Westminster Education Forum – Tuesday 11th March 2014   6 comments

This was my first attendance at one of the forum meetings – and so a new experience.

Before I start my recall, I want to comment on the timing and accessibility these events as I think a lot of people would be unable to attend due to the starting time and the location of the venue.

Registration is from 8:30 and the event ends at 1pm – I can understand the need to finish before lunchtime because then costs go up as organisers feel they have to provide lunch. However a 9am actual start in central London,  means that many people – myself included, can not make the event as it means travelling down the evening before because there are no trains that early from many stations that will get you into London in time. In my case I can get a a train just after 6am and be into Euston or Marylebone for about 8:30am – but then have to travel across London in rush hour which means that it all takes much longer, and that’s without any train delays. The other option would mean driving to a main station then catching a train from there – not always possible, and often pushes costs up because of car parking fees.

I do appreciate that it is easier for London based speakers to  only have to give up a morning of time, however I think that for equality of access that some consideration needs to be given to enabling those who are not London based and who would like to attend such things. Some things to consider;

Include webinars, including ability to view after the event

Hold regional events sometimes – with Birmingham being a good compromise as only 1.5 hours from London and good transport links from other areas. To me it would make more sense for 20 (ish) people to travel out of London, than for 100 or 200 people to travel into London, and even if only offered once or twice a year it would be a step forward.

Hold some events in the afternoon as then people could get off peak trains both to and from the event

The good news is the Westminster Education Forum do offer a concessionary rate but if you are an individual on a low income even that concessionary rate at £80 plus VAT (so £96) is a lot to pay (especially considered together with travel costs ). I think that more consideration needs to be given to making the cost more affordable – and maybe the ideas above will help do that.

Now for my personal feedback – please note that this recall is from memory, as I found it hard to balance a notebook on my lap and to write notes – all with one hand – as I currently have a frozen left shoulder.

In due course the transcripts from the day will be available to attendees – and so at that point – if I need to amend my personal notes, I will do so.

The area of London that the venue was in – was  what I would call ‘posh’  and certainly for someone more used to  my home area, walking past the Ritz and standing in Mayfair were a bit of culture shock. Then the venue itself was – well impressive  – but very welcoming, and very comfortable.

Even before the morning started, the networking was under way. By chance I was sat near a solicitor who is bringing together people from the maintained nursery sector. I listened in to the conversation between this lady and the people behind us, who were from Maintained Nursery Schools, about their concerns and the legal challenges that they might be able to make. I gave the lady my contact details, and mentioned my involvement with Early Education and Save Childhood Movement – and the ratio issue. I hope she gets in touch as I can’t find her details on the attendees list

The Opening Address was given by The Earl of Listowel who is the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Sure Start Centres.  In my opinion a good person to have opening the event, and chairing the first session – because as we all know this group has asked Ms. Truss foe some more information about Sure Starts centres as they did not think enough evidence or detail had been given to support her plans  –  and this confirms my personal view of Truss – she is rather vague with details.

The Earl made reference to the ratio campaign and the success in getting support from Nick Clegg. My name was not mentioned – which is fine – but I did allow myself a little smile of self congratulation.

We were introduced to the first of the panel speakers – Gillian Paull  Senior Associate of Frontier Economics

I should make people aware the speakers all only had either 10 minutes or 5 minutes for their presentations – so none of the presentations were in depth – however everyone who attended – speakers and attendees are able to submit extra documents to be sent out with the transcripts from the day.

Gillian talked about the cost of Government support and the impact on getting parents – particularly mothers back into work – and said that in her opinion there often was not a huge impact and very little return for the money invested. Although tax credits have been available since 1999 there is very little evidence as to the impact this has made.

She also questioned the claims made recently that childcare costs are too high – and that parents are paying more in childcare than they are in mortgage payments. Gillian expressed some words of caution and said that average figures were not a true reflection because a few paying more than average amounts would alter the average figures dramatically. She also quoted some figures that suggested that only 21% of parents say they can’t afford childcare and that 79% said childcare costs were not a problem.

Personal view – If someone asked me if I thought food costs were too high – I would say – yes they were – because of course I would prefer to pay less – but this does not mean that I think food suppliers are ‘ripping me off’ or that I can not afford to pay the cost. Food is a bit like childcare – it is something that needs paying for and without it (food or childcare) other things are not possible. As with all surveys and consultations a lot depends on the questions asked, the options for responses AND what the person doing the survey is trying to prove, and therefore how they choose to use the data,

Gillian mentioned that there is currently research going on to try and find out the impact and cost of childcare. I will add the links once the transcripts are issued but for now this is one of them (that I remembered – because I already knew about it, and indeed have commented elsewhere on this blog) This is the LINK to the SEED project.

One thing that was of particular interest to me – is the switch of focus / reason for Government investment funding for childcare and education.

Personal view – I had picked this up myself over the last year or two – and particularly in the recent IPPR report ‘Childmind the gap’ (I title that I personally think gives the wrong message) that the Government were now not really bothered about high quality childcare (although they continue to say they are ) and are just trying to get childcare on the cheap – and not at their cost – so that parents are ‘supported’ into work – personally I think it is more like ‘forced into work’ with personal life choices removed and all considerations of what is best for the child binned.

Gillian did of course have other information but for me the most important points are about the claims that Childcare costs are too high – and about the impact of Government subsidises for childcare and education – plus the change in focus on quality childcare to support children and increase outcomes,  to the new focus on getting parents (read mothers mainly) into work.

The next speaker was Anand Shukla CEO of the Family and Childcare Trust

Anand agreed with some of Gillian’s presentation and disagreed with other bits – which will of course be to do with their different roles and responsibilities with the companies that work for. (personally I would love to know what the speakers  own personal thoughts are). Anand had his own comments to make about the cost of childcare, and the reasons for Government funding.

There was some overlap in Gillian’s and Anand’s presentations – and to be honest because I was not taking notes – I can not be sure who said what – so including here as relevant, but please note may have been said by Gillian or Anand – or both!

Universal credit may rise to 80% and will be available for those who work less than 16 hours and who meet the other criteria. However some question as to what this will achieve as people unlikely to change their work habits – they may use to pay for more expensive (higher quality?) childcare or to move from informal to formal childcare BUT this investment in unlikely to get more people into work as those who work part time often don’t pay tax and claim other benefits – which they would lose if worked more hours.

There is also an issue of every time the personal tax allowance is made higher, more people don’t have to pay tax and therefore cannot access the tax free childcare element – so if they work a few more hours but personal allowances have risen they lose out more than they gain.

The Labour party  pledge to increase funded hours to 25 hours – is only for those who are working – so some children who need support for various reasons not connected to their parent (s) working will not get any benefit from this increase in funded hours – it is purely a ‘get parents (mothers) into work ploy’. However as still only for 38 weeks means that parents using this support to return to work will still have to meet the full cost of childcare for the other weeks – which for some may not be an option  financially.

Also speaking in this session Jack Hatch – Executive Head, St.Bede CE Primary Academy, Greater Manchester

Jack is a believer in high quality – and says you get what you pay for (I wish the Government understood that), he has set up childcare on site and has some PVI settings and childminders working in partnership. He came across as a very down to earth man – and said if people wanted to do something similar to him – it was possible BUT it was a lot of hard work – not something that one person could do alone, you need a good team behind you. He said that people should be realistic and except to make a operating loss for the first year or two, but if could manage this it would all settle down eventually. Those were the bits I liked. What I did not like was the structured approach to out of school care with activities being planned – however this is just how it came across and possibly was ‘teacher talk’ and what he meant was experiences – I have looked at their website but although says opening times it does not really give the sort of information that I was interested in.

NB I have since had some local information passed on to me,  and St.Bede’s are involved in the pilot childminding agencies. I further understand that although local childminders are not interested in an agency, a couple of parents have expressed an interest in the agency

Next speaker was from the Department of Education – Richard Vaughan who is the Deputy Director, Early Years Curriculum and Teaching

Richard got of to a good start as he said he was aware of the sectors concerns and debate about the Early Years Minister Ms.Truss. He spoke about several issues, but the one that I was interested in was Childminding Agencies. Richard spoke about the Governments aims behind setting up agencies and what they would achieve – more childminders, higher quality, cost savings – all the stuff we have heard before – but still no details about HOW all this would be achieved.

AND nothing about childminders who wanted to remain independent – only that they could do so, if they wanted to.

I felt disappointed and let down by the Government AGAIN – on the agenda it said;

How will the introduction of childminder agencies impact childcare costs for children, and will costs increase for individual childminders opting not to join an agency?

Key questions that were  not answered.

We then deviated from the agenda a little and instead of the question and answer session  – we moved on to the presentations about Sure Start Children Centres – purpose, funding and quality.

I was looking forward to this debate as one of the speakers was Professor Peter Moss who I have heard speak a few times – and who always challenges opinion and poses questions to think about

Peter spoke about involvement in Children’s Centres and about how they could do so much more, about the dangers of targeted support, about the time it takes to see the sort of impact on children and communities – and how with constantly changing Government targets, and funding and aims, that the long term aspirations for Children’s Centres have not been achieved, opportunities lost – and now  Children’s Centres are  at risk in some areas of closure or restricted services. Peter spoke with passion, knowledge and understanding – and was the only speaker to receive enthusiastic (rather than polite)  applause.

Other speakers also spoke about the benefits of Sure Start centres , and what was happening in their areas.

Next on the agenda was a question and answer session – and I had quite a few questions – so up went my hand.

I did get chosen to put my questions – but the guidance was to be brief

So my question to Richard Vaughan – in my most polite words (not word perfect but my recall of what I said)

‘The Early Years Minster is not answering the questions of myself and my colleagues – and the question we most want answered is ‘ Why can’t agency childminders still be registered and inspected by Ofsted?’

I mentioned that I personally was not against support agencies, or paying for training and support – but it was the issue of some childminders not being inspected by Ofsted that would  create a two tier system within childminding, create divide among childminders, divide among childminders and other early year settings and would decrease our professional status.

I also said if our questions were answered, we may be able to understand the Ministers rationale and therefore would be able to make informed personal decisions about childminding agencies.

Mr. Vaughan reply was on the lines of – I needed to write to the DfE and may to Ms. Truss herself!!!!!

I was so cross that I broke protocol and spoke without the mike!

Wait for the mike came the call from the back of the room where the sound people were recording everything – so I waited

Then I said – ‘I have met the Minister in person and will be meeting with her in two weeks time, that myself and my colleagues have written thousands of letters to Truss, the DfE, the Prime Minister, our MP’s and to some of Lords – and still our questions were not being answered.

I also mentioned that in the past I had worked for a LA as a childminding network coordinator, and my remit had been to work in partnership with Children’s Centres but that my remit was changed and Children Centre could not provide rooms for drop ins or training – not because they didn’t want to but because of all the other things they had to do (which also changed all the time)

Mr. Vaughan replied that agencies were not his lead responsibility (excuse me but as you came to talk about them – a bit of background research might have been a good idea) and so he could not provide the answers to my questions – but he would speak to me in the coffee break – he didn’t to this.

However the woman sat in the row in front of me, turned round and said – I would like to talk to you in the break – and she did.

It turned out that she is one of the directors of Tinies nanny agency – a very successful nanny agency with about 40,000 nannies registered with them. Her name is Lindsey – and I like her. She told me that Truss had wanted Tinies to be involved in the childminding agencies pilots — but they had declined. She told me that she had been invited to go and talk with Truss in the the very near future – and in my opinion it does not take a lot to work out why.

I asked Lyndsey why she did not want to become a childminding agency. She replied ‘ I do not see it as a sound business opportunity – what could I offer childminders that they can not do for themselves or access elsewhere for free or a very low cost? Therefore if I can’t think of anything that I can offer childminders, they won’t join, it won’t be a business success. As I say – I like her – common sense approach. But there was a lot more to Lindsey than just common sense, she had done her research.

She went on to explain that she could not see why parents would want to pay to join a childminding agency either – and in her opinion childminding agencies were all about saving the Government money – not about quality childcare. She said nannies had a reason to join Tinies as they got something out of it – and quality was supported – as judged against a nanny who did not belong to a agency or a membership organisation. However for childminders it would be a backward step and quality of an agency childminder – when judged against a independent Ofsted registered childminder, would be lower and less accountable, and with less opportunity for parents to make comparisons or check against benchmarking.

By now, coffee time was ending – Liz Bayram from Pacey arrived and we had a quick word – before we all returned to our seats – and as we did so a woman came and spoke to me – she was from a London LA and asked if I was rushing for a train at the end – as I wasn’t she asked if she could  have a word with me at the end of the forum – I agreed.

The chairperson for the afternoon session was Baroness Jones of Whitchurch who is the Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Another good choice in my opinion, and someone who I had heard of in connection to the Children and Families Bill

The first speaker in the after coffee session was Dee Gasson who is Principle Officer, Early Years, Ofsted,

I sat upright and gave Dee my full attention, as she was to talk about Regulating the new childminder agencies

Dee gave an overview about childminding agencies – and how the agency would be inspected not the individual childminders, how it would be the agencies grade and report on the Ofsted website – and how all the childminders in the agency would have the agency grade (so nothing new for me – but maybe it was new  for others in the room). She explained that not Ofsted’s job to set the ‘rules’ about childminding agencies, that is the responsibility of the DfE – however will be Ofsted’s job to regulate and inspect  childminding agencies. She spoke about the challenges in doing this – due to the different models that the Government want to encourage – and the different sizes of agencies from small local ones to huge national ones.

Dee also said that Ofsted would be evaluating the consultation on regulating childminding agencies and the pilots in April and that the results would be published in May.

Ofsted are also gathering the views of parents and carrying out pilot inspections of the pilot agencies over the next few weeks – and in fact have already done one.

My concern about the pilot inspections is that none of pilots  are fully operational – most of them are only piloting one or two aspects – all of the childminders who are involved are still getting support from others – not just the agency, are none of the pilots are charging for their services at the moment – pilot inspections will therefore be limited and based more on on paperwork and ‘in theory’ discussions.

The same with parent views – parents can only respond to questions set – not their real life experiences – so again very limited.

I have to say I was very disappointed with the content of Dee’s presentation – as I am none the wiser as to how Ofsted will regulated the childminding agencies from September – and I wonder how many of the people in the room went away any better inform – especially the 20+ people from LA’s?

Liz Bayram from Pacey was next to speak – Liz spoke clearly and with knowledge – the key points were about; childminding agencies – making very clear about Pacey’s concerns around individual inspections and quality; and about the potential restrictions on people entering the early years sector, and those currently in the early years sector wishing to gain higher qualifications in the future. I thought it was a good speech and I recall several mentions of  ‘We don’t think so’

Katie O’Donovan – Head of Communications and Partnership at Mumsnet gave a very informative speech – complete with slides of graphs showing the views of parents about their childminder now and their views about childminding agencies. I do hope Katie is sharing this with the DfE and Ms. Truss because the Mumsnet survey showed parents are overwhelmingly against childminding agencies and very much in favour of individual Ofsted inspections, reports and grades. So I have to ask – who is in favour of these childminding agencies – and if parents, childminders, organisations that represent childminders, all think that individual Ofsted inspections are vital – why are the Government carrying on making it legal within the Children and Families Bill for some childminders not to have an individual Ofsted inspection?

Ben Thomas – National Officer, Education and Children Services Group, UNISON  – spoke about the QTS issue with the new qualifications, about the low pay in the sector, and the constant changes. Ben also spoke about the issues around the requirement for Maths and English GCSE – and how they are different depending on your age! If you are under 19, you don’t need them to start – but you do need them to use your qualification – so can’t get a job with that qualification unless past your GCSE in Maths and English while doing the qualification. However if you are over 19 – you have to have the qualification before you start

Ben does not think that the new qualifications will drive up quality – and mentioned the fees of around £4,000 for new qualifications

Rob Wye CEO  CACHE – spoke about the new qualifications and how CACHE have put in some ‘extra’ bits’ to address the concerns of the sector, but that there were still issues to be addressed. Rob mentioned that working with Pacey about a qualification for childminders.

Elizabeth White who is the EYFS Improvement Manage, Learning and Improvement, for Leeds City Council spoke about their childminders – over 900 of them and the support their provide – and also the impact of budget cuts, and her concerns for the future around quality and support.

During the question and answer session I asked Dee Gasson two questions;

One  – How would people know which agency a childminder was in – if they wanted to make a complaint? I don’t think Dee understood the question because she said that parents using a agency childminder would have the details about how to complain. In fact my question was more about how other childminders, other professionals or members of the public would know. I am pleased to say that Liz Bayram did pick up on my meaning and said that in her opinion their would be a lot of confusion around making complaints and that Ofsted / DfE needed to consider this.

Two – As my personal experience with my recent inspection has shown, inspector do not always follow the ‘robust systems’ that Ofsted have in place – so could she explain how Ofsted would be able to ensure the quality of the agencies and their judgements. My question was not even answered.

Another person in the audience, from a LA,  asked a very important question around the early years funding and childminding agencies – If  a lot of  childminders joined an agency in one area, and that agency was graded as ‘requires improvement – how would a LA be able to cope with a sudden loss of huge numbers of funded places? No was able to answer this.

Before I finish my recall about the Westminster Education Forum – I want to mention two people  in particular – I can’t recall their names – but it will be in the transcripts – I want to mention them  because they raised questions in both of the question and answer sessions about the well being of children and their attachment needs, and the role and support of parents, in caring for their children – without the focus of getting them into work.  Well done to you both – and once I have your names I will be contacting you.

Finally – remember the lady who asked if we could meet at the end of the forum?

Well we did meet – she works for a LA in London and we exchanged email addresses We had a lovely long chat about childminding , agencies and related stuff. She said she is going to tell her colleagues about me and my campaigning – I hope she does.

I do apologise for these brief notes and my focus on childminder agencies, however as explained with my frozen shoulder it was difficult to make notes – plus I was in a lot of pain all day, plus with current very low haemoglobin levels brain function is not as good as it usually is – especially my recall of things (normal excellent – less so at the moment). However once the transcripts are made available – I will use them to make any amendments needed / fill in more detail.

Posted March 13, 2014 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended

6 responses to “Westminster Education Forum – Tuesday 11th March 2014

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  1. ‎Hi PennyI am also unwell at moment or I would definitely do anything to help you that I could. I think you are truely amazing and inspirational. Do take care of yourself. Continue to keep us informed. I am horrified by what you have been put through recently. I really hope you get somewhere with Ofsted because you are clearly an amazing childcare. You do not deserve this.What we need is someone in the lords? Or in parliament.  Unfortunately I can’t pull a name out of a hat as a friend! Wish I could. I did wonder about someone like Doreen Lawrence. She has had more than her own share of injustice. Think we need someone in the public eye. To speak up for us too. ‎I’m sure there’s a few other people in the lords who got there as a result of a background of injustice.When I’m feeling a bit better I do a bit of research.You hang in there + u will get there. Hope you are well soon.Take care Ann Ross

  2. Fabulous, valuable information. Thank you Penny. I’ve put a link to this in my newsletter as I consider you an official authority on developments to do with agencies. It will be out next week. Kay

  3. Thanks for attending sounds like some interesting information!I have recently been informed of an Agency that is offering free membership to Good or Outstanding Childminders! Which Childminders are these that worked hard for there grading and could lose it if others are willing to pay to join? We seem to have to fish so hard for any snippets of information don’t we ! Thanks again for making the effort traveling so far and with a frozen shoulder I know how painful that is I have just about got over my second one !! Not an injury/illness I would wish on my worst enemy! Anyway they do get better I can vouch for that but your brave to go on public transport with it!! Thank you again .☺

    Angeline Hargreaves
  4. I read this with genuine interest and feel disheartened that some of the speaker’s remain so ignorant of the needs of the children.
    I am also a childminder and feel very uncomfortable about the introduction of agencies, and the negative impact they undoubtedly will have on childcare in this country.
    Why do these people feel that childminders are so inadequate?
    Why are they so intent on destroying our business’s?
    Why are they taking away parental choice?
    The issue raised about attachment is also a valid point.
    My LA is running a pilot agency, but I have received no information about it. I contacted what was one of the development workers for information, but was told they had none to pass on! How, then, am I to make an informed decision?
    Well done on representing us, and voicing the views of so many childminders. It is so sad to see that we are no further forward with regards to the sharing of information.

    I hope your shoulder gets better soon. I suffer with this to, so you have my sympathies.

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