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

5 responses to “Dear Department for Education , I was wondering ……….

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  1. Very well said! Should be interesting to see the reply…….if hou get one !

    Angeline Hargreaves
  2. a brilliant and well thought out piece Penny, do let us know if the DofE bother to reply in full, sadly we all know that they won’t though will they, I’ve been a childmidner for over 22 years and Outstnading since 2009 why on earth would I want to join an agency????? Beats me!

  3. I run Mum’s The Word nanny agency, and do get parents asking if I can recommend childminders.
    Would childminders be interested in registering with an independent agency, and go through the same process as our nannies?
    So you would need to be interviewed, ref checked and certificates checked etc. Still independent, but when a parent asks for us to recommend, at least we have your details to pass on. Would this be helpful, as it would be open to any childminder?

    • Thank you for posting Emma – some childminders maybe interested in exploring this more, as it would be a way to reach potential clients. Most childminders do rely on their reputation and word of mouth, but all of us are different.

  4. I completely agree with you Penny. We must continue to campaign against this. I thought this government was supposed to support small businesses not take away their autonom. I will be taking this further myself. There is a serious safeguarding issue too!!

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