So ANY Tom, Dick or Harry (or indeed Tracey, Dawn or Hilary) can set up and run a Childminder Agency ….   5 comments

……. apart from those who are disqualified, or do not have robust system, or can not demonstrate a knowledge of the EYFS or requirements for running a childminding agency

 

Please note this blog  is personal opinion – and is not the opinion of any other individual or organisation that I am associated with

 

I have spent some time looking at the Ofsted Childminder Agency Handbook and the associated Childminder Agency application form – if you have not seen them yet Click Here for the link to the Handbook and Click Here for the link to the Childminder Agency application form

 

Please do take some time to look through them – and if you have time also look at this page on the Foundation Years website Link to Foundation Years website

I would be really interested in your views because;

Despite two years of my personal and shared campaigning against childminder agencies – with the main points of objection  being loss of individual Ofsted registration and inspection for all childminders; and concerns about the quality of the agencies and the impact that could have on the quality of the childminders in the agency

Despite constant reassurance from the Government that high quality is not only vital but will be ensured through the registration and inspection of the childminder agencies

I now find myself disappointed, frustrated , despairing, worried  – and yes  angry, that no one in Government has taken ANY notice of the concerns expressed; because having read the  Agency Handbook where I had hoped to find at least some reassurance – I  have found NONE.

It says in that the DfE have produced further guidance – so I clicked on the link – and found the same agency info that has been there for months – saying nothing that provides reassurance – at least not to me.

 

Going back to the heading of this blog, it does appear that anyone can set up and run a childminder agency – I acknowledge that the Government HOPE that schools, Children’s Centre’s and others who are already known to Ofsted will set up agencies – a quick look at the application form reinforces this; however there is no requirement for any level of qualification – never mind a related one, there is no requirement for childminding experience – either as a childminder or as someone who has experience of providing services for childminders – and that REALLY worries me.

Even if those who set up childminder agencies have an early years related qualification, and have got some experience of providing services in the early years sector – their level of knowledge of childminders and the job they do will be limited – and in my opinion so therefore will the level of support. This in turn could then lead to lower expectations or unrealistic expectations of the agency childminders. How can someone provide appropriate support, training and so on – if they do not have a clue about the actual hands on side of childminder?

How can it be right that potentially childminders could be paying an agency to support them – and those providing the support are not qualified or experienced?

With all the Government focus on a graduate led work force and continuous CPD – how can it be right that an individual or a company running childminder agencies are not required to be graduates or to have appropriate experience in the field that they want to work in?

 

We could even have a situation where  agency childminders knows more than the people they are paying to support them and quality assure them.

 

And I may have missed it but I did not see a specific requirement for agency owners / managers / staff to undertake a independent quality assurance programme – just the inspection from Ofsted – who will judge their robust systems and understanding of EYFS and the requirements of running a childminder agency. This bit – on page 22 of the Childminder Agency Handbook, jumped out at me – and just added to my concerns

Although a childminder agency does not provide direct care to children and, therefore, does not have to meet the requirements, the agency is responsible for monitoring the quality of the its childminders who do provide care to children and must meet these requirements. It, is therefore, essential that the applicant has knowledge of these requirements and has secure systems in place to monitor how effectively childminders registered with the agency deliver these requirements to children’

Says it all really – if you can talk the talk, have some tick box monitoring sheets, all will be fine – and you will be able to set up and run a childminder agency.- The childminders in the agency will have to jump through hoops to ensure they get a tick in those boxes – regardless on if good practice, practical or possible to implement in a home base setting, is what parents want or what children need in terms of an appropriate environment or curriculum.

This is – in my opinion – reinforced by the statement on page 29 of the handbook;

138. We retain powers of entry into every childminders home. We do not have any inspection or enforcement powers in relation to childminders who are registered with an agency. The purpose of our powers of entry here is not to take action against the individual childminder, but to gather any evidence we might need to pursue an investigation against the agency and so that we can sample the quality of the childminding as part of the agency’s inspection.

 

So unless I have misunderstood – no complaints will be investigated by Ofsted, no recommendations or actions will be given – even if Ofsted see it for themselves during a sampling of an agencies childminders.

I think my predictions of a two tier systems are even more justified, I think my concerns about agency childminders not having any reason to be self motivated to maintain the highest standards at all times are now – sadly – based on fact because if you only stand a small chance of being sampled by Ofsted during an agency inspection – and even if you are – will not get any direct actions/ recommendations / enforcement from Ofsted – why would you bother?  It would be tempting to just do enough to tick the agency box (or at least pretend you do during a support visit) but not actually bother the rest of the time – I mean once assessed most agency childminder will only be visited once a year, so would not take a lot to put on ‘a good show’. We know this already happens with a few childminders – a quick look on social media confirms this – as requests for policies ‘to look at’, examples of planning to check not missed anything, requests to borrow things, or ideas to do on the day, pop up when people get the call to say inspection due – so why won’t this happen in childminder agencies? – but in my opinion it will be worse because the agency will want to ‘support’ their childminders to ‘put on a good’ show for the agency inspection  – so will they provide displays, planning, resources, other documentation – just at the ‘right’ time or am I being cynical?

Personally, I do not think anyone should provide both support and assess quality – it just does not make sense to me – you should do one or the other – not both, there should be an independent QA measure in place – and the silly thing is agencies in which every agency childminder had their own inspection and grade would fulfil this.

 

Add the fact that all childminder agencies can set their own model and decide for themselves what they provide in terms of visits, support, training and so on – over and above the very low expectations set by Government – oh and can of course set their own fee – and we have a MESS

 

The only good thing in the handbook is that is does cover what will happen if an agency closes or is shut down by Ofsted – this is on page 30, point 143

 

Personal Conclusion

Childminders have been the true Cinderella’s in the Early Years sector for decades – in recent years (since EYFS 2008) huge progress has been made, with many childminders gaining the highest Ofsted grades, many undertaking qualifications, including degrees, many being involved at all levels, of partnership working and are treated with respect; HOWEVER with the implementation of Childminder agencies the Government has dug a big hole into which childminding as we currently know it could stumble and fall into – never to re-emerge.

I wonder how much those running agencies will pay their staff – with no set criteria for qualifications or experience, I can’t help worrying that the pay will be low but the expectations to ‘get the boxes ticked’ high – I also can’t help worrying that those staff will not stay in the agency jobs for long – and if agencies do end up paying staff a reasonable wage – that agency fees will increase – year on year. How can anyone give credit to something that is based on paying profits to a middleman? – Even those that plan to be a  Community Interest Company  – will need to cover costs, and so will add – in one way or another to either  the overall cost of childminding places or the reduction of  childminders income.

 

My only hope is that those who are  currently  registered childminders will not even consider giving up everything they have worked so hard for, and will realise that the Government hype is just that hype – and saving ‘egg on face’ for themselves.

Certainly – I have yet to meet anyone who has expressed an interest in joining a childminder agency, although some have said they are interested in finding out more – mainly it seems because they are worried about their own CPD. In my opinion once people have read what agencies will offer and the price they will charge for that , they will re look at their options, as there are many other routes to take,  to access CPD and support – including that from those who are experienced and qualified to do so.

 

However my fear is that those wishing to become childminders in the future may not be given all the facts and may be led to believe that joining an agency is the best route.

At a meeting in March 14, the then Early Years Minister Elizabeth Truss, promised leaflets and information on a website to promote both agencies and independent childminders – I have yet to see evidence of this – and although I recognise that Sam Gyimah may have his own ideas and may not consider leaflets and website info the right approach – I think it is essential that parents and prospective childminders have the full information to make an informed choice, and hope that Mr. Gyimah will listen to those who expressed concerns in the past, and continue to do so.

 

As I have said many times, personally I am not against change, I am not against a  choice of where childminders can access support and training – I am even not against paying for that support and training; BUT I am totally against loss of individual inspection for childminders, totally against lack of information about choices for parents and prospective childminders – and totally against anything the prevents either directly or indirectly, children receiving the highest possible levels of early years care and education, that is individual to their own  and their parents needs, and so I am totally against childminder agencies in their current guise.

 

If things change, and  agency childminders have to be inspected directly by Ofsted, and if agency childminders could pay for services as used – I will be first in the line – in fact I may well set up my own – but in the currently format, and in light of the information in the handbook and on the Foundation Years website – I will not be joining a childminder agency – and will be continuing my personal campaign against them, by doing my best to ensure everyone has full, factual information to make their own personal decision – as  I don’t think my view is the only view, and I certainly don’t think my decision about joining a childminder agency, will be agreed with or followed by everyone else.

 

One size does not fit all – but in terms of ensuring a standard benchmarking of quality, and standard requirements for registration and inspection, and enforcement – the basics have to be the same for all Early Years settings.

I hope that I never have to say ‘Told you this would happen’ if a child or children are the innocent victims of this ill thought out Government Policy.

Posted August 28, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

5 responses to “So ANY Tom, Dick or Harry (or indeed Tracey, Dawn or Hilary) can set up and run a Childminder Agency ….

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  1. Thanks, Penny for this. I have to confess I haven’t read the ‘manual’ yet and was glad you’ve got there first. You make a lot of important points. However, the other day a childminder rang me to say that in her area she hadn’t been inspected in 7 years! There were lots of childminders in her area that were at similar time limits. Suppose if CM agencies in those type of areas were to improve the inspection frequency rates, then I could see that as a good thing? Kay

    • I see where you are coming from Kay – but the agencies will not be inspecting cm’s in the way we know it now – they will be doing quality checks / visits – which are slightly different – and no matter what ‘grading / scoring system they have it will not be the same asOfsted’s – in fact it has been said that we could end up with as many different grade markers / names as there are agencies – in other words all would have their own – which in my opinion will be very confusing for everyone.

      The fact that the agency will have an Ofsted grade which will match those given by Ofsted to settings will be neither here or there – because as it says in the handbook – Ofsted will not be inspecting agency childminders nor will they be inspecting the agency against the requirements of EYFS – so despite the same Outstanding, Good etc grades – they will not mean the same standards of care met – either via the whole agency or via individual cms.

      I personally consider the agency visits to be useful but only in the same way as a LA officer visit would be.

      It will in my opinion lead to confusion and misunderstanding

      • Hi Penny, I do agree with your point. I think I was thinking about the support of a visit, rather than of an inspection. More support visits can only help, but not at the expense of proper external inspections.

        My biggest fear is about the two tiered system for inspections. MOST parents won’t know enough about the ‘system’ to check if they have agency or independent childminder. I think that one campaign that will really help childminders to stay independent is to find ways to educate parents to choose independently-Ofsted inspected childminders over agency ones. In the same way that parents choose registered childminders over non-registered ones. A mark of quality.

        Kay

      • Agree support visits are useful – although personally I would prefer to buy in support visits from independent specialists, or access peer to peer support.

        I agree we do need a campaign to inform parents of the differences between agency childminders and independent childminders

  2. Pingback: The DfE Childminder Agency Step by Step Guide | Penny's Place Childminding

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