Government Consultation on Childminding Agencies   1 comment

So we now have the consultation on childminding agencies – please excuse me if I don’t get too  excited or even positive about this opportunity. as recent personal experience has shown me that not only is my personal opinion not listened to by our Government – neither are the voices of all the others who bother to go to the trouble of finding time in their busy lives to fill in the Governments consultations. Still despite the lack of taking any notice of previous consultations., we do have an opportunity to leave comment – and further more I have opportunity to make comment here for others to read. So this is the link to the background information document Click Here

I will be copying and pasting from the document and adding personal comment in blue – however I will not be commenting on all the bullet points

2.1 The Government wants to make more great childcare available for children, and to provide more choice and flexibility for parents. If we want all of our children to succeed at school, go on to university or into an apprenticeship and thrive in later life, then we must get it right in the early years.

I totally agree – we must get it right in the Early Years – and although I acknowledge that there was room for improvement, we were more or less getting it right – this can be evidence by the number of children in the 80’s and 90’s who did go on to university, hold down jobs and maintain personal relationships.

 Of course we don’t yet have the data for those born after 1997 because they are not yet adults  – and who knows what the data will show when they are? Will the data show the continued Government changes to curriculum at all levels has improved both academic success, and enabled people to thrive in later life?

My gut feeling is it won’t and that as a society we will be seeing the results of  the erosion of childhood; the culture of assessing and testing; and the commercialism of  everything in modern life.

However the Government is continuing to push academic achievement as a measure of success. They are failing to recognise or acknowledge that;

a) some children will not achieve academic success but will go on to lead successful lives,

b) that for society to flourish we need people with a wide variety of skills – including caring skills.

 As to more great childcare – it is my opinion that what we are going to end up with in the future is less great childcare – and more low quality ‘pack them in and crowd management childcare’

2.3 We are enabling the setting up of childminder agencies to encourage more people to take up childminding, to offer greater support for childminders, and to improve quality. Childminder agencies are designed to give parents more choice and help with securing childcare that meets their needs. Childminder agencies are not intended to replace existing independently registered childminders – rather we want them to build on and complement existing childcare provision.

I think I have commented about my thoughts re childminding agencies enough. However if anyone is reading my blog for the first time – take a look at some of my other blogs. However as a summary, I don’t think childminding agencies will achieve any of the aims mentioned in 2.3, in fact I think agencies will make things worse for childminders and parents and ultimately children.

2.5 Our reforms will ensure that if providers are high quality then they are guaranteed Government funding to deliver early education places without having to meet additional local authority quality requirements. We have made it easier for childminders to be able to deliver funded early education places by removing the expectation in statutory guidance that a childminder must be part of a childminder network in order to qualify for early education funding.

Admirable aims – so why set up agencies that remove the requirement for agency childminders to be registered and inspected by Ofsted – surely a standard benchmarking of quality by a national body would ensure that parents could make informed decisions based on uniform information via the grades and reports?

2.6 In addition to these changes, we published the Government response to the consultation on the ‘Regulation of Childcare’ on 13 February 2014. These introduced some changes that will promote a prosperous and growing market that gives parents more choice and enables providers to improve affordability and quality, for example, making it easier for schools to offer care and nursery provision from 8-6pm.

I despair ! This would be Regulation of Childcare consultation that many responded to saying that they disagreed with Government proposals  but that Government decided they know best – and are implementing anyway. Hardly a selling point to people to take the time to respond to this consultation – and to be honest – even I am asking ‘Why bother?’

3.2 Childminder agencies might appeal to parents for a lot of reasons – a one stop shop offering a valuable brokering service (contacting around 2 or 3 childminder agencies might give you a choice of a very wide number of childminders, whereas contacting each childminder individually can be a very time consuming exercise), offering advice and support about the things to consider when choosing your childminder, a trusted brand, the assurance that comes with knowing that there is supervision and wider quality assurance in place, and the ability to both have that very personal relationship with your individual child’s carer, but also to have that brokerage and back up support role performed by a third party (with whom you can raise any concerns or clarify issues at any time).

Are the Government suggesting that parents don’t need to contact individual childminders – and can just choose from a catalogue of available childminders? As a childminder I would be horrified if someone looked at my website and / or my Ofsted report, and wanted to place their child with me.  I also know from the Mumsnet survey that parents want to be able to visit several childminders and make their decision based on what they see and their gut feeling. Information available via Ofsted reports and websites or  online searches is a starting point .

The Government, therefore, wants childminder agencies to act as a lever to:  increase the number of childminders in the market, through helping potential childminders navigate the various requirements for establishing their business and to get them up and running; see childminders who elect to join agencies provided with more support, including training and development, and business and marketing support; and make it easier for parents to find a childminder to suit their child’s needs.

What the Government are not mentioning here is that the services of a childminding agency will not be free to parents or childminders  

5.2 The Government sees childminder agencies as being ‘one-stop shop’ organisations that will help childminders with training, business support, advice and finding parents seeking childcare. They will be a new route in addition to independent childminders. By enabling the establishment of childminder agencies, the Government hopes to attract new childminders to the profession. Agencies will also make life easier for childminders by providing a range of services such as marketing, administrative support and training and development opportunities to help them to further raise the quality of their provision.

Established childminders acknowledge that when you first registered as a childminder that support is often needed – but this already available via pre registration courses, via membership organisation, and via the internet and peer to peer support. However once established most childminders develop their own setting specific marketing, admin of the business side of things is not difficult – and those that want to can pay an accountant to do their accounts / tax paperwork. As to training and development opportunities – there are lots of opportunities via membership organisations (including online training, some of which is free) and independent trainers. Agencies will without a doubt provide training – but it will not be free and as the availability of agencies in all areas is not guaranteed – it will be a postcode lottery as to who is able to access training through an agency

5.3 They will also provide a valuable service for parents who want to find a high quality childminder. Many parents struggle to find the right local childminder and this can take a lot of time with no consistency in the information which is available to parents. Agencies can help by providing a matching service for parents and by providing them with the information they need to make informed choices. Agencies will also be able to provide holiday and sickness cover ensuring parents have reliable childcare.

See comment in 3.2

Re holiday and sickness cover – I have to ask will agencies ensure that children know the person providing holiday / sickness cover? And what will they do about ensuring similar level of service for a similar fee?

5.4 The Government does not want to prescribe a business model for agencies – we want to give agencies the freedom to develop models that suit parents and childminders locally. But it is vital that childminder agencies provide a guarantee of high quality provision, and it is right that some minimum standards should be set out in legislation. This consultation seeks views on the specific requirements – for example, on hours of CPD– that agencies must provide for their childminders.

There are huge issues with this ‘vision’ – the very fact the each agency can set it’s own model will create ‘headaches’ for everyone, including Ofsted – but most importantly for parents trying to navigate a complex system without standardised benchmarking. What the Government are not recognising is the just saying a childminder should undertake so many hours of CPD is not enough – they must also implement in their setting and review the impact on the setting / children. Childminders in an agency will not have the driving force of individual Ofsted grade to ‘push’ them to demonstrate the effectiveness of their CPD. 

5.5 Registration Childminder agencies will need to register with and be inspected by Ofsted to ensure they meet all the necessary safeguarding and quality standards. This means parents can have confidence in agency staff, and consequently the quality of care and early education offered by childminders registered with the agency.

As they can through Ofsted registration and inspection! Also I have to ask who will check the agency staff – each staff member could have different levels of knowledge and understanding – Ofsted grading the agencies is not sufficient to say the agency staff or the agency childminders are ‘high quality’ each will be different.

5.6 Once registered with Ofsted, childminder agencies will – in turn – be able to register and quality assure childminders, help new people take up childminder roles, and enable parents to have a greater choice over the early education and childcare they want for their children.

I remain to be convinced – so we will wait and see

5.7 It is important that childminder agencies provide parents and childminders with a high quality and safe service. Therefore, many of the requirements we are seeking to put in place on agencies in relation to childminders they register mirror the checks Ofsted currently undertakes to establish a prospective childminder’s suitability, e.g. ensuring that they have submitted an application for an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and carrying out a pre-registration visit.

Hmmm – MANY?     Not all?  This suggests that Ofsted Registered Childminders will undergo more rigorous checking than childminding agencies and the childminders in those agencies

5.8 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for childminders A key objective for enabling the establishment of childminder agencies is to further improve the quality of childminders and children’s outcomes. We estimate that currently fewer than 10% of childminders are part of a formal childminder network and able to access formal CPD and support, with the quality of support that childminders receive being mixed. The Government wants to help a broader range of childminders to access support and training with support available from a variety of sources including childminder agencies, local authorities, as well as other professional bodies and training providers.

Formal childminder networks are great – and worked – and the reason we don’t have many – oh yes – reduction in LA funding – FROM THE GOVERNMENT – and all the hype about agencies – FROM THE GOVERNMENT

In my opinion the Government have removed a lot of support – and are now trying to set up something else up that does not cost the Government anything and is not even of the same quality as what was in place before all the hype about agencies started

 

5.9 It is the Government’s view that agencies and childminders should be free to agree what form the CPD that the agency secures takes, for example, workshops, on-line learning or mentoring. This means that CPD is not just about attending one-off training courses but includes things like conference attendance, gaining peer support from colleagues or keeping up to date by reading factsheets/guidance, practice and policy briefings, preparing for inspection and self-reflective practice.     5.10 Childminder agencies will want to offer a differentiated level of CPD dependent on each childminder’s own development needs. It is not for Government to detail the exact type or length of CPD for each childminder registered with a childminder agency. However, to ensure quality across the piece, we believe it is important to set a CPD requirement that all childminders registered with childminder agencies must receive.

So agencies without a good financial position (or those who look at profits more than quality) could say that to remain sustainable they would offer limited CPD to their childminders – and not go’the extra mile’ as most registered childminders who are currently graded good or outstanding do. I have commented below about the government requirements for number of hours CPD  

5.11 The Government proposes that childminder agencies be required to secure 16 hours CPD per year for early years childminders and 8 hours CPD per year for later years childminders.

Does this include the statutory requirements of First Aid and Safeguarding training ? If so these only add up to an averaged out 7 hours per year. And when you look at the list in 5.12  and 5.15 about CPD activity – then there is not a lot of room for a agency staff member to ensure that CPD in areas of weakness are undertaken – as a agency childminder could actually  fulfil the requirements for CPD by attending just one 2 hour workshop a year (together with the statutory training and the CPD activities listed)

5.12 Support time and visits for childminders We propose that childminder agencies should secure 20 hours support time per year for early years childminders, with 10 hours per year for later years childminders. This support time could be a combination of an agency sending a weekly or monthly update newsletter to childminders, the agency checking with a childminder on their hours for invoice purposes, CPD activity where this is delivered by the agency, quality assurance visits, or telephone or e-mail support. We want agencies to have flexibility here so, for example, when an agency provides a training session or on-line learning programme for all their childminders this could count towards them meeting the requirements. It will be for agencies and childminders to determine the precise form of support in a way that works best for them.

Oh dear – I am not sure that Ofsted will agree with this version of CPD – and if they don’t will it be another huge difference between an agency cm and Ofsted registered cm (and all other early years settings). Maybe those of reading this blog (and any others) should record it as part of your CPD hours. Speaking personally based on the above list, I spend about 30 – 50 hours A WEEK on my CPD. 

5.13  (Please note this one would not copy and paste) We would expect an agency to be in regular contact with their childminders. We envisage childminders registered with agencies will have much more regular contact and visits than childminders currently have with Ofsted. There is then a bit about what Ofsted currently check during a pre reg visit.

Well yes – even once a year is more regular than Ofsted – but what about other professional visits to the setting. Reading what is expected from an agency – peer to peer support would be as good provided a report was written (similar to the one I blogged about for my friend Carol) from what I can see agency staff will not be trained by Ofsted and it will be up to the agency to set their own requirements in terms of knowledge and experience of childminding – as those staff member CPD. I feel that the reports written by agency staff will not be ‘anything special’ in terms of accountable content. And certainly reports written by an assessor from an independent company or a membership organisation would be just as valuable and just as informative to parents.

 

5.14 (This one also would not copy and paste)  The Government will also require agencies to conduct similar pre registration for early years childminders to Ofsted, and in addition carry out regular quality assurance visits. Agencies will also have to put in place arrangements to visit and quality assure later years childminders

The key word here is ‘similar’ – so not as set out for / by Ofsted. This means that can be very similar or a little bit similar – and can change over time. As you will see in 5.15, the Governments idea of regular is maybe not the same as others – and certainly not my idea of ‘regular’

5.15 In the draft regulations, we therefore set out specific proposals around support time and visits that childminder agencies must secure for or undertake in relation to early years and later years childminders registered with them. The intention is that, after the initial year, the number of visits could be scaled back to a minimum of one per year, depending on the quality of the childminder. The Government proposes that, in relation to early years childminders:  agencies be required to secure 20 hours support time per year;  that the support time may include CPD activity delivered by the CMA; and  that the support time must include at least two visits for early years childminders in their first year of operation but that agencies be free to scale these down to a minimum of one visit per year once they are satisfied as to the childminder’s quality. The Government further proposes that, in relation to later years childminders:  agencies be required to secure 10 hours support time per year;  that the support time may include CPD activity delivered by the CMA; and that the support time must include at least one visit per year.

Oh dear (again) – so this is the ‘nitty gritty’ of all that ‘hype’ about better support and improving quality – I think I must have missed something important as as it is stated above I personally can not see how agencies will give better support or improve quality. I actually hope that I do have to eat humble pie sometime in the future – but then I doubt I will – because how will we know if quality has improved? All we will have is the Ofsted agency grade – and the agencies own judgement on the agency childminders practice – hardly a sound quality assurance system in my opinion.

5.16 Other legal requirements for childminder agencies Amongst other requirements, we are providing in the regulations for childminder agencies to have to produce a ‘statement of purpose’ when registering with Ofsted. This will set out the services the agency will offer, including their procedures for registering providers and monitoring the standards of childcare provision on offer. We are also providing for the type of information an agency should provide to parents, childminders and local authorities – and when this should be provided.

This is one of my main concerns – that the agency will be telling Ofsted what services they will provide. In my opinion Ofsted should be telling agencies, to ensure consistency. One of the things that Ms. Truss said in the recent meeting was that when it was LA’s / Ofsted carrying these roles it was not consistent. Therefore in my opinion, nothing has changed.

There is of course the bit of the consultation that refers to LA role – but I wanted to concentrate on childminder agencies, I think it safe to say – I am not impressed. The actual consultation can be accessed   HERE. I have completed and submitted my response – I am sure you can work out for yourselves from this blog what I put

One response to “Government Consultation on Childminding Agencies

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  1. Penny.I had made a promise to myself in 1967 that I was going for gold in my child minding career, but with all this child minding agency business I feel that my 47 yes.so far may not reach my goal..I do not want to join an agency or be made to think that it is the best way for me to continue as a registered childminders. I will be staying with Ofsted. Be independent,be my own boss, and hope that families will be able to choose me from visits directly also to see for themselves the professional high standard of care that I provide in a home from home en
    vironment. Penny I spend a lot of time in the evening reading your blogs. Please keep up the great work you do for other childminders like myself. Thank you. Marjie

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