Tuesday 25th March 2014 – At last – the meeting with Truss takes place   14 comments

This was the rearranged meeting from the one that was cancelled in February – so a period of about 6 weeks had passed – and during that time the Children and Families Bill has become the Children and Families Act 2014 – and with it the legal framework for childminding agencies.

And so in some ways this meeting was going to be totally different to the planned meeting in February

Huge thanks have to go to UKCMA for arranging this meeting at the Ministers request – it was a golden opportunity to bring together the key players within the childminding sector AND some childminders.

 

This blog is based on my personal recall of the meeting – and it will without a doubt be slightly different to the recall of others in the room, as each person attending will recall things from their perspective.

I will start my personal recall from when  my friend and colleague Jen, and I arrived at the Department of Education Buildings in London.

We were a little bit early for the pre meeting get together, so after signing into the building at reception and being given our visitor badge, we went into the large and comfortable waiting area.

My phone started ringing  and it was Lynda De Wolf (UKCMA) saying that she and her UKCMA colleague Jane Slatter are stuck in traffic and could I welcome people and go through the agenda to identify who wanted to talk about what – and to ensure that the childminders present were all given opportunity to speak about what was important to them.

This was because Elizabeth Truss the Early Years Minster, had asked that each organisation attending that represents childminders  to invite one of their childminder members, as she wanted to hear the views of childminders.

Jen (who was attending as a member of ICM-SE) said she would like to talk about childminders perceived and actual professional status. Jen is a childminder and also owns a preschool, and she is very aware that her professional status with others both within and beyond the early years sector is higher when people talk to her as a pre school professional, than they do when they speak to her as a childminder professional – even though her ethos and practice is the same at all times.

Next to arrive were Liz Bayram, CEO Pacey, and Jane  who is the Pacey Vice Chair but also a full time childminder. Jane was keen to talk about funded 2 year olds and extended hours. Liz was happy to add to discussion  as needed, but wanted to challenge the idea that childminder numbers had fallen significantly more than other early years settings

There then followed a flurry of arrivals – Sue Robb from 4 Children; who are managing the agency pilots on behalf of the Government

Neil Leitch CEO Pre school Learning Alliance and Julie – who has been a childminder but now trains childminders and runs a childminding network. Julie wanted to talk about about quality of training and childminders CPD. Neil was also happy to add to discussion and agreed with Liz about the data around childminder numbers.

Two members of Morton Michel staff who wanted to talk about the insurance side of things

Two people from  Trio Childcare  said they were happy to chip in, as and when appropriate.

A lady from from Early Years Training Enterprise – naturally wanted to contribute to the discussion about the quality of training.

There was also a senior member of Ofsted Staff attending ( not at the pre meeting get together but in the meeting so mentioning here) who was fairly new to her role, but who impressed me with her actions so far and particularly welcome was the fact that she was reading a lot of  inspection reports and acknowledged that the ‘bricks’ currently being thrown at Ofsted were justified and that changes needed to be made.

There was also of course myself who was attending as myself – but who also happens to be a member and volunteer for Pre school Learning Alliance, and a member of Pacey, UKCMA and ICM-SE – and I wanted to focus on quality and costs

In fact listening  to the pre meeting discussions, it was very clear that now that childminding agencies are a  legal reality, that everyone wanted to ensure that HIGH QUALITY CARE AND EDUCATION was the driving force in the run up to the implementation of agencies in September 2014, and continuation of independent Ofsted registered childminders.

 

As Linda and Jane from UKCMA arrived in the waiting room – so did the lady to take us up to the meeting room, therefore I was only able to give the briefest update to Linda as we walked through the very impressive Department for Education building.

Elizabeth Truss was waiting in the meeting room (as was her PA, her researcher – and a couple of other people who to be honest, I have no idea who they were as they sat away from the table on the edge of the room)

Elizabeth Truss welcomed each and every person into the room with a smile and a handshake – it was clear who she knew well – and I was surprised that my personal welcome was ‘Nice to meet you – again’  showing that the Minister  remembered that we had met before.

As soon as we were seated, the Minister launched into what I would call ‘Government hype about childminding agencies’ – she had graphs and visual images to back up what she was saying – personally I considered this to be a complete waste of the time available, as everyone in the room was already very knowledgeable about what the Government was trying to achieve and progress so far. Maybe some meeting background notes could have been circulated by email to attendees – just to ensure everyone was   fully informed prior to the meeting?

Notes were being passed to the Minister from her staff – and it turns out that they said the same thing as the note passed to me by Linda ‘Introductions?’

The Minister apologised for forgetting to do the introductions  and ensured everyone introduced themselves.

My recall from this point onwards – is not necessarily in order of when things were said, and as I was not taking notes, and was general discussion, and although did cover the agenda items – discussions were, as would be expected connected and free flowing. I am not even going to try to record who said what and in what order – and so you will get the main discussion points in the order that they popped into head as I am typing.

There was discussion  about Local Authority support – and how in the past it has been a ‘Post Code lottery’ as to what was available, the quality and the cost – and this agreed by everyone in the room. However those childminders in the room said their LA’s had provided excellent support.  It was also mentioned that due to budget cuts that the support, advice and training was becoming more expensive and less available; with some areas having hardly any early staff left and very little support available;  to some areas managing to hold on to their staff and were  continuing to provide support; to  some were sitting on the fence for as long as possible before deciding if wanted to provide an agency based model of support in the future either directly from the LA or as a commissioned service.

The Minister responded saying  that she hoped that agencies would improve things. I said that I really could not see what had changed and that agencies would not improve things for childminders,  and it  would still be a postcode  lottery. The Minister either misunderstood or avoided my point on purpose, as she then started to explain in great detail that established childminders such as myself would not really have anything to gain by joining an agency – and then she started repeating what she has said many times before about spreading costs of start up, support, training etc.
I interrupted her mid flow – maybe not the most PC thing to do – but I was cross as we had already listened to about 10 mins of hype – and I did not not want to waste any more time on hype.

So I said in a slightly shaky voice, something on the lines of – ‘ I am sorry Minister but I have not come all this way to listen to this – please can you answer my question’  I said, it appears that there will be no standard model, so no standard costs or level of service for that fee, agencies may not be available in all areas, and even if there is an agency in a particular area it may be a small local model or a huge national model. It will still be a postcode lottery with regard to availability , cost and level / quality of service. The Minister mentioned St.Bede’s – an outstanding school, with outstanding nurseries and how they were now  going forward with setting up an agency. I interrupted again saying that I understood that the childminders local to St.Bede’s were not interested and that interest was from a few parents – who may or may not have the full information about what is involved or the options available (those who read my blogs will know that I have reported on the presentation by the head of St.Bede’s that I heard when I attended a Westminster Education Forum)  More from the Minister about agencies not being for the likes of me – I interrupted again, and said I am not talking about me, I am talking about people in my area who may want to become childminders or join an agency – it would still be a postcode lottery as to if there was an agency option.

The Minister did not answer my question but Sue Robb did pick up on it and said something on the lines of   ‘as Penny has alluded to, there may not be an agency in her area or other areas’.

 

Personal Comment

As the Minister appears not know  which of the pilots will go forward and set up a childminding agency, and has no idea how many companies or individuals will want to set up agencies (or where)  until feedback from the trails (as Truss prefers to call them) have been received – and the requirements from Ofsted are known – would it not have been better to leave what was in place in way of LA support until these facts were known?

It seems a rather silly move to me – to remove support BEFORE new methods of support are established.

 

It seems very clear to me that in the early days – there will not be that many agencies and certainly there won’t be an agency in every area – and where there is there is unlikely to be a choice of agencies.

This means that those who are wanting to registered as childminder are going to need information about options of being an independent childminder and an agency childminder – and availability.

 

There was a separate discussion about the possible of Government leaflets and information for parents / prospective childminders clearly explaining both options, and for them to be available on Government websites and other websites.

In my opinion this would excellent and  would help reassure established childminders that the Government are going to promote independent Ofsted registered childminders as well as agency childminders.

Right at the end of the meeting the Minister was asked if she would issue some information to stress that independent childminders would be promoted and I asked the Minister if she would also be able to say that childminding agencies would always be optional and that they would never become compulsory.

The good news is the Minster said – she had already said this – and it was the case. What I hope now is she follows this up in writing and on the information leaflets. It would be a step in the right direction – and very reassuring to myself and I am sure to many other childminders as well. 

Of course we have to bear in mind the Governments change and Ministers change – and that U turns have been known – but still I think a very positive statement from the Minister that I welcome.

 

Getting back to my recall

Another really interesting discussion was about ensuring the quality of agencies and agency childminders  – even after the discussion I remain to be convinced that this has been thought through; it appears that the Minister does not understand the professional reasons that  registered childminders value their own grade and report – and the impact this has on ensuring reflection and CPD – and therefore a continued improvement in grades. I also do not think either the Minister or Ofsted know how to ensure the quality of agencies and agency childminders – YET.

However I am convinced that the Minister would like to achieve high quality agencies and agency childminders – and more importantly I am convinced that the lady from Ofsted present at the meeting  was very clear that Ofsted MUST get it right – otherwise there was no point to any of it.

She was able to confirm that Ofsted will be taking Prospect and Tribal  inspectors ‘in house’ as it has been difficult to manage them ‘at arms length’.

 

 Personal Comment

I would agree about Tribal and Prospects, and consider this to be a very positive way forward. However, it does raise other questions around the management of agency staff ‘at arms length and I did ask the question. Truss thinks it won’t be a problem because there will be robust systems – I have to disagree. However let’s wait and see what Ofsted come up with first – maybe there is a workable method out there somewhere.

Julie and others both brought up the subject of training – as in the quality, the accessibility, and the cost – I think they are right; these are key issues both for agency childminders and independent childminders.

Personal comment

I also think that at the moment there are not enough trainers who have an expertise in childminding – and this is also a worry to me in relation to childminding agency staff – will they have that ‘expertise in childminding’ or will they be generic early years ‘people’ or even  have no experience of training within early years or childminding. I hope this is addressed in the requirements for agencies.

Returning to discussion about agencies – after the meeting had officially finished and the Minister had left the room – Jen and I had an interesting discussion with a member of the Minister’s staff about why the Minister had pushed ahead with the removal of the need for agencies childminders to be registered and inspected by Ofsted – considering she had said in the meeting that agencies were nothing to do with saving money from Ofsted budget (as an a side the Ofsted lady said it was an issue and they could not continue as they had been doing)

We explained to Truss’s staff member, that if agencies were just for support, advice and training – that childminders could buy into if they wanted – no one would have an issue with that – and as I have said many times an agency model that included Ofsted inspection would have my approval.

And this is the interesting bit – The staff member said – There is nothing stopping you – or anyone else – setting up Childminding agencies – outside the legal framework’  (meaning the children and Families Act 2014) mmmm – cogs in my brain are going round and round – are yours?

Jane (childminder Jane) did bring up the very important topic of funded 2 year olds and the problem with the hourly rate and the fact that it drops when the child gets to 3. I spoke about the number of weeks of funded – the minster pointed out that can stretch the weeks – but as I pointed out – that means less ours per week  – so either way did not really meet the needs of parents and caused difficulties for childminders as can be difficult to accommodate the stretched hours (as it is 11.4 hrs – if do over 50 weeks) or if take over the 38 weeks face a loss of income over the other weeks. The Minister spoke positively about the pupil premium and that would be a help in the future – and also about the tax free childcare (however if you don’t work or don’t earn enough to pay tax this won’t help).

The Minister was asked if the Government could consider address the issue by increasing the number of hours – she did not reply but she was seen making a note – maybe she had not considered the problem of delivering 11,4 hours?

 

Other discussion included the fact that agencies might grade their childminders but by a different system – such as Gold, Silver Bronze or First, Second, Third or whatever; and that reports would be available within the agency (and childminders would have a copy). The Ofsted lady was not at all happy about that and said it would lead to confusion.

Personal Comment

It worries me that we could end up with very many different grading systems and that some of them might have the same names BUT different benchmarking for that ‘grade’. How would parents be able to compare and make informed choices, with so much incompatible information??

AND why? WHY do the Government think that having some sort of grading system would be useful / valuable? Oh let me see – parents like the Ofsted grade and report, childminders have said they don’t want to lose their grade and report …………

 

………. HOW SILLY …. HOW ILL THOUGHT OUT …….. Yes parents and childminders do want a grade and report – one that is consistent across all settings and is awarded by a national body,  against standard national bench marking ………..

 

……. AND WE ALREADY HAVE THAT SYSTEM IN PLACE – not perfect, needs looking at BUT it is in place already so why not use it?

 

Jen brought up the issue of the low professional status of childminders – and linked it to her personal experience. Others agreed and said since the introduction of EYFS 08 things had been improving – slowly but they were improving.

 

Personal Comment

I think childminders have come a long way since Ofsted took over from Social Services, and even more so since the introduction of EYFS 2008, we were moving in the right direction – but then along came Truss, Wilshaw and Gove – with their comments about childminders being unable to understand / implement the EYFS, being unable to run their business, lacking in basic skills in English and Maths – and so unable to ‘teach’, costing too much to inspect, needing to have their professional status raised ….. and so on

Those who don’t understand childminding believe this and therefore have an even lower opinion of childminders – and seem to think that we charge too much, that quality is better in group settings and so on

And this is all because of comments constantly made by Government – and yes Government have said some positive things about childminders – and all over shadowed by the negative comments.

Conclusion

There were of course other discussions, but these are the ones that I personally felt worth mentioning – others who attended will feel other discussions were more important depending on their own perspective – and so I would urge readers to read articles and blogs etc from other attendees, to gain a overview and not just my personal view.

 

Finally, I was disappointed that my view of the Government in terms of using people to tick their boxes without any thought to personal cost in time and money, was proved founded; and  that the childminders in the room that  were attending in their own time and at their own expense (and had already had a lost of income and costs from the cancelled meeting) were not provided with coffee / biscuits  (just water) or any other small token of appreciation.

If it was me, asking people to provide valuable input based on sector knowledge to help me achieve my business aims, I would ensure they were made to feel valued – and if my ‘boss’  would not sanction such an expenses claim, I would provide a small token of appreciation at my own expense.

14 responses to “Tuesday 25th March 2014 – At last – the meeting with Truss takes place

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  1. Let’s hope your concerns were listened too and won’t be just swept under the rug while this government blunders on with their inept policies! Thanks for attending and being one of the voices shouting up for our profession.

    Angeline Hargreaves
  2. Thank you Penny for once again giving up your valuable time to let us know all about your meeting and letting Ms Truss know our opinions, hope she finds the time to read some of the letters now x

  3. Thanks so much for attending Penny and taking our corner, well done. I am rather stunned at they did not even give you guys a cup of tea!!!!!!!

  4. Thank you for attending on our behalf Penny. I hope she has listened to you, and others’. concerns and comments, although I have to admit to being rather cynical. I look forward to seeing how we will all be able to access training – is it going to be a two-tier system for Agency Members and “Independents”?

    Jacqueline White
  5. I didn’t come out of the meeting feeling any more or less informed than I was going in. I see the agency trial as an experiment – it’s putting the cart before the horse.. Taking away infrastructure and support (LA), and replacing it with a model that doesn’t exist yet. It’s dangerous and dare I say, fool hardy.

    It was super meeting like minded professionals who have the passion we do about childminding and all it entails.

    I liked what Jill from Ofsted said. She seemed to be listening. I really hope they manage to tackle the inconsistencies of Tribal and Prospect. Intrigued as to what ‘taking them in house’ means..

    I was nervous speaking up – this was a first for me, a ministerial round table discussion – but am glad I did.

    A day to remember for sure. And then some good time with my friend and colleague, Pen(n)y!

  6. Penny, this is really excellent. Thank you so much for posting such a detailed and useful report. I feel like I was there myself. Packed with loads of useful information. Many thanks, Kay

  7. Thank you Penny and all those that attended alongside you, brilliant job, Ms.Truss could learn a lot from you.

  8. Arghhhhhh!!!! So frustrating that Truss is still not listening! Thank you Penny for your huge commitment to this cause. I am even more nervous now as I thought this might be an opportunity for her to actually listen to what childminders DO NOT WANT!!!! Should have known better!! I am like you and would have provided refreshements out of my own pocket – she could have even put them through her vast expense allowance!!!!! Thanks again Penny xx

  9. Thank you Penny, for all your work on this. Your account is very interesting. Can you direct me to other attendees versions of the meeting? As you say, it is good to hear different takes on things.

  10. Again I thank you for supporting all of us at this meeting, but most of all I thank you for you blog, that when read almost had me believing I was there along side you as it was so concise.
    You are a figure head for childminders now and I think I speak for us all when I say” thank you and we are very grateful”

  11. Penny your a *Star* & it’s a pleasure to call you a fellow professional who is fighting from the same corner, the people who know more about childminders than anyone else (the people who actually do the job). It will be interesting to see the development & knowledge of said agencies.
    In my opinion, in some areas due to unemployment care is already a 38 week funded situation with a struggling 13 weeks of lack of income, its not a good situation. Thanks again Penny. x

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