Archive for December 2013

Review of 2013 A Year of Campaigning – and a bit of a rant!   12 comments

This morning – Tuesday 31st December 2012, two things have happened – both of which have made me think.

First,  WordPress sent me an email telling me about the success of this blog during 2013, and second I have spent about 3 hours writing a blog about childminders no longer being able to claim the Early Years Education funding for their own child – and potentially for their grandchildren.

Therefore my thinking has been about the year just about to end – and the year to come.

According to WordPress;

This blog was viewed about 71,000 times in 2013.

In 2013, there were 148 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 309 posts.

The busiest day of the year was November 27th with 1,614 views. The most popular post that day was If you have not heard – Childminding agencies are being implemented

Other information can be viewed in the annual report – which with a bit of luck and very few IT skills, I have posted on this blog.

So in 2013, I wrote a lot of blogs but unlike my original intention for this blog,  they were not mainly about my childminding setting, there were about my campaigning.

I also of course set up petitions – the first being about the proposal to increase ratios in early years settings – and although I am not publicly recognised as the person who ‘set the ball rolling’ on this – I know I was – and so do others – those that I asked to be involved from day one and who all played a very active part – Laura Henry – Nathan Archer – Neil Leitch.

Others then joined in – with the Childminding Forum petition gaining the most signatures – and congratulations should go to them. However I still do not understand why they refused to work together to ensure the maximum impact – they would not post links to the petition I started (although I signed their petition and posted links to it), they refused to post links to my blogs or any other information such as the One Voice site that I set up.

One of their members did approach me to ask if I would issue a joint statement with her – I was willing to do this – but not with the conditions set by her – that of  NOT involving those that were supporting the petition that I started – or those who were supporting the childminding  forum petition. This would have been completely against my personal ethos of honesty and working in partnership for the greater good rather than for any personal fame. fortune or recognition.

And so the Childminding Forum did it their way – and I did it my way.

This included working with all the major early years organisations and many individuals – including the Preschool Learning Alliance who in due course set up their own paper and online petitions. Neil Leitch the Alliance CEO has since been recognised (quite rightly) as the person who had the most influence and impact on the issue – hardly a week went by without one or more articles from Neil in the media. I don’t mind this at all – I would rather not be in the limelight, however I was touched when during the Alliance AGM, Neil mentioned me by name and I was presented with some lovely flowers. I was also touched when during a pre Christmas phone call, Neil said he had not forgot that it was I who approach him about the ratio petition and therefore me who set the ball rolling – more than enough recognition for me.

Of course we all know that although the plans to increase ratios were dropped, we did not actually ‘win’ as Ms. Truss did not even mention all the campaigning as a reason but just that she had not secured cross party support  – still for the time being ratios are not a issue – but actually I don’t trust the Government at all – and so I expect a ‘back door’ way to be found to increase ratios.

However ratios were not my major concern during 2013 – Childminding Agencies were – and they will continue to be a concern as we move into 2014 and get nearer to September 2014 when childminding agencies are to be introduced.

In this case despite campaigning by myself and many others, despite opposition to the plans by all the main organisations that represent childminders – Pacey, Pre-school Learning Alliance, ICM-SE and UKCMA – the Government are just continuing to carry on with the implementation of Childminding Agencies – and with the introduction of the Children and Families Bill which is the legal framework under which childminding agencies come.

I have been very fortunate in that all of the above childminding organisations have been working very closely with me  on the childminding agency issues – and through these connections I have had the opportunity to have input in many different documents and been involved in many discussions. However the highlights have to have been the invitation by UKCMA to go to the House of Lords to meet Lord Storey, and later in the year to go to the House of Commons to meet Elizabeth Truss – opportunities I never dreamt I would have.

As a result of my campaigning I have been noticed by other campaigners – in particular those involved with Save Childhood Movement and the connected campaign Too Much, Too Soon. I was honoured to be asked by Wendy Ellyatt, the CEO of Save Childhood Movement, to be part of the Early Education Advisory group, and to be lead on the Childminding Advisory group.

It was through my involvement with Save Childhood Movement that I found myself to be one of the signatories on the letter in The Telegraph that was signed by almost 130 leading people in the the Early Years Sector – a real honour.

And it was also through Save Childhood Movement and the Too Much, Too Soon campaign, that I found myself stood in Downing Street, handing in a petition to Number 10, asking the Government to ‘Stop developmentally inappropriate policy- making in the early years’. This petition is still live, so please take a look at the Save Childhood Movement website, weigh up the issues yourself – and if you agree, sign the petition. Link to Save Childhood Movement website

So quite a year on the campaigning front, and it certainly seems that it will be continuing in the same vein in 2014 – hence this mornings blog about claiming Early Years funding .

In that blog, I stated the following;

What at first glance appears to be just the removal of the ability to claim Early Years Education for your own child or grandchild and a tightening up of requirement to uphold the Children Act 2006 – is actually a much bigger issue that will impact on childminders who are parents or grandparents of children aged 3 and 4, on the profession as a whole – and potentially have a huge impact on Government expenditure if those who are currently childminders decide that they can not continue to childmind for financial reasons, or decide that they can not continue to provide free or subsidised places to grandchildren.

There are currently over 50,000 registered childminders who run successful small businesses, who provide a lot of childcare to their own children or grandchildren without the benefit of accessing childcare tax benefits, who are working parents, who have-  to be blunt ‘got off their backsides’ and been proactive in setting up and running their businesses – all of which have huge benefits to society, to the Government and more importantly to the families and children using their childminding service.

Many of these childminders are already leaving the profession because income is too limited, because of the removal of local authority support and increased training costs,  because they are fed up with constant changes to regulations, because they do not agree with the introduction of childminding agencies and the resulting unfair two tier system ……..

………….and now the removal of the ability to claim funding for their child / grandchild’s early years education place ……..

……..it will not be a surprise to me,  if this turns out to be the final straw, and ever increasing numbers of childminders resign – that is dedicated professional childminders, who have the highest Ofsted grades – the ones who always put the needs of the children first – the ones who really care – the ones that parents rely on to provide flexible, high quality care and education that meets their families needs – the ones who spend hours of their own unpaid time ensure that they do provide the highest standards of care and education.

And continuing here – and as I have indicated in the title – in a bit of a rant

It may well be the final straw for some childminders – and indeed childminders  like me – How much more can we take? How many more changes can we embrace?

As I stand at my laptop – on my so called Christmas break, surrounded by piles of paperwork and resources that I am sorting and updating, ready for when I return to childminding on 6th January, as I stand here – after 5 hours of writing blogs connected to my campaigning – I am asking myself  – WHY? – WHY I keep on spending hours every week campaigning? Why I spend hundreds of £’s of travelling and campaigning that I can’t really afford? Why I create so much stress for myself as I push myself way beyond my comfort zone? Why I continue to write blogs and letters, knowing that the Government are not listening, knowing that some will knock my efforts and say that my poor spelling and grammar cause my blogs to do more harm than good.? Why I take on more and more responsibility that I really don’t have the time to commit to, and so end up spending every spare second outside my working hours (including many in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep) , and some in my working hours when my co minder is here?

It would make sense (and make life a lot easier) if I gave up campaigning and returned the normal me – the one who prefers not to write for public reading, the one who actually hates public speaking and who would prefer not to express an opinion for fear of ‘looking silly’ , the one who prefers to spend time preparing things  for the children to use creatively, the one who prefers to play with and observe children – including grandchildren – all things which this last year have not been the ‘me’  seen in public or in private family times.

As someone who planned to claim Early Years Education funding for a grandchild in 2015 – this could well be the last straw financially.

All in all – I may as well give up and resign as a childminder and just let the Government get on with their plans as they would no longer have an impact on me.

BUT – and it is a big BUT

My passion for childminding, for the well being of children – all children not just my grandchildren and the children I care for, my personal ethos about honesty and my beliefs about appropriate early years care and education – just won’t let me quit. It is what keeps me going, it is what drives me to overcome all my personal difficulties and to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

2013  has been a year of challenge,  at times, of despair but also of opportunities and hope – especially with so many individuals and organisations all coming together to speak with One Voice on behalf of the children of this country

SO

To the Government – I despair that you will ever listen – BUT I will not give up and will continue to speak up for the children of this country – who should be able to rely on you – but can’t – to implement the United Nations Rights of the Child.

To those of you who knock my efforts – I wish you would work in partnership with me and accept me for who I am, recognising that I have the best interests of children at the heart of everything that I do – that I am not interested in fame, fortune or anything else for myself –  but if you won’t – then I will just accept that I can’t change things and will carry on doing whatever I can – knowing from feedback from others, that my efforts are appreciated, and secure in my belief that although academic skills are important, that people skills and caring skills are far more important and without them we would not succeed or even survive as a society.

To those individuals and organisations that support me – a HUGE THANK YOU. Without your words of encouragement, without you sharing information with me and from me, I would struggle to do what I do, without your donations towards travelling costs, I would struggle even more than I currently do – And in my darkest hours without your support, I would just give up – so THANK YOU – together we can make a difference, maybe not the difference we really want to achieve but we are making a difference.

As to 2014 – who knows what it will bring or what challenges are ahead – but I for one will continue to campaign against this governments short sighted policies – and I will remain an independent Ofsted registered childminder for as long as I can.

Posted December 31, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Childminders no longer able to provide funded Early Years Education Places to own child   11 comments

For well over 10 years registered childminders who were approved to do so, have been able to provide  the Governments funded Early Years Education places for their own child of eligible age.

The name of these funded hours has changed over the years, as have the number of hours, but approved registered childminders have been providing these funded hours successfully for many years.

The criteria for being approved has also changed over the years;

At first it was only those childminders who were approved through the NCMA (now Pacey) ‘children come first’ childminding networks. Assessment was rigorous, and there was very regular monitoring through announced and unannounced  home visits. There was also a requirement for training and continuous professional development.

And the system worked well, in that fully assessed and approved Network Childminders achieved the highest grades from Ofsted  and provided every child in their care  (including their own child / grandchild) with excellent care and education. The Network itself was monitored and assessed by independent assessors, and every Network Childminder was also independently inspected by Ofsted – in those days at least every three years.

At first there was Government funding to set up and run the Childminding Networks, however once the funding stopped, Local Authorities were not always able to continue to fund the networks, and / or to expand them to offer more childminders the opportunity to become Network Childminders (although some did), due to the requirement to have one full time Network Coordinator for every 40 Network Childminders – and if there was more than one coordinator, a manager as well.

It was therefore not an entirely open or accessible scheme as not all childminders who wanted to be Network Childminders could do so.

There then started a process of reducing the requirements – so Local Authorities could set their own criteria (within guidelines) and so some reduced the number of monitoring visits, or cut the services offered to Network Childminders, or increased the number of Network Childminders per co-ordinator, or introduced generic childminding staff that covered all aspects within the childminding team – including the Network Childminders.

Soon Local Authorities were dropping the robust assessment process and using other methods – such as ECCERS and / or Ofsted grade – so Childminding Networks started to reduce in number, although a few did continue.

The situation now in most Local Authority areas, is that there are no longer Childminding Networks, and since September 2013, all childminders with an Ofsted grade of good or outstanding can provide the funded Early Years  Education places.

In addition with the cuts to Local Authority budgets, those childminders with a good or outstanding Ofsted grade do not receive any targeted support, and in some areas there is no longer a childminding team within the LA Early Years department – and in some cases no longer a Early Years department.

At the same time, the time period between Ofsted inspections is being stretched with those who have a good or outstanding grade often having four years (or longer) between inspections.

However, during all these changes – there has not been any mention of childminders being unable to claim funding for the own child’s Early Years Education place – until very recently that is.

And as is proving to be  typical of this  Government, there was not any public announcement or any coordinated approach to introducing a change. Childminders have been finding out area by area through a letter from their Local Authority – but not all areas at once – just a few at the moment (but no doubt with more to follow).

I personally found out when a colleague forwarded the information sent out in Hampshire – and I have since found out that childminders in Wiltshire and Cornwall have also received the same information – there may be more – but I have not be told about them.

This is the information that Hampshire Childminders received in December 2013

The Department for Education (DfE) have recently update Local Authorities on more robust guidance in relation to childminders who are Approved EYE providers claiming for their own child.
 
The DfE have clearly stated:
“a childminder cannot claim funding for providing childcare for their own children. Early years provision is defined in section 20 of the Childcare Act 2006. This definition of childcare specifically excludes care provided for a child by a parent or step-parent (or other relative). The provision by a childminder (for her own child) does not count as childcare in legal terms. Early education funding (DSG) cannot be claimed by, or spent on, parents providing childcare for their own child, even if they are claiming for other children.”
 
Such guidance will therefore be reflected in Hampshire County Council’s pending revision of their ‘Early Years Education Payment Funding terms and conditions’,; an updated version will be in place in line with the new financial year (01 April 2014).
 
Hampshire County Council acknowledge that approved providers who may currently be claiming for their own child will need to secure alternative provision for the future  to ensure their own child receives their full entitlement. Therefore, please be advised that the Jan 1st – March 31st 2014 funding period (traditionally the Spring term) will be the last funding period the Local Authority will be able to approve EYE funding in such cases
 
It is good that Hampshire have given their childminders plenty of advance warning – and that they acknowledged that childminders currently claiming for their own child need time to secure alternative provision.

I have yet to find the actual ‘robust guidance’ from the DfE that Hampshire refer to – but I don’t doubt that there is some, nor do I question the statement quoted from the Children Act 2006 – it is a fact.

What I do question is – WHY – when the Children Act 2006  has been in place for most of the time that childminders have been claiming for their own child’s Early Years Education hours – has this not been highlighted before – for example when the Children Act 2006 became law, why were childminders not told then that they could no longer claim for their own child? It would have made sense – a change in the law needs to be applied – but in this case it was not.

Having not made the change at the time the Children Act 2006 became law – why was it not considered during the long time scale process of consultation prior to the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage 2008? Or during the review of Early Years Foundation Stage 08 and the introduction of Early Years Foundation Stage  2012? Both EYFS 08 and 12 were major documents governing Early Years Settings – including childminders –  and both have the Children Act 2006 as one of the major pieces of lesigation underpinning them. So  both in 2008 and 2012 there was a prime opportunity to ensure the law (as in childminders claiming for their own child’s Early Years Education) was upheld and the changes implemented. However as we know these opportunities were also missed and childminders continued to be able to claim the funding for their own child.

SO – WHY NOW?

WHY DOES IT NEED ADDRESSING NOW?

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

IF IT HAS BEEN OK FOR OVER TEN YEARS, WHY IS IT NOT OK NOW?

I have been trying to think of reasons as to why the  Government via the Department for Education have decided to act now – out of the blue – with no apparent reason for suddenly deciding to uphold this particular requirement of the Children Act 2006.

So – I am of course just guessing, just trying to apply my own knowledge and understanding to the situation – but I don’t really know. Also although I am not questioning the need for the law to be upheld – I will be looking at it through the eyes of a childminder (and the eyes of a grandmother who was planning to claim the funding for a grandchild in 2015) and looking at the impact on myself and colleagues.

First possible reasons that I can think of;

  • Is it because ‘someone’ has pointed out the oversight in allowing childminders to claim funding for their own child or grandchild?
  • Is it because now all childminders with a good or outstanding Ofsted grade can provide the funded Early Years Education places, the Government are concerned that there will be an increase in the number of childminders not only providing places for their own child but also for their grandchild where applicable, thus increasing the % of the take up of places and therefore increase Government expenditure?
  • Are the Government hoping that these childminders will provide free childcare and education to their child / grandchild (because they do genuinely believe the child’s needs will be best met in their setting and so won’t send to another Early Years setting) and so will reduce Government expenditure?
  • Is it because the Government think that the quality of these places for own child or grandchild is likely to be of a lower quality?
  • Is it because, despite what the Government keep saying about childminders being an equal and valued part of the early years workforce, they are being proactive in making childminding settings ‘different’  to other early years settings?

Who knows? I certainly don’t, because as experience has taught me, this Government does not feel the need to explain reasons for change or to provide detail of these changes. Consultation is limited or non existent, and the impact on those who live in and work in this country – in this case childminders – is brushed aside.

Now for my thoughts on  this decision to implement this aspect of the Children Act 2006;

  • If  ‘someone’ has pointed out this oversight in upholding the Children Act 2006 – why have the Government not made a public statement? Why have they not granted themselves a time period to look at this and to consider if they can make a amendment to the law or even to make the situation whereby childminders can provide early years education for their own child or grandchild legal and clearly define the difference between being able to claim just childcare (ie through tax credits) and claiming for an education place (ie the funded hours)
  • If the government are concerned about the quality of  early years education places provided for childminders own children or grandchildren – then they should be worried about all places offered by childminders. The quality of provision of these places should be the same for all children attending the setting – and if not – this should be picked up during Ofsted inspection. If quality is not standard or maintained between inspections, then the Government should question THEIR decisions about reducing Local Authority budgets, increasing time periods between Ofsted inspections – and in the future the decision to introduce childminding agencies and the the removal of the need for all childminders to be quality assured through the same standard Ofsted inspection.

In basic terms – If a childminder is approved to offer a Early Years Education place to other people’s children – then there is no reason why they can not              provide the same quality of  early years education to their own child or grandchild (once the legal situation has been dealt with)

  • If the Government are concerned that now all childminders with a good or outstanding grade can provide Early Years Education places – and if childminders claim for own children or Grandchildren – that there will be an increase in Government expenditure – shame on them – Do they not have enough funds to uphold their promise of 15 hours free early years education for EVERY child?
  • If the Government hope that parents / grandparents who are childminders will provide free places to their child / grandchild – how can they predict if these children will access their funding at other settings – or not?

Moving on to the impact on childminders and the Governments stated aims about increasing the professionalism, income and numbers of childminders;

  • The Government has acknowledged that childminders do not earn as much as other early years professionals – and in fact some earn less than the minimum wage before deducting business expenses. One way that childminders can increase their income is being able to claim funding for their child’s early years education, which after all they are approved to do for other children. Childminding regulations mean that a childminders own children count for ratio reasons (as they should) but they count even if the child is at nursery, with a grandparent, or even with a parent that does not live at the family home. This means that a childminder can not use their child’s place for another child at any time – not even to provide a funded place to another child for the same hours as their child attends another setting.  For some childminders this loss of income will make the difference between their childminding income being sufficient to being unmanageable, and as a result they may have to give up childminding and look for another job. It would be worth the government considering the impact on the benefits system, if these childminders found other employment and claimed tax credits to help with childcare costs. It seems to me that these parents are working parents – and by being childminders they not only limit their own income through counting their own children within ratio’s but they also save the Government a lot of money by not being able to claim childcare tax credits for their children. In my opinion, it is time the Government looked at the bigger picture and the cost implications of the requirement in the Children Act 2006 for parents not being able to claim for their own child’s childcare costs or early years education funding. As there is already a requirement for childminders to have other non relative children on role to be a childminder the safeguards against people claiming for the own children when they are not in fact practising childminders is already in place – and could be tighten by a requirement to actually have proof of income from clients before tax credits or funding is paid. Think about it – these childminders are working parents and they are in effect being discriminated against for being childminders rather than say a nursery practitioner or a teacher, who can and do claim tax credits for their childcare costs and the early years education funding – even if their child attends the same setting as the one they work in.
  • Grandparents who are childminders, often provide a place for their grandchild free of charge (the same as non childminder grandparents do) or at a subsidised rate, but this of course has a knock on effect to their income, so as with parents who are childminders, grandparents who are childminders often rely on claiming the funding for their grandchild to help ensure their setting is sustainable. It would be worth the government considering the impact on the benefits system if  grandparents decide that not being able to claim the funding for their grandchild is the final straw and reluctantly say they can no longer afford to provide a place for their grandchild. Why should childminders who are also grandparents be discriminated against? Their grandchild receives the same care and education as a child who is not a grandchild. And if the childminder grandparent does stop providing the place for the grandchild – the child’s parents will either not be able to work – and will claim benefits – or they will place the child in another early years setting and potentially claim tax credits and early years education funding. In my opinion the Government are not thinking this through – push childminding grandparents enough, make their businesses unsustainable and the Government will end up with a huge increase in expenditure.
  • Apart from the immediate impact on income for childminders who are parents or grandparents of an eligible child, there is likely to be a knock on effect for the following reasons;

–   Parents of similar age children might decide that if their childminders child or grandchild has to attend another early years setting                                                         to access the early years education funding – then they will send their child to that same setting rather than accessing through the                                                          childminder. This is because the children are often friends and parents want them to stay together.

– The government will be giving a hidden message that the childminder is ‘not good enough’ to provide a funded place for their own                                                             child or grandchild – and so parents of other children will question if the childminder is good enough to provide a funded place for                                                        their child

– If the childminder is having to take and fetch their own child or grandchild from another setting, it will impact on the opportunities                                                       and experiences that they can offer to other children. For example – an hour of each funded session offered to children in the                                                                    childminding setting may be spend in walking or driving to take fetch childminders own child / grandchild from the other setting.                                                             And although outings can offer excellent learning opportunities – those offered during the same journey day after day are more                                                              limited and so would parents accessing their child’s funding through a childminder doing these journeys consider it a high quality                                                          learning experience / opportunity for their child?

  • If the Government are genuine in their stated aims to increase childminders income and professionalism – they are not thinking it through very well. Neither are they considering the impact on their plans to encourage more parents into work by becoming childminders, because the very points raised above will also have a bearing on if childminding is sustainable for these prospective childminders. And certainly other employment (if they can find it) would be more financially viable if you take childcare benefits and claiming Early Years Education funding into account. Add to that situation the fact that prospective childminders will in future have to pay the ‘going rate’ to register and possibly agency fees as well – then childminding really does not seem to be a very attractive or financially viable option.

What at first glance appears to be just the removal of the ability to claim Early Years Education for your own child or grandchild and a tightening up of requirement to uphold the Children Act 2006 – is actually a much bigger issue that will impact on childminders who are parents or grandparents of children aged 3 and 4, on the profession as a whole – and potentially have a huge impact on Government expenditure if those who are currently childminders decide that they can not continue to childmind for financial reasons, or decide that they can not continue to provide free or subsidised places to grandchildren.

There are currently over 50,000 registered childminders who run successful small businesses, who provide a lot of childcare to their own children or grandchildren without the benefit of accessing childcare tax benefits, who are working parents, who have-  to be blunt ‘got off their backsides’ and been proactive in setting up and running their businesses – all of which have huge benefits to society, to the Government and more importantly to the families and children using their childminding service.

Many of these childminders are already leaving the profession because income is too limited, because of the removal of local authority support and increased training costs,  because they are fed up with constant changes to regulations, because they do not agree with the introduction of childminding agencies and the resulting unfair two tier system ……..

………….and now the removal of the ability to claim funding for their child / grandchild’s early years education place ……..

……..it will not be a surprise to me,  if this turns out to be the final straw, and ever increasing numbers of childminders resign – that is dedicated professional childminders, who have the highest Ofsted grades – the ones who always put the needs of the children first – the ones who really care – the ones that parents rely on to provide flexible, high quality care and education that meets their families needs – the ones who spend hours of their own unpaid time ensure that they do provide the highest standards of care and education.

Posted December 31, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Funded two years olds attending early years settings – and in particular childminder settings   1 comment

A while ago there was some headline grabbing figures from the Government about the number of two year children that were accessing the funding for free early education place of up to 15 hours

You can read it here for yourself Click to go to article

However here are the highlights from the article

  • Around 92,000 of the most disadvantaged 2-year-olds are now receiving up to 15 hours a week of fully funded childcare – just weeks after free pre-school education for these children was introduced.
  • The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and Education and Childcare Minister, Elizabeth Truss, welcomed today’s figures which show that after just 1 month of this year’s scheme being launched, an estimated 70% of the identified 130,000 children are already benefitting from the scheme – a huge increase on the 20,000 children accessing free early education in 2010.
  • The government wants to see more eligible 2-year-olds in high-quality early education, and has committed to providing funding for 130,000 2-year-olds to access free places from September this year – increasing to 260,000 from next September. This offer is backed up by over half a billion pounds of government funding this year, rising to £760 million in 2014 to 2015.
  • This funding has meant that just 1 month in, 92,000 eligible 2-year-olds are already benefiting from support and learning that can help shape their future.

It all sounds great doesn’t it and I certainly do not want to suggest that the funding for 2 year olds is a ‘bad thing’ – although I do have questions about what is an appropriate setting for a two year old to attend, and will come back to this issue a bit later on in this blog

But first I want to question the Governments statement about 92,000 two years accessing the funding in just FOUR weeks. I was rather sceptical that this had been achieved – not the number of two years but the time scale. This is because I had been involved in the pilot for the two year old funding and I know it takes a while for parents to a) establish their child is eligible, b) find a suitable setting with the vacancy they required – so the days and hours that fitted their requirements c) for the funding to be confirmed and d) for the child to take up the place. In my opinion this was a lot to achieve in four weeks.

So together with a number of others we requested some information under  Freedom of Information – in total 7 areas across the country, so not a huge number and therefore this small scale research can only be seen as a ‘snap shot’ but to me the information received was very interesting.

I have to make it clear that although the information was supplied – there were restrictions on how it could be shared – in particular around identifying the areas and some other area specific information. Therefore the information here is just a summary and where numbers of children are stated , the areas are not.

All the areas that information was requested from responded in slightly different ways to the same questions, making it difficult to produce any tables of information, however it is clear that in these areas that the two year olds were not all ‘new’

One area said they had funded 780 children since September 13 BUT 590 of them were continuing – in other words were already funded prior to Sept.

One area said they were funding  507 from September BUT 414 two year olds were already accessing the funding the previous term.

One area had an impressive number of two year olds accessing the funding in September 13 – 1322 in fact BUT 867 had been funded in the previous term and some of those 867 children were still accessing funding – so part of the total 1322 accessing funding now.

And although most areas did not hold information about how many funded two year olds were already attending an early years setting prior to the funding (and so parents paying) one area did have the information – of the 592 children accessing the funding in Sept 13 – 209 were attending a early years setting prior to funding becoming available.

So although as I have already made clear this is only a snap shot – it is very clear that not all of the stated 92,000 two year olds accessing the funding have done so within a four week period. Many of them were already accessing the funding under the pilot scheme and were continuing to access the funding from September 13, and furthermore some of them were already accessing early education place at a setting paid for by their parents, which means although good news for those parents, the children will not be benefiting any more than they already were.

I do not understand why the Government feel the need to be ‘creative’ or less than 100% honest about such things – why not just tell the truth rather than issue headline grabbing’  figures?

I hope that someone with more available time than myself will carry out some fact finding across the whole country so that the true figures about the take up and impact of two year old funding can be examined. My gut feeling is that quite a lot of these two year olds were already attending early years settings – or would have started to attend anyway due to parents requirements for childcare, and that some of the countries two year olds that could be accessing this funding still are not doing so – in fact  by the Governments own figures around  40,000 of them were not accessing the funding in September 13 – it is my opinion that those not accessing the funding are the ones who do not (or would not attend)  attend a early years setting already – and the ones who could benefit most.

However, as a registered childminder, there is a much more concerning factor revealed by the Freedom of Information requests – that is the take up of places at a childminding setting.

Despite the fact that there has been a lot of research that shows for two year olds a home based setting is the most appropriate and that the outcomes for the children attending a home based setting are excellent both in the short term and in the long term – very few of the funded two year olds attend a childminder setting – in fact the numbers are both disappointing and shocking.

From the information provided by the 7 areas in this limited study, in September 13, –  6,559 two year olds had a funded place at a early years setting – of  these just 276 were attending a childminding setting – that is under 5% – meaning just over 95% attend a group setting. I not suggesting that the children attending a group setting are not receiving high quality care and education, but I am questioning if it is acknowledge – even by the Government – that a home based setting is most appropriate for a two year old – why so few of them are accessing their funding in one?

I accept that more research needs to be carried out and hope that someone is doing this already, or will consider doing so as a result of this snap shot

I think I have raised more questions than I had before embarking on this snap shot of two year old funding, but what is clear is that the Government are not providing full information about the take up or the impact of the two year old funding.

Posted December 13, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

Dear Department for Education , I was wondering ……….   5 comments

………. about these childminding agencies

You see, Department for Education, I do tend to ask a lot of questions, and I do  need to understand things, things need to based on common sense, and research and  have the best interests of children and families at the heart of everything, but …. well … with childminding agencies ….. it does not make any sense to me, and the reasons given by the government seem based on saving the government  money – which is important, but all the other reasons  just do not add up.

And it is not just me that thinks this

There is a post on the Department of Education Facebook page which so far over 200 people have left a comment  – anyone who has not seen it yet you can  VIEW IT HERE

Childminders – established and those new to the profession are saying loud and clear that they do not want to join an agency.

Parents currently using childminders are saying they want their childminder to continue to have  an individual Ofsted inspection, and more importantly an individual grade based on their individual practice.

Department of Education, you have responded on your Facebook page and reminded those posting comments that childminding agencies are not compulsory that childminders can choose to remain independently registered with Ofsted.

This is true – but with due respect Department of Education, you are missing the point – by giving a choice and by offering childminders the opportunity to register via a childminding agency – you are creating a two tier system and it is this two system that is the issue – not if there is a choice.

So for your benefit Department of Education, and anyone else who can’t understand why I am so many others are not happy with their being a choice about if childminders  join a childminding agency – it is the whole two tier system and the removal of the right of every early years setting –  including every childminder to have a Ofsted inspection and to be graded on their own practice.

I have personally been involved in childminding for over 30 years – and have seen many changes – but all mainly in the right direction – that of ensuring registered childminders are regarded and treated equally alongside their colleagues from day nurseries and pre schools. With EYFS 2008, we made a start, with EYFS 2012, we continued to move in the right direction – things were not perfect but on the whole, I and my colleagues – from all early years settings could, and did work within the EYFS 2012, in ways that worked for our setting and which provided opportunities for the children in our care to be happy, safe and learn through play. We managed our own setting, and were graded on our abilities of leadership and management – as well as all the areas that Ofsted makes a judgement on.

However we now have the prospect of childminding agencies changing all that

Taking the governments reasons for introducing childminding agencies – one at a time, I hope to show that the government are at best well intended but misguided – and at worse just implementing their ideas regardless of the impact on childminders, families, and children – just to achieve government budget cuts

First One – Childminder numbers are falling

It is true that some childminders did resign when the Early Years Foundation Stage 2008 was first implemented – and others resigned over the next few years, as their inspections became due – I know because at the time I worked for a local authority and one of my tasks was to phone those who resigned and find out why.

My phone calls, revealed that some of these individuals resigned because they were going to anyway in the near future and did not want to make huge changes to their practice just to continue childminding for another year or two – and so brought forward their plans to resign.

At the same time there was a huge increase in other provision, and childminders faced increasing competition, and so some childminders closed their settings because their setting was not sustainable – it must be remembered that in group settings if they have two vacancies, it is a very small % of overall income – for a childminder it could be 2/3 rds. or even 100% of their available places and income. Therefore when other provision opens it always has an impact on other settings and particularly childminder settings.

Also I have seen dips in numbers of childminders – over and over again, it is part of the cycle of supply and demand. Not enough childminders – people think childminding is a good career choice – and so apply to register – then usually there is an oversupply of childminders, and some give up as not enough work or find childminding is not the right career for them- and lo and behold there is a drop in numbers again.

So although there was an initial drop in the numbers of registered childminders, and a more sustained one than the usual cycle of supply and demand, around the time that EYFS 2008 was introduced, recent figures have shown that numbers of childminders have been increasing – and so have  the number of places provided as more childminders work with an assistant or co-minder.  Over a period of time, numbers will return to the market forces of supply and demand.

So Department of Education – you need to use up to date relevant data not data taken from a time when there was a major change in regulations. You need to look at the bigger picture.

Oh, and while looking at relevant data, Department for Education – maybe you should look at why childminders are resigning – right now – and why many of those posting on your Facebook page are saying they have had enough and agencies are the ‘last straw’ – they are looking for their exit strategy. So maybe we will be seeing another big drop in the numbers of childminders. So any recruitment of new childminders may well be at the cost of losing established childminders – who have built successful businesses, and have the highest Ofsted grades.

Second One – Childminders find following the EYFS difficult or challenging, particularly the paperwork side of things and are therefore not achieving the highest grades

Some childminders were put off by the new terminology around the curriculum, because until the implementation of Early Years Foundation Stage 2008,  only the few childminders who were able to provide the Nursery Education Funding had had to  implement a planned curriculum – so it was all very new to most childminders, all worrying, it was difficult for some to get their head around all the paperwork, especially as training (at the time) was so heavily based on group practice not home based practice.

And others didn’t want to change their childminding practice and implement all the planning and recording, that at that time, was implied by trainers and local authorities was required

However, those that remained registered childminders, embraced the changes and the requirements of EYFS 2008 – and more recently EYFS 2012. Professionalism rose, as did the results of Ofsted inspections – and considering that childminders work mainly on their own, that they have to do everything – yes everything themselves – including spending huge amounts of their own time in the evenings and weekends – unpaid time that is – completing paperwork, attending training and meetings – it is a remarkable achievement that 71% (as stated in the Ofsted Annual report 2011) gained a good or outstanding grade.

The other 29% of childminders who had not gained a good or outstanding grade at the time of the annual report, did not do so for a variety of reasons – including the fact that some are not motivated to improve, some do find it hard, some do need support BUT the same can be said for a % of group settings – it is not a childminder specific issue- AND it should be noted that (until recently when Ofsted changed the criteria of inspections (again) and there has been a decrease in the higher grades – across all settings) there had been  a continual increase in the number of childminders with good or outstanding grades.

So Department of Education – the issue of settings gaining a less than good grade due to difficulties with paperwork, is not just a childminder issue – so why only target childminders?

 

Third one – Childminders struggle with the business side of childminding – including setting up their business

There is a lot to get your head around, when setting up a childminding business – I should know because I have personally set up twice and I used to run business courses for childminders both as a independent trainer and as a member of local authority of staff. However – anything new is confusing to start with, is time consuming as you work out how to do things. There is a lot of help available – from the necessary tools of the trade that can be purchased from membership organisations or from companies that specialise in such products – to hands on help from established childminders who are usually very happy to provide peer to peer support. There are also a huge number of online social media groups and forums, all offering advice and some offering templates, spread sheets and so on.

There used to be excellent support available from First Steps Childminding Networks, from local authorities early years teams, and specifically their Childminding teams,  through home visits and training and meetings – but that has now all more or less disappeared as local authority budgets are cut.  Everyone understands the need for the government to save money BUT what I can not understand is why the local authorities were not able to continue to provide this support but to make a charge for it. Systems were in place, training written, expertise of staff established – so why scrap all that and start again?

Childminders and other early years settings understand the need to ‘balance the books’ and the need for things to be costed properly and for customers to pay appropriately for the services and goods provided – after all we run small businesses, or are responsible for the running of charities or part of bigger companies.  We recognised that the last few years have been exceptionally good in the terms of support and services provided for free – but we also understand that we now need to pay for these things.

BUT – why do childminders need to pay the costs and profits of a middleman – i.e. an agency? Why would any childminder want or need to pay for support with the business side of childminding week in , week out?   There is NO NEED – there is already enough support out there for childminders who are setting up.

Do you follow the same principle for all the other small business that set up and who find it hard to start with and so ask for support and help? No, of course not, because like all small businesses – including childminders – once you have set up, and understand what needs doing and how to do – you can do it yourself – and if you really can’t or don’t have time, there are hundreds of accountants who will do your accounting for you, for a very reasonable fee.

So Department for Education – there are over 50,000 childminders running small businesses, very successfully and they don’t need the support of a agency – neither will those who become childminders in the future – they may need help initially with understanding how to run a small business – just like all small business – but they don’t need support once their business is set up. Why are you targeting childminders? Why are you assuming that childminders cannot run their own businesses, when over 50,000 already do?

 

Fourth One – Childminding Agencies will reduce costs by reducing the burden of paperwork

Department for Education – HOW? What can an agency do to reduce the costs? Childminders do their paperwork themselves – yes it takes up a lot of time BUT there is no cost attached to completing paperwork. If someone else could do the paperwork, then this would have to be paid for – so would increase costs. However I have asked many times and so not received an answer as to what paperwork an agency could do – the attendance records –  the accident / medication / incident records – the development records and so on – all need – no – all have – to be filled in by the childminder.

Department of Education, you clearly think there is some paperwork burden that you could reduce that would reduce costs – why don’t you provide the details?

 

Fifth One – Childminding Agencies will increase the professional status of childminders

In 1948, the government of the time claimed that the 1948 Nurseries and Childminders Act would  bring all early years settings under one umbrella. In 1989 the government claimed the Children Act 1989 would bring childminding more in line with group daycare. In 2001 the government claimed that bringing all early years settings under the Ofsted umbrella would be a good thing and help standardise regulations. In 2008 the government claimed that EYFS 2008 would reduce the differences between childminders and group settings, and again in 2012 with EYFS 2012 – Department of Education that is 65 years of Government telling us that standardisation in regulations and inspections are a good thing. Then all of a sudden that changes, and childminders are targeted, to be treated differently and so why on earth would other early years professionals or parents think that a childminder who is not inspected directly by Ofsted and graded on their own practice is better, more professional? Agency childminders will not be judged by Ofsted on their own practice – the agency will do this – and the agency will be graded on their ‘robust systems’  – a two tier system, a confusing system, a unjust system, a system that will be open to personal judgement and subject to different agency model requirements.

How will that increase agency childminders and even childminders in general, professional status?

So, Department of Education, I do not understand your reasons for wanting to introduce Childminding agencies. The information in More Great Childcare and even More Affordable Childcare do not provide any answers – and to be blunt neither have any of your responses to letters sent by people like me, by MP’s on our behalf, as usually all we get is ‘Please see More Great Childcare’ – that is until more recently and all we get is ‘Childminding agencies are not compulsory’

BUT that is the whole point – the one you are missing – it is the removal of individual Ofsted Inspections for SOME childminders that we are objecting to – I (we) do not object to support, I ( we) do not object to paying for support ……..

HOWEVER, I (we) do object to having a two tier system where some childminders are not required to have an individual Ofsted inspection and are not judged by the same national body as all other early years settings.

If the government want to save money and want to retain a standardised system of registration and inspection – why are they not proposing that Ofsted just registers and inspects early years agencies – and that  all early years settings  pay to be part of those early years agencies?

At least that would be standardised and all early years settings would be treated the same. Targeting childminders and providing the option for some childminders to opt out of Ofsted inspections and individual grades, goes against  everything the successive Governments of this country have told us and in my opinion is a very backward step.

All families should be able to make an informed choice about their child’s early years care and education from a range of early years settings that have all been inspected and graded on their individual practice by the same national body or system.

If Every Child Matters –  then every early years settings should have an individual inspection and be graded on their own practice – otherwise responsibility for the safety, the wellbeing, the outcomes of children attending those childminders who join an agency and who are not inspected and graded on their own practice  – will the responsibility of the agency, not the agency childminder or Ofsted, as it will be the agency providing the leadership and management for those childminders and the agency providing the quality assurance.

And how can that be right?

How on earth could there be an investigation if a child attending a agency childminder has an accident or does not achieve the outcomes expected? The childminder will say ‘But the agency passed me, I just follow their policies and procedures, no one said anything when they visited, so I assumed everything was OK’ . Ofsted will say ‘we did not inspect that childminder’ …… and the agency will say …..?

Who will accept responsibility? I hope these agencies will live up to the expectations of Government and of prospective agency childminders who may be thinking ‘oh good, no more Ofsted inspections’, and who do as little as possible as they will have an agency grade, not a grade based on their own practice.

I hope those who are thinking of setting up childminding agencies will have thought of all these things ……..and will have extensive insurance in place.

Talking of which, will the companies that currently insure childminders want to insure those who are not inspected and held responsible for their own practice? A bit like insuring someone to drive a car who has not passed the standard driving test by driving a car and being judged on their knowledge and understanding, and their ability to actually drive a car but who has been given the right to drive by a third party – let’s say by a driving agency.

And just imagine what would happen if it was suggested that some drivers could opt to join a driving agency and avoid having to take the normal standardised driving test?

Posted December 12, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues