Archive for November 2013

If you have not heard – Childminding agencies are being implemented   5 comments

This morning I wrote this post  the One Voice Facebook group and to enable the information to be shared as widely as possible, I have decide to copy and paste it here

Please share by whatever means you can – and ask everyone you share with to share as well

I am reading that many childminders are still not aware of agencies and even if they are – they are still thinking ‘IF agencies happen’ . Please can we all start stressing to childminding colleagues (and parents) that agencies are going to happen – the government have said so, and have not implemented any of the proposed changes put forward within the Children and Family Bill. They are currently adding the word agency to various statutory documents and guidance documents. The pilots are not about if they should implement agencies but about how agencies will work.

We need to make it very clear that at the moment there is a choice about if childminders join an agency or remain independent BUT that there will implications both short term and long term;
In the short term – increase in Ofsted fees or paying agency fees, and available support and training which will be very much a postcode lottery as to what available and how much it will cost, and inconsistencies in requirements with Ofsted requiring one set of criteria, and each agency requiring their own sets of criteria – we know this as government say each agency will set their own ‘model’

In the long term – A two tier system with lack of standardise criteria, confusion for parents, extra costs for parents – either through having to pay to join an agency as a parent, or due to both independent and agency childminders having to increase fees to cover the increased costs, potential for agencies to be marketed as ‘the best’ and so independent childminders get perceived by public as ‘not as good’, agency childminders having an agency grade not an individual grade – and so not a fair or consistent grading system, potential of government changing rules in due course once agencies are established – maybe only agency childminders could offer free entitlement in the future, maybe childminders with lower grades will be told to join an agency to improve or be de-registered, maybe in the future agencies will be declared such a success that government will decide all childminders have to join a agency.

In fact who knows because at the moment – I, and everyone else – are just guessing, just trying to make sense of the little information that we have.

One thing is for sure this government want agencies to be a success – and at the moment are not providing the detail needed about their ideas or plans and are just ‘getting on with the job’ regardless of what anyone else thinks or says.

I am very cross about the governments lack of information sharing, and very saddened that we are now in the position of not being able to make much, if any difference to the future of our own profession, our own small businesses – and that we are in effect just pawns in a government drive to save money at our expense.

Update

If you are a childminder and do not intend to join an agencies please tweet the DfE or email them or write a letter to say ‘My name is …… I am a (insert grade) Ofsted Childminder and I will not be joining an agency

If you are thinking of giving up childminding (or have) because of all the uncertainty / agencies TELL them via a tweet, email or letter

If you are a parent and would prefer to use a Ofsted registered childminder please tell them via same methods

If you are a early years professional and think agencies are not a good idea please let the DfE know.

You can also now comment on the DfE facebook page Link to DfE facebook page for comments if want to use or be a agency childminder

Posted November 27, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

So we now have the details of the Children and Families Bill as amended in Grand Committee   Leave a comment

If you have not seen it yet THIS IS THE LINK TO THE DOCUMENT

For the purpose of this blog I am going to concentrate on pages 165 (towards the end) to 192 as this is where Childminding Agencies are mentioned.

As it will take far too long to comment on every single line – I am only going to comment on those lines that jump out at me as being important. To help others follow I will copy and paste the actual bit that I am commenting on.

In all cases my comments are my personal opinion

{6) In subsection (5), after paragraph (a) insert—

 “(aa) prohibiting the applicant from being registered in the early years register as an early years childminder if the applicant is registered with a childminder agency;
(ab) prohibiting the applicant from being registered with an early years childminder agency as an early years childminder if the
applicant is registered—
(i) with another childminder agency;
(ii) in the early years register or the general childcare register;”.

So if anyone was thinking they could register with more than one agency or register as a independent childminder and an agency – you can’t.

So questions that spring to my mind are;

How easy will it be to change agency, if the one you join does not meet your needs or turns out not to offer the services it says it will, or puts its fees up after a honeymoon period?

How is easy will it be to decide to re register as a independent childminder if you realise you have made a mistake in joining an agency. Or if you join an agency because that is what you are led to believe  you should do to register as a childminder,but then want to become a independent childminder once you have become registered?

In fact will it be possible to change either from an independent to an agency childminder and vice versus?

9 After section 37 insert—
“37A Early years childminder agencies: registers and certificates
(1) If an application under section 35(1)(b) is granted, the early years childminder agency must—
(a) register the applicant in the register maintained by the agency as an early years childminder, and
(b) give the applicant a certificate of registration stating that he or she is so registered.

I read this as agency childminders will have a agency certificate from their agency – which means they will not have a Ofsted certificate and furthermore it is quite likely that each agencies certificate will look different. I have to ask how is anyone, but especially parents supposed to make sense of this, supposed to be able to identify a genuine certificate ?

(2) If an application under section 36(1A)(b) is granted, the early years
childminder agency must—
(a) register the applicant in the register maintained by the agency as an early years provider other than a childminder,
in respect of the premises in question, and
(b) give the applicant a certificate of registration stating that he or she is so registered.

HANG ON – GROUP SETTINGS / NANNIES / OTHER EARLY YEARS SETTINGS –  ARE YOU READING THIS!

Provision here for those who are not childminders to be registered with the agency – just what are the Government thinking about doing in the future? Could it be that – as I have suggested before that other early years settings may in the future come under agencies?

However I acknowledge that I may be barking up the wrong tree – and maybe the government have in mind some sort of new early years practitioner – who is not an early years childminder – maybe – and it might be a wild guess – but a person who looks after children in their own home but who does not follow EYFS ? So a babysitter type person? or maybe a grandparent?

Who knows? I certainly don’t don’t because despite my active campaigning, my constant quest for information about childminding agencies – I still have very little information.

(3) A certificate of registration given to the applicant in pursuance of subsection (1) or (2) must contain prescribed information about
prescribed matters.
(4) If there is a change of circumstances which requires the amendment of a certificate of registration, the early years childminder agency
must give the registered early years provider an amended certificate.”

‘Prescribed information, prescribed matters’ – so not defined – and subject to being changed

51C Conditions on registration
(1) The Chief Inspector may impose such conditions as the Chief Inspector thinks fit on the registration of an early years childminder
agency under this Chapter.

‘As the chief Inspector thinks fit’ – mmm maybe I am naive and this sort of wording is already common place – but to me ‘thinks fit’ is too open to personal and organisation interpretation

51E Reports of inspections
(1) After conducting an inspection under section 51D, the Chief Inspector must make a report in writing on—
(a) the quality and standards of the services offered by the early years childminder agency to early years providers registered
with it, and
(b) the quality of leadership and management in the early years childminder agency

So when a childminding agency is inspected – these are the TWO points that must be commented on in the agencies inspection report

The next few points are about ‘Later years childminders’ which is more or less the same as the Early Years Childminder bit – and includes this bit which again mentions an early years provider who is not a childminder,

(3) A person who is registered as an early years provider (other than a childminder) with an early years childminder agency or as a later
years provider (other than a childminder) with a later years childminder agency in respect of particular premises may give notice
to the agency that he or she wishes to be registered with the agency in respect of the provision on the same premises of—
(a) later years provision (other than later years childminding) for a child who has attained the age of eight;
(b) early years provision or later years provision (other than early years or later years childminding) for a child who has not attained that age but in respect of which the person is not required to be registered under Chapter 2 or 3.

It would be really helpful to be told by the Government just who this early years provider – who is not a childminder, but who could register with a childminding agency.

The next bit I find worrying – and is not something that I have mention before in relation to agencies

“69A Cancellation, termination and suspension of registration with a childminder agency
(1) Regulations may make provision about the cancellation, termination and suspension of the registration of an early years provider or a
later years provider with an early years childminder agency or a later years childminder agency for the purposes of Chapter 2, 3 or 4, in
particular—
(a) about the termination by an early years provider or a later years provider of his or her registration;

This is fine it is when the childminder chooses to terminate their registration
(b) for the creation of offences relating to things done while a registration is suspended;

So if the agency had suspended a registration – they could act, even terminate registration for certain offences – again fine if these offences are about childminding while suspended BUT it does not clarify here what these offences might be – how about if you disagree with suspension, or think the conduct of agency staff is not acceptable?
(c) about the resolution of disputes between an early years provider or a later years provider and an early years childminder agency or a later years childminder agency.

So if a person had a dispute with a childminding agency they could be suspended or have their registration terminated. However what is a dispute – it could in theory be about anything and so in theory a person could be suspended or have registration terminated for ANY dispute

It goes on then as follows
(2) Regulations by virtue of subsection (1) which make provision about the suspension of the registration of an early years provider or a later
years provider with a childminder agency must include provision conferring on the registered provider a right of appeal to the Tribunal against suspension.
(3) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (1)(b) may only create offences which are—
(a) triable only summarily, and
(b) punishable only with a fine not exceeding the level specified in the regulations, which may not exceed level 5 on the standard scale.”

This is saying that you could get fined for ‘offences’. In my opinion this is not needed, and it is far too open to abuse of the fine system, to open to personal interpretation.  Colleagues in Australia have told us that in their country,  fines are very varied in amount and what for – even if maximum amounts are set, agencies  make their own rules about amount of fine and what for within those limits. Personally this one aspect would enough to stop me from joining an agency -even if I could join as a independent Ofsted registered childminder, because I don’t think fines are the professional way to treat childminders – I would much prefer support, training, advice – to help me improve my practice.

I need to make it clear that I am very much in favour of everyone meeting the requirements of registration, and that registration should be suspended  and even terminated,  but that to fine people – to even have provision that people could be fined, by an agency that makes it own rules,  is in my opinion not appropriate.

The next bits are about suspension and voluntary removal from childcare registers of childminding agencies.

69C Suspension of registration: childminder agencies

(1) Regulations may provide for the registration of a person registered under Chapter 2A or 3A as an early years childminder agency or a
later years childminder agency to be suspended for a prescribed period in prescribed circumstances

70A Voluntary removal from a childcare register: childminder agencies
(1) A person registered under Chapter 2A or 3A as an early years childminder agency or a later years childminder agency may give notice to the Chief Inspector of a wish to be removed from the early years register or (as the case may be) from Part A of the general childcare register.

Again I do agree with this but the big questions are around what will happen to the childminders registered with that agency, and also to parents and children using the services of the agency childminder. Communication with colleagues in Australia have provided evidence that there can be huge problems for providers and parents if an agency is closed or suspended. Therefore it is essential that very clear procedures are put in place so that everyone understands what will happen in the event of an agency closing or being suspended or changes the registers that registered for.

The next section is about information that the agency should share with Government departments – again this is acceptable but people do need to know  what information will be shared.

(1) An early years childminder agency or a later years childminder
agency must provide prescribed information to the Secretary of
State, Her Majesty‘s Revenue and Customs, and each relevant local
authority, if it—
(a) grants a person’s application for registration for the purposes
of Chapter 2, 3 or 4;
(b) takes any other steps under this Part of a prescribed
description.
(2) The information which may be prescribed for the purposes of this section is—
(a) in the case of information to be provided to the Secretary of State, information which the Secretary of State may require for the purposes of the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to universal credit under Part 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012;
(b) in the case of information to be provided to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, information which Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs may require for the purposes of their functions in relation to tax credits;
(c) in the case of information to be provided to a relevant local authority, information which would assist the local authority in the discharge of their functions under section 12.

There is of course also a bit about sharing information to safeguard children and families – which is as it should be.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I have not commented on everything – and so if readers want to comment on other aspects – please do so.

Posted November 22, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

It would be tempting to give up with all my campaigning – but then …….   5 comments

…….. would I be able to sit back and do nothing while the Government continue to say and do things that are not in the best interests of my profession, of the early years sector as a whole – and most importantly not in the best interests of children and their families?

It is a while since I have written a blog about the governments lack of understanding about childminding . However today I have read the transcript of the debate on child care

 

THIS ONE

 

I really despair that the government continue to show a complete lack of understanding about Registered Childminding and the precieved benefits of childminding agencies.

 

This is going to be a short blog – because I have other things to do today – but more blogs may follow.

For now I am going to focus on just two comments during the debate

The first is a comment by Elizabeth Truss

We are seeing 8-to-6 schools blossoming. The Norwich free school has a squirrels club, which means it is open from 8 am to 6 pm, 51 weeks a year. I know that the shadow Education Secretary thinks that free schools are a “dangerous ideological experiment”, but I think schools like the Norwich free school are giving hard-working parents the support that they need.

 

Another example is the Harris chain of academies, which has promised that every new school it opens will operate on an 8-to-6 basis. I am hugely in favour of 8-to-6 provision. It supports working families and helps to increase children’s attainment, but we must do that in a way that is realistic and sustainable for schools.

 

Ms. Truss says she is hugely in favour of 8 -6 provision –  as a childminder I KNOW that 8 – 6 provision DOES NOT meet the needs of a huge number of working parents.

How many parents work shifts?

How many parents need to be at work at 8am – or even 9am but have over an hour travel time between childcare setting and work place (remembering rush hour congestion even in small towns)?

How many parents have mixed aged children – so under fives and school age?

 

How many parents risk speeding fines or take risks with safety to get to collect their child before it closes at 6pm?

In my experience – most parents face some or all of the issues day in, day out .

And for someone who has told me personally that she wants more childminders and greatly respects the work that childminders do – why is Ms. Truss not actively promoting the service that childminders offer – and have done so for decades;

Families of mixed ages together – so one drop off and one collection for busy parents

Hours that are flexible – with early starts including 5:30am for those parents that work shifts and have to actually be at work for 6am or 7am, and of course late finishes well past 6pm

Providing a family evening meal where siblings can sit together and enjoy a relaxed meal together.

I could go on and on about the advantages of childminders providing care for school age children

And any of you reading this who think childminders don’t offer these services, just take a look at my setting website

Penny’s Place setting website

I agree that SOME parents will find a 8 – 6 service very useful BUT in many areas of the country after  school provision is shutting or reducing their opening hours because so few parents are using the service, that it is not sustainable.

Think about it,  ONE family needing this service will not enable a group setting to be viable but a childminder would be.

Or one family requiring an early start and another family a late finish – again a group setting would not be sustainable (building and staff costs) but a childminder or even two different childminder would be sustainable.

 

However there is no need to take my word for it – ask parents, ask childcare providers, ask membership organisations, ask Local Authorities – there is so much actual data available, so much more data that could be gathered so that the needs of working parents are met and childcare provision can be sustainable.

 

The second comment that I am going to pick up on is from  Fiona Bruce (Congleton, Conservative)

That is absolutely right, and I am glad to have this chance to put on record that it is a profession that deserves respect. Many childminders do not want the burdens of having to set up and run their own business. They do not want to have the burdens of complying with regulations and training requirements; they simply want to care for children. Let us release them and set them free to do that by supporting this new initiative of childminder agencies that the Government are setting up.

 

I am going to make some progress now; I have taken several interventions.

The Government’s childminder agency initiative is an excellent step, not least because it will mean that families will have a local resource that they can access to find a childminder they can have confidence in a childminder who has been through the appropriate training, and who is from an agency that they know is maintaining proper standards. The agencies will also provide for occasions when the childminder falls ill, which can cause a great deal of stress to parents; there will be additional cover to provide someone else at short notice when they need that

 

The Government’s provisions to build up the number of childminders should be supported, therefore, and the agencies will also help to promote take-up of Government funding for two to four-year-olds. At present fewer than 10% of childminders are funded through Government funding. I am sure that a lot of early-year place provision is being missed out as a result of that.

 

I support the Government’s proposals. They will enable childminders to concentrate on delivering high-quality education and care, which is what they want to do, and not be driven out of their profession simply because they do not want to face the regulations and red tape they have had to deal with until now. They will be able to benchmark themselves against the highest standards. They will be able to access the new framework of training and support and ongoing improvement, and concentrate on giving the best provision to families.

 

I have to admit that when I read Ms. Bruce’s comments – I had to stop myself from shouting out loud at the computer – does she realise what she has said?

 

Let’s unpick it

‘They do not want to have the burdens of complying with regulations and training requirements; they simply want to care for children’

And then

‘a childminder who has been through the appropriate training, and who is from an agency that they know is maintaining proper standards’

And then

‘They will be able to benchmark themselves against the highest standards. They will be able to access the new framework of training and support and ongoing improvement’

 

So I am confused Ms. Bruce says in one statement that childminders do not want the burden of training requirements but then says childminders will (in agencies) have been through appropriate training – and able to access the new framework of training and support.

 

So childminding agencies WILL NOT remove the burden of training from individual childminders – in fact they will be insisting on childminders in the agency undertaking training – that the agency says is needed to comply with agency requirements.

 

So – being polite – just how does Ms. Bruce think agency childminders will be freed from a training burden?

 

Then there is the perceived burden of setting up and running a childminding business – yes I agree some people do need support – but there is a lot of support already available as in books, guidance documents, membership organisations, per support and the internet. You can buy or download planning documents, recording documents, policies and so on.

However the bottom line is the childminder will STILL have to fill in the documents that are required  about the children, and other documents to run the setting safely.

 

So I really cannot see how much of the paperwork burden just being a childminding agency will save – some specific examples from the government may help myself and others understand this.

 

And then we get to the quality issue – 71% of registered childminders are graded as good or outstanding according to the latest Ofsted Annual Report – and latest figures show this figure is rising.

 

Those who are not achieving the highest grades may not have done so because they did not have any children on roll at inspection, or had not been looking after children for very long at their first graded inspection and so did not have enough documentation or other evidence.

 

However I fully accept there are a FEW childminders who have a repeated grade of less than good – and who are not proactive in accessing support or training

This could be because;

They can not afford to pay for training – so having to pay to be in an agency is not going to improve things for them

They work long hours – so being in an agency will not change things for them – they will still be restricted in what training they can get to

They may have other commitments – a young family, caring for parents, a second job to help family income etc, – these other commitments will not disappear just because they join an agency.

They may be near retirement age / just wanting to ‘see current children through’ and so training has no benefit to them as they plan to de register in the near future

And then there are those who really do not see any point in training – and  those people are very unlikely to see any point in joining an agency that they will have to pay to be in, especially as they will have do training as part of being in the agency

Therefore just how will childminding agencies drive up the quality of those childminders who currently have a less than good grade?

It is much more complicated than the government are suggesting – and as Ms. Truss has already said to me in person that she thinks it highly unlikely that good or outstanding childminders will want to join an agency (she is right we don’t) I have to ask how many of those with a less than good grade will be keen to join a childminding agency – given the reason stated above?

 

Add to that the fact that those childminders who might find an agency beneficial are not all living in the same area  – and so if numbers in any one area are low – will agencies be have enough childminders to be sustainable? To make it worthwhile putting on training? To be financially worth employing staff – especially if travel costs to do home visit are huge?

 

As a registered childminder who has been campaigning against childminding agencies ever since Ms. Truss first mentioned them in her paper ‘ Affordable Quality – I have yet to have read anything from the government or anyone else that has made think –‘well these agencies may be worth looking into – and when I read things like the transcript from the debate that I have been commenting on in this blog – I realise that the government are not listening AT ALL to the wealth of evidence and experience from childminders, membership organisation and experts within the early years field.

 

Personally I have written many blogs, wrote hundreds of letters, travelled to London to Meet with Lord Storey on one occasion and Elizabeth Truss on another occasion, I have become a member of all the main childminding organisations so we can all work together, I have attended meetings, engaged with colleagues from all early years sectors, written articles for magazines and more – and this is just my personal attempt to try to ensure the government listen – my colleagues all over the country are doing as much if not more – but so far the government are continuing to carry on with the implementation of their plans – in full and without regard to consultation responses, to petitions, to letters, to the amendments put forward by some MP’s and some Lords and Baronesses ……………………..in other words in plain English – they are still not listening.

Posted November 20, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

New Ofsted Director for Childminding   2 comments

Over the weekend I have had a large number of childminders contact me via email and social media – they all wanted to make sure that I had seen the latest Ofsted newsletter – which can be accessed by clicking on this LINK .

There is of course quite a lot of information in the newsletter – but it is the first bit that has caused concern – it says in the introduction from Sue Gregory

‘At the end of this term I will be retiring from Ofsted after 13 and a half years. As I look back over the variety of roles I have had in my time here, each of them has been professionally rewarding. None more so than the last year as National Director, Early Childhood. It has without doubt been an extremely busy and at times a challenging period; but one where we have made real headway in our drive to improve early years provision through better inspection and regulation.
We can be proud of our achievements over the last year, but there is still more to do. As I hand over to the two new national directors, Nick Hudson (Early Education) and Lorna Fitzjohn (Childminding) I wish you all the very best.’

 

It is fair to say that at first I had not seen it, due to being at a conference all day Saturday and being ill on Sunday, but when the first person sent me the link I clicked on it, read the introduction and could see straight away why childminders were concerned and why they were making sure I had seen it – and why they wanted me to comment.

Many of those contacting me asked similar questions  based on ‘Have we lost the battle?’ or ‘Is there any point in continuing with our campaign?’ or ‘Is this the nail in the coffin?’

And  – these thoughts were also rushing through my head as I considered why Ofsted might want to have one director for childminding and one director for Early Education.

These are the questions that I thought of;

Will we now see separate statutory documents – as we had in days of National Standards?
Will it be a step towards all childminders being inspected and regulated through agencies? Maybe through suggesting that only those regulated through agencies and subject to home visits being ‘good enough’ ?
Will it be a step towards childminders once again be regarded professionally as of ‘less quality’ and  ‘professionalism’ than other EY settings?
In fact I was so concerned that this move by Ofsted may have a hidden agenda that I decided to email Liz Bayram CEO PACEY and Neil Lietch CEO Pre-school Learning Alliance – wearing  my hat of lead of Save Childhood Movement,  Childminding Advisory Group, to ask their professional opinion.
NB I chose Neil and Liz to approach first as I know they both have opportunity to attend meetings with Ofsted at director level as so thought they have an insight into what is going on.
Liz Bayram responded first and acknowledged that things are changing but put forward a suggestion as to why a new separate  childminding director had been created. She said

It may also be that Ofsted are introducing this role because their two childminding specialists (Sue Gregory and Dee Gasson are due to retire) so they will have a significant knowledge transfer’

A reasonable point  I think – and Ofsted will of course want to ensure a smooth transfer of this significant knowledge – especially as this is a time of significant change in early years and particularly within childminding

As Liz also says ‘ Ofsted will want to ensure that the framework for agencies is effective ‘

I can of course see the logic of what Liz Bayram is saying – Ofsted what to ensure that childminding agencies are a success – and I can also see if they are not, Ofsted – and indeed the government will be in a very difficult position if they do not work or are not successful.  Personally I can not see how they will work or be successful – but then most readers of this blog know my thoughts about childminding agencies (and if you are a new reader – just take a look at some of my previous blogs on the subject)

So getting back to the concerns being expressed by myself and colleagues – Both Liz Bayram and Neil Leitch want to reassure us that the ‘battle is not lost’ – that there is still plenty of time to challenge the idea of childminding agencies  – Liz has pointed out that there will be

‘further legislation which is beyond the end of this parliament and a lot more lobbying by the sector before it gets to that.’

So in a nutshell – we have not lost the battle, there is still time to challenge, there are still a lot of processes for the Children and Families Bill to go through before Childminding Agencies become legal – and perhaps most importantly we all have a very important role to play in standing our ground, in working with our membership organisations – all of them – to demonstrate through our combined efforts and our valid arguments about why agencies will not work, about why individual inspections are essential and about why childminding needs to remain an integrated part of the early years sector.

We can all do our bit, and our membership organisations are all doing their bit – as a member of all of them, and lead on the Save Childhood Movement Advisory group, I know how hard they are all working to represent us all and to ensure our voice is heard.

I understand that both Liz and Neil have meetings with Ofsted in the very near future and I have been reassured that they will be discussing the creation of a new childminding director at the meetings – and raising our concerns.

SO THE BATTLE IS NOT LOST  – WE STILL HAVE A LOT TO FIGHT FOR – SO  WE NEED TO   STAND  TOGETHER AND UNITE IN OUR EFFORTS TO ENSURE THE GOVERNMENT LISTENS.

Finally on a personal note, I would like to thank Neil and Liz for their quick response to my email, and thank all the organisations Pacey, Pre school Learning Alliance, UKCMA and ICM-SE for working in partnership with me (wearing my SCM hat) and with each other – and for sharing information on a weekly , if not daily basis – as I think it is essential that we do share knowledge, do speak as a sector and do not give up our campaigning.

 

 

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