couple of days (guess where Penny got hers from?) and this was her first day back. Mummy said that Chinzia was much better, no longer had a temperature, no longer needed calpol but still had a bit of a sore throat and a slightly runny nose. Mummy was right – Chinzia was fine, but did have to wipe her nose occasionally and yes she did have a ‘frog in her throat’

So Penny thought mmmm – day out in the cold and wet – best assess the situation nearer 11am when the arboretum opens.

Chinzia and Penny follow the normal routine and get in the car to fetch Erin – when they get to Erin’s house, Erin’s Mummy says’ I am not sure if Erin is coming down with a cold or not. So Penny and Mummy discuss the situation – Erin does not have a temperature and is running around, and chatting to Chinzia. Mummy and Penny decide that Erin is ok to go to Penny’s Place but that Mummy will phone later to check how Erin is.

Mmmm thought Penny – Even less sure now that a day outside in the cold and the wet would be in the best interests of the children. Still no need to decide now as still only 6:45am.

Over the next couple of hours Alex, Shona and Mia arrive. Shona and Mia are fine – no sign of colds – but Alex’s Mummy says ‘I am not sure if Alex is getting a cold – just a gut feeling but his Daddy has a sore throat and thinks he has a cold coming so maybe Alex is as well. However he seems fine and he has not had any calpol.

(It should maybe be noted that Penny and the parents have a very open and honest relationship – and if parents say their child has not had calpol , it is the truth. none of that dosing child with calpol just to get them through the door of the setting)

However of course Penny is now having even more doubts

But as always the children do the planning – they say – too wet, too cold to go to the arboretum today.

‘Oh’ says Penny – ‘so what do you want to do today?’

‘Play trains’ says Alex

‘Finish my Hungry Caterpillar sticking picture’ say Mia and Shona

‘Make shapes’ say Chinzia and Erin – already tipping out the box of magnetic polydron

And so it was sorted – throughout the morning the children led their own play (as they always do)

Then at lunchtime – as promised – Erin’s Mummy phones – and although Erin is fine, Mummy says she will be home earlier and so to take Erin home for just after 2pm.

When we get back after taking Erin, the rain stopped and the sun came out – ‘We want to go outside’ said the children

Puddlesuits were put on (almost independently) wellies put on – and out they went. It was windy, it was cold but they organised their own ‘mini celebration of National Children’s day UK’ by doing what they wanted to do in the outside environment;


Collect blossom petals from the grass, they stood with bowls under the tree trying to catch the petals as the wind blew the petals off the tree, they lay on the grass and observed that the sun was too bright – so covered their eyes when lay on their backs, they tried out ‘the dark’ in the garden (meaning the shade) but found the grass too wet there, they tried out the bark area as a place that might be better – but thought it was ‘not comfy’ – and they rolled on the grass – Penny does not have a ‘proper hill’ in her garden – just a slight slope, but that did not stop the children from rolling, laughing and having fun. After a good hour, they decided to play in the sand – another favourite activity at the moment and found that the sand was very wet and very heavy, and so decided to make ‘pies’ and ‘castles’ and of course dig.

Penny has lots of photo’s of our – not quite as planned celebration of the first ever National Children’s Day UK – but can only put a few on here due to the fact that most of the photo’s show the children’s ‘beaming’ faces. However Penny hopes this small selection gives an indication of the fun the children had in expressing their rights and their freedom to develop, naturally and happily, to their full potential and  – (for the benefit of any government people reading this) –  of course doing naturally, all that unplanned learning and development of the physical abilities that are essential for later – much later – reading, writing, maths, science – oh heck why go on with the list? – we all know this, and should the government be reading this they won’t believe it!

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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.

I am going to tell you a story about two people who want to be childminders…….. Part Two   1 comment


Part one of this story was about Paula who became a childminder, at some point in the future, through a Children Centre and joined their agency as a self employed childminder.

Part two is about Jo who also wants to become a registered childminder. Like Paula Jo lives on the same estate as me, which already has several established childminder settings.

Please remember it is just a story ……..

Jo has just been made redundant and has had to very reluctantly give notice to her childminder of almost 4 years. Sally Ann has been looking after Jo’s twin daughters 3 days a week since they were 18m old and the girls have recently started school and had remained with Sally Ann for before and after school care.

Jo was dreading telling Sally Ann as she knew that Sally Ann would miss the girls and the income. However Jo did not have to worry because Sally Ann knew that Jo would have to give notice under the circumstances and so was prepared for it.

In fact it was Sally Ann who suggested to Jo that she should consider becoming a childminder, and it was Sally Ann who suggested that Jo paid the notice period over 2 months instead of the 1 month as in the contract – saying she knew things were going to be tight financially. Jo really appreciated Sally Ann’s understanding and help – something which had always been evident in the parent / childminder partnership.

Sally Ann emailed Jo later that same day with some links to websites such as Pacey, Ukcma, ICE-se and the Pre- school learning Alliance, which (at that point in the future) all had lots of information about becoming a childminder, and suggested Jo take a look and have a think about if she felt registering as a childminder was a possibility for her. Sally Ann suggested that once Jo had looked at the websites – that she popped round one evening after the minded children had gone home.

Jo did just that and boy did she have a lot of questions! It all seems so complicated she said to Sally Ann, so many options how do I know which is the best option for me.

So Sally Ann put the kettle on and explained to Jo that yes it was complicated, but the first decision Jo had to make was if she wanted to be an independently Ofsted registered  childminder or to register through a childminder agency.

It did take a while for Jo to grasp the main differences but eventually she said ‘You are an independently Ofsted registered childminder aren’t you Sally Ann – and I know that you always worried about your Ofsted inspection – but as a parent I was glad you did have an Ofsted inspection as it was reassurance that my ‘gut feeling’ about you was right.’

That ‘gut feeling’ is so important’ said Sally Ann ‘Parents should visit several childminders and nurseries before deciding on childcare for their child – with agencies that is not so easy and you get ‘matched’ with the childminder who the agency thinks is best for you’

‘Oh that is not right’ said Jo ‘ I would have hated that’

‘The thing about agencies is a lot of the personal negotiations and compromises, that are part and parcel of partnership between childminder and parents, are not possible due to the contract conditions between childminder and agency’

‘My mind is made up’ stated Jo ‘ I want to be an independently Ofsted registered childminder’  ‘BUT’ how will I find out what I need to do? Who will help and support me? How will parents find out that I am a childminder? – I am worried because it seems that unless you join an agency you are on your own’

Sally Ann smiled to herself ‘That is what the government would like you to think’

‘ You will not be on your own at all, childminders have always supported each other – it is called Peer to Peer support. The only sad thing is some prospective or new childminders just don’t get to know about peer to peer support – but things are improving thanks to the internet’

Jo is beginning to think that it may be possible to register as a childminder without going through a childminder agency, and certainly she does not fancy being told what to do and how to do it – if she joined an agency as an employed childminder, nor does she want to pay for services that she can provide herself  – with this peer to peer support that Sally Ann is talking about.

‘Ok’ says Jo to Sally Ann ‘What do I do next?’

‘You could come along to the local childminders drop in group and just chat to some of the other childminders – we do advertise these sessions and they are open to anyone because we think prospective  childminders need to know all the facts. Some will think joining an agency is the right choice for them and so we do provide information about agencies.

Then if still interested in becoming an independent Ofsted registered childminder, you could book a place on our ‘Interested in becoming a childminder session’ which we run every couple of months. There will be lots of information, including details of where you can access the training courses that you need, plus all the forms you will need to start the process – and experienced childminders to help and support you. Also if you want to,  you can be paired with a ‘buddy’ who will be an experienced childminder and who will be happy to support you through phone calls, and emails and face to face at group meetings and other events.

‘Is there a cost for all this?’ asks Jo

Sally Ann explains ‘We do ask for a contribution for any documents that we have had to print, and a donation to the group to help with the cost of hiring the hall and providing the refreshments’ but we do not expect people to pay out more than they can afford’

Sally Ann smiles again ‘To be honest, by asking for contributions and donations rather than setting an actual fee, we usually more than cover our costs because people appreciate the fact that we provide this service and do not charge for our time’

Jo is quite excited by now and tells Sally Ann that she is going to get things started straight away and will pop into the childminders drop in next time it is on.

Jo does register as an independent Ofsted registered childminder, she does have questions and stumbling blocks along the way but her local buddy and the wider childminding community via social media sites and childminding forums always provide the answers and the support needed.

Once registered Jo joins the local group and soon has her first minded child by using the groups vacancy scheme, the second child comes from a word of mouth contact when another group childminder has an enquiry that can not accommodate and so passes on Jo’s name.

It is true that Jo does not have a visit every 6 weeks from an agency staff member – but then she doesn’t need it because she has her own peer to peer support network; because she attends the childminders drop in, and has become good friends with a couple of other local childminders and they often meet up for play at each others houses or go on outings to parks etc together.

Jo has also joined a national membership organisation, and attends local and regional training/ peer support events.

Jo is very happy that she choose to become an independent Ofsted Registered childminder and is really enjoying her new career – and is now even thinking about having her own website

I am going to tell you a story about two people who want to be childminders…….. Part One   6 comments


Following on from my blog about the possible scenario of if I join a childminding agency, I am going to tell you a story about two people who want to become childminders in the future.

It has to be a story due to the fact that will happen in the future, but also because at the moment the government have not provided any details about just how childminder agencies will work.


So the characters in my story are Paula and Jo (could just as easily be Paul and Joe – but as most childminders are female, I will use female names)

Paula and Jo happen to live on the same estate as me, an estate which already has a number of established childminding settings.

This blog – part one – will focus on Paula (and of course part two will focus on Jo)


Paula has just had her first baby and does not want to return to her old job, but like most of us needs to earn an income. She has been attending her local children’s centre with her baby and through talking to the staff, Paula knows that help and support is provided to parents who want to become childminders, so Paula expresses her interest in becoming a childminder.

She has no idea that she could become an independently registered childminder, or that there are other options to join other agencies, and thinks that all childminders register through the children’s centre. This is because the children’s centre only promotes their scheme as they need to meet the criteria of the funding received from central government and recruit a certain number of childminders.

Paula thinks the help and support that she receives from the staff is fantastic, she completes an online introductory training session and is helped to fill in all the required forms. What Paula does not know is the staff member supporting her , has never been a childminder and has to refer to the ‘training manual’ provided on her one day in house training session – that was run by the centre manager – who also has not been a childminder, or worked with childminders before.

However this does not matter to Paula because she does not have anything else to compare to, and on completing the registration process, Paula is very happy to fill in the ‘end of training’ evaluation form with lots of positive comments. The centre manager is delighted as evidence of the success of the scheme.

During the registration process Paula has been told that she will be able to join the centre’s Childminding Agency and has a lovely glossy, full colour information leaflet telling her all about the support given by the agency.  Paula is very keen to get up and running – especially as she now needs to tell her old boss if she is returning to her old job or not. So Paula signs the agency agreement as a self employed childminder – she is however a little worried about the agency fee that she will have to pay – and indeed has spent the last bit of her savings on the up front joining fee of £200.  Paula thinks that she should have a child (or two) in her care by the time the first monthly payment of £50 is due.


As it turns out, Paula does get a child – in fact two sisters – sent by the agency, before the first monthly payment is due. However it is not all plain sailing – the agency support staff is not available to come to Paula’s house at same time as the parent to fill in the contract, and the parent is not able to get to the children’s centre – so although Paula has all the forms as supplied by the agency – she doesn’t understand them as there are lots of option boxes, and things that Paula can not explain to parent because she is not sure herself what all those childminding related terms mean.

Unfortunately,  Paula is not aware of the established local childminders, or the local childminders group, or the online based childminding forums and facebook pages – where she could seek support and advice – because she has not been told about them – and to be honest has no idea about childminding in the wider context- just what she has been told on her introductory course by the children centre staff – who refer to the ‘manual’ for their information.

However  because the parent needs childcare straight away, and Paula needs to start earning money – the parent and Paula fill in the forms the best they can.

Paula agrees to collect the younger sister from pre – school at 12noon and care for her all afternoon, and to fetch the older sister from school at 3:15. Parent will collect the children t 6:30 so Paula will provide tea for the children.

When the agency staff member called Debbie, pops round to see Paula in the second week of Paula caring for the children, she congratulates Paula on her first minded children and on managing to fill out the forms – which according to Debbie are ‘fine’

However over a coffee and a chat, Paula suddenly starts to get upset and is near to tears. Debbie is of course supportive and asks what is the problem?

Well ……. Says Paula …. There are lots of things …. I didn’t realise ……

‘Tell me about it’ says Debbie –  confident that it is just ‘new job nerves’

Ok says Paula

‘I have not got any resources suitable for the girls – I only have a few rattles, and textured toys belonging to my baby, and a colouring book and crayons, they end up watching TV a lot’

‘Well you are self employed’ says Debbie – ‘so just buy some’.

‘I can’t afford to’ says Paula

‘Ummmm’ says Debbie –‘ car boot? ‘

‘In November?’ asks Paula and in any case that still costs money – and I have to pay my agency fee next week,  and parents won’t pay me until end of the month.

Debbie member has no idea that childminding fees could be paid in advance  (it is in the training manual but not read that bit) – nor has Paula so she has gone for payment at the end of the month – just like she used to be paid in her old job.

Debbie also has no idea about ‘free’ play resources within the home or community events, or natural resources – and why should she? She does not have children of her own, and is used to a well stocked resource cupboard in the centre. So she gives the best advice that she can ‘Well you could bring the girls to the centre drop in’

‘Not really’ says Paula – ‘you see by the time I have collect one from pre-school, had lunch, baby has nap time, it is time to fetch the older one from school – and baby wants to be fed, then the girls need their tea – and by then the centre is closed’

‘AND’ says Paula-  tea is another problem – the girls don’t like the same things as we have for tea so I am cooking for them and having to cook again for me and my partner after they have gone home, and it costs so much more… and my partner is already complaining that as our baby is teething he has to  walk around comforting baby while I finish my days work, do handover to parents – who sits on our sofa chatting till nearly 7pm, and then by the time I have cooked tea, put baby to bed – all I wont to do is fall asleep on the sofa. Our family life is a mess because even at the weekends I am trying to do my accounts, and keep the children’s records up to date and plan the next week ….

‘Ahh’ says Debbie – grasping the one thing she can help with  ‘We provide help with accounts and planning and children’s records – shall I book you a place on the next workshop?’

‘Oh yes please’ says Paula ‘When is it?’

‘Choice of two’ says the staff member – pleased that she is able to help Paula with some of her problems ‘Wednesday afternoons or Saturday mornings’

‘Oh’ says Paula – I have already told you afternoons are difficult – so it will have to be the Saturday – I can bring baby can’t I?’

‘Afraid not’ says Debbie the agency staff member ‘ You see the centre is closed on Saturday’s and we don’t have staff available to run the crèche – could your partner look after baby or Granny?’

Paula is near to tears again as she realises that no, Granny can’t look after baby as she lives an hours drive each way from her, and her partner can’t either as he is working overtime on Saturday’s to try and cover all the extra costs that Paula is incurring providing things for the children – but has not yet been paid for.

Debbie looks at her watch and realises that although she wishes she could stay and offer more support to Paula – the hour visit is over and she has an appointment with another agency childminder in 15 mins.

‘We will pick this up at the next visit in 6 weeks time she says – and in the meantime do phone in if you need any other support.’

Once alone with her baby, Paula does cry and thinks ‘What a mess, who can help me, – NOW – not in 6 weeks time.

Just then Paula’s phone rings, it is a friend she met at the antenatal classes – and who knows that Paula wanted to become a childminder, asking if Paula can look after her baby of the same age, 3 full days a week.

Paula sighs and says to her friend – I am really sorry that would have been perfect for me, but you will need to go through the agency and see who is available to care for your child, and even if they do give you my name – I am not sure that I would be able to care for two babies and the two girls that I am looking after, but if they say I am the best match for you – then I will have to give it a go, as technically I have a space, and I do need to earn more money’’

*assumption that ratio changes gone ahead*

As it happens Paula’s friend is sent to another new childminder who lives nearer to her and who currently has more vacancies than Paula. It is a relief to Paula as she is already thinking that childminding is not for her, and is still worrying about paying the agency fee each month – as Paula is realising that by the time she has paid for food, some suitable resources for the minded children, she will not have much money left to pay the agency bill.

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.