More from our Early Years Minster – Part One of Penny’s personal look at the article – Maybe some ‘good news’   Leave a comment

Nursery World have published an exclusive article today The Ministers view Shaping More Affordable childcare

Penny wondered if the Minister was going to make announcement about some additional funding for early years settings – or some ‘real’ help for parents with childcare costs – and so Penny eagerly read the article.

However, it seems that there is no funding available for early years settings or towards parents childcare cost – and also no new ideas that we have not already read in More Affordable Childcare.

Oh well –  Penny is not that surprised – but as reading the article, Penny thinks she might as well ‘dig a bit deeper’ – as she may have missed something important – something that will make childcare more affordable.

So using the copy and paste method so don’t misquote the Minister or Nursery World (remember link to article is at top of page)

UK families face some of the highest childcare costs among OECD countries. Some families spend more than 25 per cent of net family income on childcare – more than double the OECD average of 12 per cent – while UK childcare professionals are some of the lowest paid in Europe. The Government spends over 40 per cent more than the OECD average on childcare for children aged less than three years. That is why we need to reform our system to make it work better.

Penny wants to know why the OECD figures are still being used as she thought it was now recognised that it is very hard to make comparisons between countries, and because there are so many variables – it is quite likely that UK parents actually do not pay one of the highest amounts, nor that the government 40% more than the OECD average.

Certainly in Penny’s setting where parents pay £29 per 10 hour day – EVERY parent either is receipt of tax credits or makes a saving on National Insurance payments, so none of the parents actually pay £29 per day,  and as their family incomes vary greatly, the % of their gross or take home pay spent on childcare will vary greatly as well. So how can anyone come up with ONE figure (even if a ‘up to’ figure)

So in Penny’s eyes these facts from OCED are not worth mentioning. What would be worth mentioning is how much parents pay for childcare in various parts of the country, in terms of low , average and high costs, same for pay in those areas – and the associated average tax credits – so that we had a low, average and high actual  % costs – in other words how much of total income including tax credits,, Ni/ tax vouchers and so on, is spent on childcare.

We know the current childcare system can be complicated for both providers and parents to navigate around. We also know that not enough of the money spent reaches the front line. Childminders, nurseries and schools all face barriers that prevent them from expanding. And sometimes provision is patchy and fragmented and does not make best use of the excellent facilities we have available. In More Affordable Childcare we are taking steps to tackle this.

We want to make it easy for good providers to expand and work together collaboratively, which is why in More Affordable Childcare we have identified ways to help deliver a level playing field. Parents want seamless, flexible provision and we’re trying to help you create that by simplifying things.

Penny would agree with the Minister on these points – and the aims are admirable –  however it is not as straight forward as it is made to sound, and Penny has yet to read anything that will make childcare more affordable.

Part of the problem is the inconsistency different providers experience. I hear from parents that often they are using a brilliant, reliable childminder – but they can’t access early years funding. This is a problem. Childminders are an important and valued part of our childcare offer. Many parents find the flexibility and home-based approach offered by childminders a great service in its own right and as a complement to nursery and school-based care.

However, fewer than 1 per cent of funded early education places are delivered by childminders – diminishing parental choice. This is unfair, which is why the Government is taking action. The proposals set out in More Affordable Childcare mean that local authorities will base their decision on whether to fund providers to deliver early education places solely on their Ofsted inspection rating. In practice, this means that any childminder rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ will be automatically be able to deliver two-, three and four-year-old places. This will also apply to nurseries.

As a childminder Penny welcomes the opportunity for more childminders to provide funded early education places, not only because it will give parents more choice but also because it will mean that children can – if their parents want them to  – stay with their childminder rather than leaving the childminder setting to go to a pre school or nursery.

However where is the ‘More Affordable’ bit of this? Nearly all 3 and 4 year olds access their entitlement to funded early education places – therefore nearly all parents are already benefiting from 15 hours free early education (and childcare). All that will happen is some childminders will be more sustainable as children will stay with them – but some pre schools / nurseries will be less sustainable because some 3 and 4 years will access their funding  at a childminder setting instead.

It is a slightly different story with 2 year olds as the % take up of places is less – and so room for growth, however with the funding criteria, the ability of parents to actually get their children to a setting, and the fact that many of the two years accessing the places will be from non working families;  2 yr old places are not going to have much impact on making childcare ‘More Affordable’ for working families.

HOWEVER – Penny needs to make it clear she welcomes the funded places  for 2 year olds ,as they will help narrow the achievement gap, and maybe help some settings that are struggling to fill their spaces, remain sustainable.

Oh and something worth consideration – if the childminders providing the funded places join a childminding agency – who is going to pay the prorata part of the agency fee for those funded hours?

Currently, fewer than 10 per cent of childminders have access to this funding; these changes mean that around 70 per cent of childminders will be able to offer funded early education places.

Certainly potentially very good news – however some childminders do not want to provide the funded early education places, and some can not afford to offer the places as the funding rate is a lot lower than their normal hourly rate – an issue that childminders share with many pre schools and nurseries.

Penny is going to break the next paragraph into bits as several important points made

I have also heard from nurseries and childminders that there are sometimes mixed messages about requirements from local authorities and Ofsted.

In some areas there have been mixed messages and indeed conflicting messages – but on the whole early years settings value the support provided by the local authorities, rather than changing the role of the local authorities -Penny’s opinion is that all that was needed were Government set requirements that all local authorities followed.

That is why we are reforming the system so that regionally based Ofsted teams will work closely with local authorities on improving weaker providers, based on issues identified in Ofsted reports.

Penny thinks it is important that Ofsted do work closely with local authorities, and remember when during her time working for a local authority that Osted inspectors and local authority staff did meet regularly to share information. It worked well – but then the meetings were stop and information sharing became much more difficult.

However Penny does not think it is good practice for Ofsted to inspect and to provide advice and support- as she considers this to be a conflict of interests – would be like a driving instructor testing their own clients and deciding if able to have a driving licence, or a teacher marking their pupils GCSE papers, or a world cup final having a referee from one of the countries playing. Penny also remembers when Social Services used to inspect, advice and support but it was stop as considered bad practice – Penny wonders what has changed?

Local authorities also play an important role in making sure there is high-quality provision in their areas by encouraging good providers to expand.

In some cases – yes high quality providers may be able to expand, either by opening another setting or by enlarging their current setting, BUT there is little point if that expansion means that the setting is then unsustainable because not enough business in the area, or it puts another high quality setting out of business. Expansion of number and size of settings needs to be carefully planning through market research and consideration of provision already in the area.

I want to reassure you that local authorities and Ofsted working together with nationally consistent criteria will create a level playing field for all good quality providers, including childminders.

Penny has read this bit THREE TIMES – because on the face of it , it appears that our early years minister has forgotten that she is introducing childminding agencies.

Read it again yourselves!

However, It is proposed that agency childminders will not be inspected by Ofsted, will not be supported by the local authority – and so there will not be a nationally consistent criteria or a level playing field – unless the early years minister has forgotten, or is just letting the information slip through that  the proposal to introduce childminding agencies is being dropped.

Maybe the Early Years Minister could clarify this?

And although Penny has not yet read anything that promotes More Affordable childcare – Penny is going to end part one of her personal thoughts on this – because she does not this bit to be overlooked

‘local authorities and Ofsted working together with nationally consistent criteria will create a level playing field for all good quality providers, including childminders’

Because unless an over sight or bad choice of words – childminding agencies would seem to be against the principle of that statement

Posted August 17, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

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