Nursery World exclusive; Ask the Minister   2 comments

The opportunity to ask the Early Years Minister some questions was an opportunity not to be missed, and I would  personally like to thank Nursery World for organising this opportunity.

Now that the article is published, and we are able to read the Minsters responses –  if you have not already done so click on the link

NW article – Exclusive ask the Minister

There are a wide range of very good questions, seeking clarification from Ms.Truss – who after all should be the ideal person to provide the answers.

As I am a childminder, I am not going to look at all the questions (and responses)  in detail – just the ones that relate to childminding – one at a time in the order that they appear in the article.  My comments in italics 

Question One

Childminders are being encouraged to accept early years funding for 2, 3 and 4 years olds and the hourly rate paid to childminders is £3.91 in my area. The average hourly rate in my area is between £5-£6 per hour and as we are pretty busy why would childminders offer to accept funding? Will the hourly rate be increased in line with the rate of pay of childminders and if not why would the government think that childminders will agree to offer it?

Sarah Cunningham Davis, Ofsted registered childminder

 So two main questions from Sarah- and both very valid points. Rephrasing in my words – within my understanding of Sarah’s questions

1) As  childminders hourly rates are higher than the rate paid for early years funding – why would childminders want to offer to offer it – and make a loss?

2) Could the Minister confirm if the hourly rate paid for early years will  be increased so is the similar to the  hourly rates normally charged to parents?

Did the Minister answer Sarah’s questions? Let’s see

We are taking steps to simplify funding to make sure more of it gets to the frontline and more early years places can be provided. We are also collecting data on the rates that each local authority pays to its providers and will publish further information in the autumn. In time, we want to move towards a national funding formula to remove regional disparities. We think childminders accepting early years funding is a good thing – previously they may have had to take the children in their care to a nursery to access the 15 hours.  Currently fewer than 4,000 childminders access this funding. As a result of our reforms, up to 32,000 childminders are now eligible. It will now be easier for childminders to deliver these 15 hours as part of a full time place in their homes – which will be beneficial to them and the parents they provide childcare for.

Penny says;

Well – it seems not. 

Removing regional disparities is nothing to do with increasing the hour rate

(and even though regional disparities do need sorting – it just says in time. And to be honest my hourly rate is about 1/3 of some of my London colleagues – so we need these regional disparities to some extent – or at least something on the lines of London weighting)

Ms. Truss seems to have missed the point – even if  thousands more childminders are able to offer the early years funding- many won’t be able to afford to.

Unless my understanding of Sarah’s questions and the Ministers response is wrong – Sarah’s valid questions have not been answered

 Question Two

You talked about making Funded Early Education accessible to all “good” and “outstanding” childcare settings, including childminders, and you even got published a statutory guidance document for the Local Authorities to follow from September 2013. Are you aware that there are still barriers being put up by a huge number of Local Authorities which have prevent thousands of childminders from being able to offer this Funded Early Education funding? My Local Authority is waiting for the law to change until they will even consider allowing childminders to access the funding. How do you propose to make sure Local Authorities remove these barriers.

Stacey Green, Ofsted registered childminder

Penny says;

Again, rephrasing in my words – Stacey  is stating facts – there are a number of LA’s who are applying additional criteria.

The Ministers response?

Our guidance to local authorities is clear that all good and outstanding providers – including childminders – are automatically eligible for 2, 3 and 4-year-old funding. There is no requirement that childminders must be part of a network to receive funding. Local authorities must not depart from the guidance unless they have good reason to do so. Waiting until the law is changed is not an acceptable reason to refuse to allow good and outstanding childminders access to funding. If your local LA is putting up barriers then I would urge you to get in touch with me at

Penny says;

So the Minister says the LA’s must not depart from the guidance unless they have good reason to do so. I am guessing that every LA that sets additional criteria – will have ‘good reason to do so’

 Question Three

Many of your recent proposals have been targeted at saving parents money. How do think Childminder Agencies are going to save parents money, when they are not receiving any government funds?  

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

Penny says;

Very good question from Ruth – and one that many people have been trying to work out – just how will agencies save parents money? Maybe the Minster will tell us the vital bit of information, that will then enable us to work out where these savings will come from.

Ms Truss said;

We know that for many parents, childminders are an absolutely essential part of childcare. They offer a home-based environment – which many parents prefer, particularly for very young children. They present an excellent, affordable option for parents. We want to see an increase in affordable childcare, and childminders are essential to this. But the current situation is disheartening. For too long policy has discriminated against childminders – and their numbers have plummeted as a result. The number of childminders has almost halved over the last 20 years. Currently fewer than 4,000 childminders access early education funding. Childcare is likely to be more affordable due to there being more childminders, which are an affordable option, not because of a reduction in rates.

Childminder agencies will also reduce the administrative burdens faced by individual childminders, cut duplication, and will be cost effective, with the freedom to share resources. This will help drive down costs for parents.

 Penny says;

So the crux of Ms.Truss’s answer is;

a) the affordability comes from more childminders being able to offer early education funding – but unless I have completely misunderstood being able to offer early education funding is NOT subject to being part of a childminding agency – so this does not answer Ruth’s question

b) Childcare will be more affordable because their will be more childminders – again you do not need to join an agency if you want to become a childminder – so again it does not answer Ruth’s question.

However – we know from information from meeting about the pilots around the country that prospective childminders are being included in the pilots and may – by default become part of the agency after the pilots are finished. So in a way – agencies may increase the number of new childminders – but only because they are not told that they could register in other ways without going through an agency. And you have to ask – will having to pay to go through the registration process through an agency, increase the number of applicants – personally I don’t think so – neither will it ensure that those applicants go on to be childminders in the long run.

Question Four

If a safeguarding issue arises from a child in the care of an Agency Childminder who has not been inspected by Ofsted, will you feel responsible for this?  

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

Penny says;

My understanding of Ruth’s question is – if there are other people making judgments about the suitability and safety of a childminders settings – other than directly by Ofsted – who will be responsible – the government? the Minister? the agency? I think this is a very valid point – as the more people that are involved in vetting and checking – instead of directly by the lead body – in this case Ofsted – the greater the risk that mistakes will be made. We already have problems of consistency between the two companies inspecting on behalf of Ofsted – consider the situation when we have maybe hundreds of different agencies – all with their own models of practice, level of training and experience of childminding.

The Minister says;

The situation you describe is analogous to a safeguarding issue arising in a nursery involving a member of staff who was not present when the Ofsted inspection was taking place. Where there are safeguarding concerns, agencies will be required to share information with relevant authorities in the same way as Ofsted currently does. Agencies will also be inspected by Ofsted. Indeed, under the existing Ofsted inspection framework, a childminder might only receive a visit once every three or four year. Agencies will have much more contact with childminders – including regular home visits and additional contact time.

Penny says;

Unless I have misunderstood the Ministers answer – I don’t think she has grasped the issue that Ruth wants an answer to.

In the scenario that the Minister  describes – it is not the same – as that nursery would have been inspected by Ofsted and the inspector will have been trained to set standards. The policies and procedures will have been checked and their implementation looked at – to the national criteria – and an inspection report on that setting issued. The manager of the setting has responsibility for ensuring the children are safeguarded in accordance to the policies and procedures – it things go wrong – the staff member, the manager and the inspector , and either Prospects or Tribal as appropriate, would be questioned – and currently maybe the local authority if they had been supporting or advising the setting. Already quite complex – already numerous opportunities for things to ‘slip through the net’

However with childminding agencies – the individual childminder may NEVER be inspected by Ofsted – and would be subject to checks by the agency staff member – or possibly more than one agency staff member at different times. This person or persons would be trained by the agency, would be following the agency criteria – and even if supposed to be based on Ofsted criteria you have personal interpretation to take into account – that of the agency, that of the person training the staff and that of the person or persons ‘checking the agency childminder. We already know that some agencies will be implementing set policies and procedures – and we already know these will not be setting specific – or drawn up by childminders or parents and therefor I personally have to question if childminders or parents will understand these corporate policies and procedures – and therefore understand them or fully implement them.

Question Five

If you had invested endless hours of your time at evenings and weekends, along with reinvesting a large portion of your earnings into your small business, would you be prepared to hand this over to an agency and pay them a fee? 

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

Penny says; Those who are already registered childminders, are struggling to see why they would pay for things that they can easily do themselves

The Minister says;

We have been clear from the outset that joining an agency will be optional. We do want to see both more independent childminders and more agency childminders as this will help increase the provision of childcare. That’s why the Government has made £2million available to help people who want to set up a nursery or a childminding business to help cover things like legal and insurance costs, health and safety training and adaptations to premises.

Some childminders, especially those new to the profession, may want to join an agency to be part of a larger organisation rather than setting up their own business. Agencies will also provide support with invoicing, paperwork, marketing, training and legal services which will free up childminders to concentrate on providing high quality care for the children they look after. At the same time, we understand many childminders are content with the way they are working. Both options are equally valid.

Penny says;

The Minister is right there is money to help with start up costs – and it sounds a huge amount – but per new childminder it does not cover the costs of the things mentioned by the Minister – and in fact if childminders register through a agency they will spend far more registering than they will get in a grant – and they will have to continue to have to pay the agency a fee during the time they are becoming established and potentially have not filled their spaces. This could mean childminders being out of pocket – not something to recommend becoming a childminder to anyone who wants to earn a living wage.

Also, one of the key aims of childminding agencies, is to save the government money from having to carry out childminder inspections – if say 80% of current childminders chose to remain inspected by Ofsted – and as the Minister suggests new childminders  opt to be registered and inspected by Ofsted – where is the cost saving to the government?

I wonder if the Minister has looked at the costs that are starting to be quoted for the services that agencies plan to offer?  Not very realistic – in terms of affordability on the income of the average registered childminder.

Question Six

If you were a parent looking for a Childminder would you honestly pay for an agency childminder who had not been inspected by Ofsted compared to no fee with an independent childminder who had? 

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

Penny says;

Such a valid point – an independent childminder inspected by Ofsted versus an agency childminder who has a different process for being checked.

This is the Minister’s response

We anticipate some childminder agencies operating like nurseries – they will provide a local offer to parents based on their needs, and we think this will be popular with some parents. Agencies will be inspected by Ofsted and will be responsible for the childminders registered with them. As part of their inspection, Ofsted will also visit a number of the childminders registered with the agency. Under the existing inspection framework, a childminder might only receive a visit once every three or four years, whereas agencies will have much more contact with childminders, including regular home visits and contact time. Some childminder agencies will also provide extra training support for their childminders beyond what Ofsted offers, so will actually play a key role in quality assurance. With this in mind, I believe parents can be absolutely assured about the quality of childminders registered with agencies.

 Penny says;

The first bit about agencies operating like nurseries – sounds to me – like moving children around – as if they are packages – to suit operating convenience.  

It is true that childminders are not inspected very often by Ofsted – and that the situation is getting worse – some are more like five years since last inspection  – but this is Ofsted’s doing – not the childminders – most childminders would welcome more frequent inspection – and certainly when there were childminding networks many wanted those additional checks and quality assurance measures through home visits, training and the support of the coordinator  – but whilst still maintaining their individual Ofsted inspection and grade.

The point that the Minister has failed to mention is that childminders will pay for these extra visits – there are not free – and what’s more details are emerging that suggest that new childminders and those with lower grades will be told they need to have more visits that established childminders with higher grades – and will pay for these extra visits. The costs of these visits will have to be budgeted for – and the most likely source of funding for agency fees – yes from parents by increasing the hourly rate. Whereas childminders can research things themselves, join online social media based support groups for free – and for a very modest annual fee join an organisation that supports childminders in a number of different ways. All childminders can also pay for other professionals to visit their setting for CPD purposes – as and when they want to .

I don’t personally think the Minister answered Ruth’s question

Question Seven

Penny says;

This is one of the questions that I sent in – but not just from me – as 239 colleagues also signed it

If ALL childminders remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted in the future, the main objection to childminding agencies would be removed and childminding agencies would become a support service that those that wanted to could buy into. Please explain why ALL childminders can not remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted? 

The Minister said;

Any childminder who wishes to remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted will be able to do so.  We trust childminders to decide what is best for them.

Penny says;

I have been polite up to now – as there was a chance that my understanding of other peoples questions was not correct – but in this case I fully understand the question as I wrote it, and the Minister has conveniently chosen not to answer it  – I did not ask if there was choice – I asked why ALL childminders could not remain registered and inspected by Ofsted – and that included the ones joining a childminding agency. I had clearly put the question in context by saying if  ALL childminders remain registered and inspected by Ofsted, the main objections to childminding agencies would be removed and childminding agencies would become support services for that wanted to pay for the services.

SO if Ms. Truss – or one of her staff is reading this  – please can you answer the actual question asked – to be clear;

Please explain why ALL childminders  INCLUDING THOSE THAT WISH TO JOIN A CHILDMINDING AGENCY can not remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted?

Question Eight

Penny says; my second question – mine and my 239 colleagues

The wording in the Children and Families Bill, once passed and made law of this country, could be easily used without any changes to make childminding agencies compulsory. Please can you confirm that childminding agencies will never become compulsory and will always remain voluntary?

The Minister says;

It is simply not true to say that agencies could be made compulsory without further legislation. The Children and Families Bill makes it clear that childminders have the option of registering either with Ofsted or an agency. We want to see an expansion in provision and support more childminders in bringing their services to the market. We certainly don’t want to close independent businesses down by making agencies compulsory. I am a big supporter of small businesses and the great work they do.

Again the Minister avoids the actual question – and does not confirm that childminding agencies will never become compulsory – she has not even said that they will not become compulsory in the lifetime of this government. I have to ask why she avoided the question?

Question Nine

What are the business plans for childminder agencies as there appear to be none?

Louisa and Jim Tickner

The Minister said;

We do not want to dictate the business model for agencies. Just like a nursery, which operates to its own business plan while following due process with Ofsted to ensure they offer a safe and viable service, we would expect agencies to create their own business models. Our agency trials are now underway, and we expect to see a number of different and innovative models which work for childminders and they parents they work with. A range of organisations are taking part in the trials, including local authorities, schools, children centres, nursery providers and private companies.

Penny says;

And herein lies the problem – a nursery or a childminder does set its own business model – and it works because just one business – the nursery (even if a chain owned by same company) – or a individual childminder.

A agency will have a business model – but within the agency there will be 10, 20, 30 (who knows) separate individual businesses – all operating in different family homes, with different ethos, values and principles, all with different requirements for income, all with different levels of resources and space, all with different constraints in terms of family members and pets ( and their needs), all with different levels of knowledge, qualifications and experience – how can the Minister compare this to a nursery or even a nursery chain?



So a golden opportunity for the Early Years Minister to provide information – even reassurance, to those who are concerned about childminding agencies – but in my opinion the opportunity has been wasted, as the Minister has not answered the very valid questions, or provided any new information, and again in my opinion – no reassurance. In fact I have been left feeling that the Minister really does not have any intention of listening to childminders concerns or in addressing those concerns through providing information or fine detail.


I will of course keep trying to engage in professional debate and discussion with the government about childminding agencies – as I am sure my colleagues who send in the other questions will, as we can not give up on our efforts to ensure that childminders remain registered and inspected by Ofsted – and childminding agencies become a support service that childminders may chose to pay to access support services from.


Finally, I wonder what our early years Minister would think of this scenario of a two year old engaging in a formal learning activity based on the example of professional practice in repeating the same info over and over


Two  year old  ”What’s that/’  – pointing to the shape sorter on the table which he and three other two year olds are sat

Adult ‘ ‘Today we are going to learn our shape names’ – and tips all the shapes on the table’

Another Two year old ‘ What’s that?’ –  pointing to the shape sorter’

Adult ‘ This one is a cylinder’ holding up the cylinder

Two year ‘What’s that?’

Adult ‘I have told you it is a cylinder – and it fits in this circle hole – see’ (as the adult posts the cylinder shape into the circle hole).

Adult ‘ Now you can all try to put the cylinder into the circle shaped hole’ Adult passes cylinder shape and shape sorter to first two year old

Two year old – pointing to pictures on front of shape sorter ‘Car – like Daddy’s’ Child makes car noises

Adult ‘ ‘oh dear – not got a clue’ Clear misunderstanding of task

Adult to second two year old ‘Your turn’ and said slowly and clearly repeated what the task was

Two year old picks up shape sorter container and puts it on his head smiling  ‘hat’

Adult ‘ This one must have development delay

Adult to third two year old ‘Your turn’ and explained what child needed to do

Two year old pushes container to the floor and neatly stacks the shapes, saying  ‘ tower’

Adult ‘ mm good stacking but child has failed test as not put cylinder in the correct hole

Adult passes shape sorter to fourth two year old – and explained again

Two year old picks up the cylinder shape

Adult smiles thinking –  at last a child who understands the question

Two year old ‘red’ – then reaches for the red cube and bangs the cube and cylinder together saying ‘like red one’

Adult  to colleague – I gave a clear explanation and repeated it over and over but still the children did not comply and complete the task set

Colleague – ‘Maybe you needed to explain it better by giving more information about the task and why it needs to be done that way , or maybe you should consider that these children have a far deeper understanding of shape sorters and everything about using a shape sorter in their own personal way’


And maybe – our Minister should reflect on this and realise if childminders are to understand what she has in mind with childminding agencies  and how they will work, she should give more detail / information –  and maybe she should also realise that like the two year olds in the above scenario –  she should consider that childminders know more about childminding than she does and have a much better idea of what it possible – and that just like a two year old with a shape sorter – each childminder will do things in their own unique way and understand why they want to do it this way through their own experiences and not through being told a few brief details, and expected to a) believe that what they are being told is the best way or b) it is the only way to do it.

Working in partnership, adapting ideas, listening to others suggestions, learning from others experiences – and understanding that no one likes to be told what to do and how to do it – and no one likes it if they are not listened to and accepted as knowledgeable in their own areas of expertise.

Two year olds are likely to throw themselves on the floor and kick and scream  if they are not listened to and valued as a person in their own right – and at times I have to admit the frustration at not being listened to, not respected as a knowledgeable person in my own area of expertise – there are times when I feel that throwing myself on the floor and kicking and screaming would not only get me noticed but might make me feel better as my frustrations would be expressed.

Needless to say – I shall continue to find professional ways to express my professional opinion and to try and get those in government to listen and to answer the valid questions that I and my colleagues have.



Posted October 11, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

2 responses to “Nursery World exclusive; Ask the Minister

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  1. So frustrating I am sure there are very few people who actually understand what childminding is or all the things we do,that’s why we never get proper answers to our questions ,they just don’t understand them or us. So then how can any of them try to run a Childminders Agency when they have no grasp of what we are and what we do. ( and as for lack of empathy/understanding that includes OFSTED,local authorities,tax man/woman and obviously government ministers they all need to do some homework! Let’s hope our insurance people actually understand what we do or we could be in trouble!!!)

    Angeline Hargreaves
  2. By the way I am in Hampshire and I am a Network childminders with an Outstanding grading ( not that I hold too much to that ,its just one persons view on one day ) as I am in said Hampshire one of the 20 pilot areas you’d think I would of heard something about the Hants county council pilot , but strangely not ! I’m wondering if any of them are actually up and running or just exist on someones local government plan ,like politicians do ,a load of spin because they can’t actually work because theres no actual childminders who want to be in agencies and no money to set them up even if anyone knew what childminders do so they could organise/train them ,sorry ranting now ! FRUSTRATED in Andover ,Hants.

    Angeline Hargreaves

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