Archive for September 2014

Nursery World Awards 2014 – My nomination   4 comments

Before I get down to the details of my nomination and my experience of the Nursery World Awards 2014, I need to make it very clear that this a personal recall of my experience, it is about how I felt from the beginning when I was first nominated, through to actual awards evening.

This is not the opinion of my friends that attended the event with me or those I work in partnership with – it is just my personal view

Therefore it has to be acknowledged that this blog is not intended to criticise the Nursery World Awards event, or to assume that everyone feels the same, but at the same time is also has to be acknowledged that this will be a honest personal reflection, and so some may feel that I am being critical.


There will be very positive aspects, some less positive aspects, and some aspects that for me personally were very challenging.

As always – I welcome comments on my blog – both from those who agree with my opinion and from those that disagree.

So to start at the beginning

I am a mature person (being over 50), a mother of 4, Granny to 9 (almost 10) grandchildren, currently an Ofsted  registered childminder – and with over 30 years experience within the field of childminding. I am also a wife, a volunteer to many organisations, and more recently a foster carer. In total counting birth children, foster children, and childminded children, almost 300 children have been in my care – albeit some for many years and some just for a few weeks.


My natural persona is one of lacking confidence, quietly spoken, honest, caring  – and having a passion for my chosen career within the field  Registered Childminding – and more importantly for not just the children I personally care for but for all children.

I am not the sort of person to complain if a meal out is not to standard expected, I am not the sort of person to take  something I have brought back,  if it is not fit for purpose, I am not the sort of person to negotiate a better price for something. Even within my setting practice I am not the sort of person to insist on notice period being given and paid for – my setting documentation states very clearly that notice period is required to give opportunity for the child to have a smooth transition, if parents choose not to give much  notice to enable this transition, I do my best with the time period available.

So in a nutshell – I am not the sort of person to challenge or make a fuss. However, I am the sort of person to reflect on things, to think if I could personally improve things to enhance the opportunities for children ……

So where the rights of children are concerned, my personal ethos and principles will not let me remain quiet, will not let me just mutter under my breath or have a bit of a rant at close family or friends.

Therefore I find myself with a rather well worn ‘soap box’ on which I stand on to ‘shout’ about all the things, that I consider to not be in the best interests of the children. I do so, despite the stress this causes me personally, despite the ill health it results in (not least from trying to fit so much into my so called spare time), and despite feeling that  often  I am speaking to a brick wall called Government .

In recent years I have had more and more things to shout about – and in doing so I have made contact with others who feel the same, and who are also speaking up for the rights of the children, in their own ways – some quietly and some as loud if not louder than I do.

Those of you who have not read one of my blogs before, and maybe do not know what it is that I campaign about – please take a few moments to look at some of my other blogs on here, or try googling my name, or Penny’s Place Childminding.


Having set the background to who I am and why I feel the need to campaign, I can move on to my actual nomination for a Nursery World Award

Some colleagues suggested that it would be a good idea to enter the Nursery World Awards to raise awareness of my campaigning work , and to acknowledge everything that I do, from my hands on childminding, to my support of colleagues through training and information sharing, to working in partnership with other individuals and organisations – and challenging Government.


I was reluctant – very reluctant to be nominated – as I hate drawing attention to myself . However I was persuaded to enter the Nursery World Awards and a childminding colleague volunteered to put in a nomination and therefore a bit of background work was undertaken. When that colleague had to withdraw her support, I was tempted to forget about the idea – but then my colleague and friend Laura Henry offered to put in the nomination – and so the process began of gathering evidence – in fact the gathering  of evidence was easy! Many, people wanted to add their voice and to support my nomination – I was shocked that so many people wanted to do so – in fact there were so many that appendices had to be added, as the word count limit on the actual nomination documentation was exceeded

I am now going to add my nomination paperwork here – not because I am having a big head moment – but because I want people to see what those who supported me said. In doing so I hope to help people to understand what it is I do, and why I do it – and therefore to help raise awareness of my campaigning and  an awareness of who I work in partnership with.

I think it is important that everyone works together in partnership on aspects that agree with – as this will have the greatest impact. Of course we are not all going to agree 100% of the time on 100% of the issues – and when we don’t agree, I think it is fine to disagree on those aspects.

The links are just have a title and are  numbered – so if possible read them all and in order – although I accept that some readers won’t have time to do that, and will just scan read, or read the bits most relevant to them.

Document ONE NW Covering letter

Document TWO Role of the nominee

Document THREE Making a difference to children ..

Document FOUR Why Penny deserves to win this award

Document FIVE Appendix One Final    Voice of the Child and Statements from parents

Document SIX Appendix Two – Final  Supporting statements from childminding colleagues

Document SEVEN Appendix Three Final Supporting statements from other professionals

For those of you who don’t have time to read the above documents, I want to give an insight into the other professionals who supported my nomination – this is important as it shows how many are not only working with myself but with each other –  maybe other on reading the documentation will want to join us – may be those who work with one or two of those that I am about to mention, will  now want to work in partnership with more organisations and individuals who share the same concerns about the well being and rights of children.

And to be honest – although I would personally like to work in partnership with others – if people do not want to work directly in partnership with me – that is fine. If I can act as a link through this blog to enable more to work together, I shall be happy, because TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

(PS if you are thinking – when is she going to get to the Nursery World Awards bit – I will – soon, but as you will have noted the whole reason for agreeing to be nominated was to raise awareness of my campaigning – so naturally I am not going to waste the opportunity to raise awareness in this blog)

So – for the list of those other professionals who supported my nomination (please note this does not mean they agree with every single word I say, or every thing that I do – it just means they agree with certain aspects and / or that they work in partnership with me


Dr. Richard House   – Too Much Too Soon Campaign / Open EYE campaign / Save Childhood Movement


Wendy Ellyatt – CE Save Childhood Movement

Nathan Archer – Colleague who supported setting up of ratio petition/  Lincolnshire Montessori

Barbara Skilton – Retire Improvement advisor for Worcestershire Early Years

Cath Ellicott – Worcestershire Early Years and Childcare Manager

Bea Heath – Director Independent Childminders Social Enterprise

Beatrice Merrick – CE Early Education

Liz Bayram – CE Pacey

Neil Leitch – CE Pre school Learning Alliance

Helen Moylett – President Early Education

Marie Peacock – Childminder / Chair Mothers at Home Matter / Save Childhood Movement

Lynda De Wolf – Director Uk  Childminding Association

Sue Palmer – Save Childhood Movement / Author


When the documentation was complete – My nomination was sent in by Laura Henry – and the waiting began

Meanwhile I was flattered and humbled that so many people wanted to support my nomination  (and don’t forget the list above is just the other professional – parents past and present, and childminding colleagues also added their support as can be seen in the documents added above)


And then just when I thought I had not been shortlisted, I found out that I had been, I was delighted.

I had been shortlisted for the Individual Outstanding Contribution Award – I have to admit I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the day – this was just what I wanted – some publicity for my campaigning.

However, I have to say – I was a bit disappointed because as the weeks marched forward toward the actual awards event, there was no pre event information about those who had been shortlisted. I understand that it is expensive to print information in the NW magazine – but I had hoped that there would have been some information about all of those who had been shortlisted available online – so that everyone could read about their achievements. Maybe I missed it – and there was some – but I did visit the awards page on NW website several times, I did not see any information – other than a list of names.

I did however receive ‘official’ confirmation of being shortlisted and a request that I book my place on the online booking form.

I have to admit I had to think about this, as the Nursery World Award event is a Black Tie event, very glamorous – and to be honest, way out of my comfort zone. Of course some people love this type of event and really look forward to dressing up, celebrating and having a fantastic time – but not me.

In the end though, after thinking about it and talking to close friends and family, I though I should go because there would be networking opportunities.

So I went online to book my place – and at that time not even thinking that as a finalist that I would be expected to pay to attend.

I was in for a shock – I did have to pay – but I was relieved to see I was booking in time to take advantage of the Early Bird price – which was £160 – a huge amount for someone like me – who like most early years practitioners does not earn a great amount.

To put it some sort of perspective – my weeks family holiday – for myself, my husband and my foster child cost £160 – and yes we did have a few extra expenses such as spending money, travel to the holiday and so on, but the actual holiday was £160.

And I was about to find out that attending the Nursery World Awards event had a few extra expenses as well – starting with VAT being added to the ticket price.

Therefore my ticket cost £192 – and at that price my local friends and my family members said – sorry but we can’t afford to come with you – and I certainly could not afford to pay for them.

I then started the search for suitable dress, shoes, and cheap train tickets and accommodation – all very time consuming – and all stressful

Luckily a friend who lives in London (but quite a way from the venue) offered her spare room, Ebay came up trumps for dress and shoes, and the trainline offered some travel options that were ‘reasonable’ but even so my total expense was in excess of £350 – far more than the total cost of my family summer holiday. ( I should mention here that a couple of very good friends – Carol and Brita, did make donations towards to the cost, for which I am extremely grateful)

Another issue is that because I am not familiar with, or comfortable about even the thought of attending Black Tie events – especially on my own, and do not like drawing attention to myself as ‘me’ rather than as ‘ campaigning me’ – I was becoming more and more stressed at the thought of attending – and was considering not going

But that would have been complete waste of money that I can not afford to waste – and the reasons for going were still valid.

I did start a discussion on Linkedin – as I thought that some everyday practitioners like myself may have similar difficulties in affording to attend or in attending an event outside their personal comfort zone. Response was mixed, but Nursery World have said they will consider other options – although they think from previous feedback that most people prefer the type of event provided. That may well be the case – and it proves that I am in the minority, then of course the event should continue in its present format. However, if it proves after consultation that others also would like some changes made, then I trust Nursery World to consider changes.

I was getting myself into a state of stress about the whole thing – even those who know me, struggled to understand how someone like me, who will challenge Government, attend meetings at all levels – and write blogs, could possibly be so nervous and so stressed about attending an event such as the Nursery World Awards.

However those who know me very well – knew that the reason was – because I lack confidence, I hate drawing attention to myself, I am naturally a quietly spoken and humble person (if you have read the supporting statements you will see this mentioned in several of them)

Meanwhile, unknown to me two of my London based friends and colleagues were emailing each other, and basically saying ‘ We have to do something – Penny is going to ‘bottle out’ and not attend’ – and so they spoke directly to Nursery World – and despite it being a bit late in the proceedings, secured tickets for themselves, and a promise that they could sit at the table with me. I can not thank Bea and Jen enough for going to the personal expense of doing this to support me.

My eldest daughter Michelle, then stepped in to organise and pay for a hair cut – again I am very grateful.  My husband Garry (better known in this blog as Mr. Penny’s Place)  brought me a suitable handbag – and I was more or less sorted.


Before I knew it, the time arrived to start preparing for my journey to London – and in the middle of the night in the week before the event – the dress crisis hit me! I had been expecting this due to my lack of confidence, and lack of experience of this type of event. So I looked at photo’s online of previous years events – and felt worse – would I be over dressed or under dressed? – and why did I think a £16.99 dress from Ebay was going to be suitable?

Friends and family poured reassurance on me – my dress was not just ‘fine’ it was prefect.

Early on Saturday morning, having not slept much the previous two nights – I found myself on the 6.37 am train from Kidderminster to London – nerves were getting the better of me – and my digestive system was working over time! Social media played an important part in providing constant reassurance and support during the journey – thank you everyone.

I arrived at Marylebone, and was very grateful to find that the disruption to underground services was not going affect my journey to Victoria where I had arranged to meet my good friend Wendy.

Wendy and I chatted a few hours away over two cups of coffee each, then it was time for Wendy to head home as she needed to rest before taking part in the Shine walk that evening, and I had to head toward my friend Jen’s house where I was staying.

It was at this point that the underground disruptions impacted on me!

Wendy pointed me in the right direction, we hugged and kissed – and then I was on my own. I am fairly confident on the tube system now (after many campaigning trips to London) but I was not prepared for this – too many people for tubes and lifts, stairways closed off, and a lot further to walk – all carrying my large suitcase (that I joked contained fairy godmother, pumpkin, mice and so on – as per the story of Cinderella). I finally get on the final tube of my journey to Jen’s – along with rather a lot of Chelsea supporters on their way to a match – they were not an issue – other than there were a lot of them all determined to get to the match on time, so they all squeezed into the limited space.

I arrived at Jen’s hot and tired and stressed about the forth coming event. Jen provided coffee and cake and chat which helped to keep my mind off things a bit – but then it could not be avoided any longer, as our shared friend and colleague Bea was due to arrive in 30 mins!

Dresses and shoes were put on, hair quickly sorted (and in Jen’s case some make up applied) and we were ready! I felt fairly good about my appearance and comments from Jen, and Bea who had just arrived, help boost my confidence even more.

We stepped out into Jen’s garden and took this photo

Ready for awards


By now I was a nervous wreck – and so grateful that Jen and Bea were going with me – I am sure it is difficult for those who enjoy such occasions to understand how I felt – but I felt physically sick and if it was not for my friends I would have not gone.

But go we did and we found ourselves showing our tickets to gain entry to the extremely grand venue. We were directed to where a whole line of waiters were stood with trays of reception drinks. As I don’t drink alcohol, I selected a glass of orange  juice – as did my friends (even though they do enjoy a glass of wine now and then)

We found a space to stand in the huge room that was slowly filling with people – all dressed in their finery. I know if I had gone on my own and had got as far as the reception drinks – I would have left fairly quickly. It is amazing how lonely crowded places can be if you are stood on your own.

Jane (Vice Chair of Pacey) came over and had a chat – and told me what to expect – as she has attended these awards before – thank you Jane.

My digestive system was threatening to explode – and so I needed to visit the ladies room – my very wise friends came with me – as to get to the ladies room you had to go past the entrance (and therefore the exit!)

They ensured I made it back to the drinks reception and we went back to chatting together and people watching. We were spotted by Neil Leitch, CE of Pre school Learning Alliance, who came over to speak to us all and as a supporter of my nomination to wish me good luck.

We were then all asked to make our way to dinner as it was about to be serve, on the way up the stairs, I had a quick chat with June O’Sullivan but then she made her way to her table with her staff from LEYF.

The room looked fantastic and certainly very glamorous




We stood for a while looking down on the room before making our way to table 38 where we found our places. As promise Jen and Bea were sat with me – one either side. The rest of the table was occupied by lovely people from Springboard Opportunity Group in Wiltshire – it was touching that as not all their team could be with them, that they had printed photo’s of their colleagues, and so their present was felt at the event.

Alarm bells started ringing for me as I noticed that my dietary requirements were noted as ‘normal’ for starter and main – but different for pudding. Still there was no way I was going to make a fuss  (and I had communicated about my dietary needs at time of booking and a few days before the event)- and when the starter arrived which was totally unsuitable, I just nibbled on a small slice of bread. However Bea had other ideas and called over a waitress – she explained about my needs – and in a short space of time chef arrived so I explained to him. A second starter was served – again unsuitable – but finally at third attempt a suitable starter was provided. Chef checked my requirements for the main, and I was relived to find that when the main was served it was suitable. I can not fault chef on this as it appeared he had not had notice about my email until that morning.

The point I would like to make though is having provided details, I should not have had to deal with my dietary needs on the night – or rather Bea should not have had to. If I had been on my own – and had managed to stay until dinner was served – I would not have made a fuss and as a result would not have been able to eat the starter or the main.

I question why at such events there is not a choice on the menu – I understand the difficulties of preparing and serving meals to so many people, at the same time,  but if there was a choice, people could pre book, especially as there is clearly a system in place to record what people have requested.

Chat round the table during dinner was very pleasant and friendly.

Others at the table drank some of the wine provided at the table – and as a non drinker, I wonder why wine is included in the price especially as there will always be people who don’t drink, and people who drink more than others. As a soft drinks drinker I have a choice if I buy a soft drink or not  ( and on this occasion I just drank the iced water on the table), so why don’t wine drinkers have the same choice – to buy or not to buy?

And I am sure it is not just the Nursery World event where this needs to be considered.

Option could be that everyone was given  a ticket that could be exchanged at the bar for a drink of their choice, and thereafter everyone paid for their own drinks;

or fruit juice was provided at tables as an option.

or just iced water was provided at the table

Sorry I digress

After dinner Dave Benson Phillips was introduced and he quickly got down to the job of ‘entertaining everyone. I  like Dave – and so don’t have a problem with him being chosen – but in my opinion there were a host of people present who are well known in the early years field, who I would have preferred to introduce the winners and to say a little about the awards and what the judges were looking for in each category, and what was special about the winners. This in my opinion would have also been better than the voice over information about the winners.

We were entertained by a chap who I had never heard of – and who I would not choose to see perform again – but that is personal choice – and you won’t please everyone all the time.

It was then time for the actual awards – my stress  levels started to go through the roof, both Jen and Bea noticed this and asked if I was ok / put a  hand on me, every so often.

I suppose like others who have not attended such events before, I had made a few assumptions about what the event would be like – and certainly from what I had been told about previous events, and from following on Twitter last year – I expected a real celebration of all the achievements of everyone in the room – after all everyone was a finalist and that in its self is a major achievement – especially as we were told there had been over 300 entries.

I have to say I was really disappointed with the event as a celebration – there was no deigning that it was glamorous event – the table settings were lovely, everyone had made an effort to dress for the occasion – but I did not feel that the event did justice to those who were finalists or winners.

But that is just my opinion – I am sure others will have felt it was celebratory and that they felt their achievements had been valued.

To explain this is why I felt that the event was not a celebration – maybe it was just me, maybe it was just this years event – but I was disappointed.

First, as mentioned I would have preferred the judges to have announced the winners –  someone had been chosen to present each award but they did not speak to room, they just presented the award (apart from the well deserved award presented to Tina Bruce for her life time achievement – as she had a ‘proper’ introduction and was given opportunity to say a few words – and then had a rousing standing ovation- as deserved)

Dave introduced the finalists – in that their picture and name was flashed onto the screen for a few seconds – the Highly Commended were then mentioned by name – but they did not even get to go up on stage  – and a certificate was just taken to their table. In my view hardly celebrating either the achievements of the finalists for each award or those that were highly commended.

Then the winners were announced – they did get to go up to the stage – and there was a voice over about them and their achievements. They were presented with their award, the photographer quickly took a photo and they left the stage whole thing taking on average around 5 mins, because as soon as they left the stage, the whole cycle of announcing names started again.

All well and good but what I observed – was that as the night went on there was less clapping from other tables – yes the winning teams jumped up and screamed and clap but others in the room were less enthusiastic – Dave was doing his best to get people to cheer and clap – but those in the room were not engaging.

I have a theory about this – you see I think those who were not winners were not only disappointed but a bit deflated about  how they and their achievements had been more or less dismissed. Certainly a table near me that was not a winner were very quiet once they knew they had not won. By the time the first few awards had been given out people were not really even clapping much when the finalists for each award were announced.

By the time it got to the award that I was nominated for, there was hardly any clapping going on apart from the tables were winners were sat. I personally felt what a wasted opportunity – surely all the finalists needed to hear people congratulating them when their name was announced – surely they wanted people to know what was special about them and why they had been nominated and short listed by the expert panel of judges.


I was further disappointed when my picture and name flashed onto the screen for those few seconds – no one looking at it would have a clue that I was a campaigner – it looked like I had been nominated for something connected to outstanding contribution in my setting. In fact I had sent a range of photo’s in showing me in my various roles (complete with notes about what each photo was) – and the one chosen was of me with one of my grandchildren at THEIR house, so it was not even one of me in my setting (there were photo’s of me in my setting and in campaigning mode sent in).

I did not win, nor was I even highly commended – not only was I naturally disappointed, I also felt that entering had not achieved my personal aim of raising awareness of my campaigning – I had not entered for personal recognition as me, only as a campaigner in the hope that more people would come together to stand up for children’s rights and their well being.

Still, as I sat there reflecting I thought about the networking opportunities, and about the booklet we had been told we would get at the end with details of the finalists in it.

However, again I was disappointed – my name is listed as a finalist in the booklet – but no one will realise what I was nominated for, and the opportunities for networking were there at the end – but the room was filled with tables, the dance floor small for the number of people, and unless you are a very confident person you are not going to go up to people you recognise but don’t know and say ‘Hello’ – and even if you did, the opportunity to chat was  limited due to the dance music.

I did get chance for a few words with Neil Leitch (together with Jen and Bea) and he kindly agreed to the photo below being taken and shared .

Neil and us girls

Bea, Jen and myself decided it would be better to get a taxi back – before midnight – which we did – noticing that we were not the only people leaving at this time.


Would agree to being nominated again – I am not sure

Would I attend again – In its present format, I don’t think so, but if Nursery World consults and makes changes that reduce the costs and really celebrates the achievements of those who are finalist – well who knows.


I have made a couple of suggestions within the text of this blog but as I have said that I would be happy to help Nursery World evaluate and reflect on their event so that they can consider changes – here are all those suggestions in one place – plus a few others not mentioned before.

  1. Consider holding the event somewhere outside London, as venues would be less expensive, travel distances would be reduced for many, and hotel costs for those needing overnight accommodation would cost less.
  2. Consider not having a guest to host the event (actually I thought Liz Roberts, editor of Nursery World, spoke well and has the benefit of knowing about the sector so would be an informed speaker)
  3. Consider asking those judges that present the awards to actually give details of the awards, what they were looking for and what made the winners stand out
  4. Consider providing choice of menu items – even if people do have to pre book what they want
  5. Consider more equality and either don’t provide wine at the tables, or provide a soft drink option
  6. Consider not charging finalists – or have a reduced rate for them and for a guest, so that early years practitioners on low income can afford to attend, and if not part of a team can afford to take someone with them
  7. Consider providing pre event information online about all the finalists – so that everyone is aware of their achievements
  8. Consider providing information about all the finalist either while doing the presentations or in written format on the table at the event.
  9. Consider giving all the finalist a certificate so they have ‘something official ‘ to show others

NB Because I am always honest and fair – I need to mention that finalists do get a certificate and mine is on its way. So this point does not          need considering as already in place. Thank You Nursery World.

  1. Consider how to ensure all are applauded at the event – not sure how to do this but maybe it could be led by the panel of judges if they sat in view and  clapped everyone?

I don’t claim to represent everyone or even anyone other than myself – I do not know if others attending were disappointed with the event in the same ways as myself or even in different ways, or if they had a truly fantastic time (certainly one or two had had a bit too much to drink and were having a wonderful time – even though they may have ‘suffered’ a bit the following day)

I do not claim to have the answers, about what to do, if consultation shows that people would like change.

All I know is it never hurts to reflect, it never hurts to consult and to listen to the views of others.

And it never hurts to say – I / we have reflected, we have consulted and now we know we need to make changes – or now we can continue doing it as we were because change is not needed at the moment.


And that applies to individuals like me, organisations like Nursery World and indeed Government



I must make it clear (due to comments made) that I am not questioning the judges decision, I fully accept the judges decisions which are based on their professional opinion. Those finalists that were picked as winners or highly commended were picked because they were considered the best entrants. 












Posted September 29, 2014 by psw260259 in Random Things!

At last the evaluation of the childminder agency pilots   4 comments

So AFTER the publication of the childminder agency Ofsted Handbook – and the DfE Step by Step guidance for setting up childminder agencies – we now have today 5th September the evaluation of the pilots – or as DfE prefer to call them trails.


I have awaiting the publication of this report with interest – I wondered what it would actually say  – and if it would correspond with the informal feedback that I have been getting over the last 6 months from various sources.

I wondered if there would be any snippets of information that would ease my concerns

I wondered if there would be anything within the report that was new information or at least evidence based research

I wondered if there would be anything that suggested as a result of the pilots, that had indicated that childminder agencies were needed, or would offer anything that had not already been tried before / was available elsewhere.

In general, I was doing a lot of wondering.

And so tonight I get my first look at the document (mainly because been busy during the day with my minded children and my foster child – not because I was not interested in reading it sooner)

If you have not read it yet – HERE IT IS

So – Am I enlightened? Have I found out anything I didn’t already know? Am I reassured? Do I think the pilots have been useful? Do I now want to issue an apology and say – sorry I was wrong, these agencies are going to be wonderful – just what we all need (parents and childminders that is)


Let’s start at the beginning and work our way through this 20 page document

Page One – Cover page

Page Two – contents page

Page Three / four – Introduction

Oh let’s just look at page three and four, as useful reminder about why childminder agencies are being set up

The introduction of CMAs aims to:
 encourage more childminders to enter the market;
 offer support, training and development for childminders;
 improve the quality of childminding provision; and
 provide help for parents in finding a high quality childminder.

There is also a little bit of information on page 3 about who took part in the pilots – and if interested there is a list in Annex A

Page Five –  Contains information about the pilots and who took part. Although not news to me – it may be news to others – it says on page 5

No services were provided to parents or childminders during the trial period and so firm conclusions on the viability of agency models tested as part of the trial cannot be made at this stage

Interesting I think – they ran a pilot on some aspects of childminder agencies – and yet because no services were provided they have not been able to really test out childminder agencies – and so cannot come to any firm conclusions.

I find that rather difficult to accept – I am well aware that legally childminder agencies could  not be set up before September 2014 BUT;

Surely they could have set up mock ones where they piloted everything – with the childminders still being registered with Ofsted (and if inspection due, still inspected),

Surely they could have provided services to parents – but without charging them?,

Surely they could have carried out support visits and provided training

Surely they could have done this within different models – got all the financial figures but not charged anyone (and maybe through taking part in the pilots the DfE could have picked up the costs?)


And I am not just saying this without any thought behind it  – I have taken part in enough pilots – those for quality assurance schemes, those for changes to Ofsted inspections and so on – and in every case those taking part did everything required – so complied a portfolio and went through a quality assurance visit and had feedback; or took part in an inspection with feedback and report. In each situation the outcome was not valid / legal, and in each case ‘fine tuning’ was needed as a result of the pilots – but at least everything had been tested.

Not so for childminder agencies – and as far as I am concerned there was NO REASON why fully functioning agencies could not have been piloted (but without  cost to those taking part, with the current inspection framework and support still in place) – WHY? I have to ask – Why did the Government not want to test childminder agencies out properly before rolling them out?

To me it is a bit like drawing a new model of a car on a piece of paper – saving lets do x,y and z. Testing those parts individually  – and without ever putting all the components together launching the car and letting people drive off in it, without knowing if it all works together or if it is safe or if there is public demand.

There would be a public outcry if this happened with cars – and quite rightly

So why are more people not jumping up and down and protesting loudly about childminder agencies? After all these agencies are about the care of children and are now legal – without any proper testing.

Anyway before I wind myself up too much with my own words – let’s move on

Page  Six – It is noted that there was  negative media and concerns from existing childminders  – and whose fault was that? – yes the Government for not giving details, not answering questions and to be frank not conducting ‘proper’ pilots.

The pilot activities are listed – sounds quite good – but some of these were paper exercises, some of them were discussions. In fact most activities were of the ‘Consideration of’ or ‘Exploration of’ type – and if you don’t believe me – take a look at Annex Two.

Page Seven – Talks about the key findings; It says

In exploring how areas of the policy may work in practice, the childminder agency trials have played an important role in policy development. Learning from the trials has helped to inform regulations for childminder agencies and ‘departmental advice’ on childminder agencies.

REALLY – Having read the documentation mentioned   – all it seems to have done is ensure that the guidance and regulations are as ‘loose’ as possible with lots of words like MAY, MIGHT and COULD.

There is also mention of the business costs – and in so many words it says that you need to do some Market research! WOW now isn’t that enlightening? Surely they should have more to say than that? Some examples maybe? Some actual costings maybe?

They talk again about the established childminders and myths around childminder agencies – but as I have said before this is all the Governments own doing – they mishandled this project from beginning to end

Page Eight –

There is an example given that says how engaged with childminders – but the only thing to have come from that is to say that some childminders may wish to buy services such as training from an agency – Now that is a surprise – of course they will – IF the price is right and the time right.

Oh and they showed the childminders how the agency costs could be offset through their tax returns! Another astounding piece of information – most childminders are well aware of offsetting expenses against their tax return – but maybe it was new information to the DfE?

They talk about there being little demand by existing childminders, and the need to ‘add value’ and considered costs carefully – I read that as a code for ‘Be careful these agencies will be difficult to make sustainable

Page Nine – More talk about costs and be careful as to what fees are charged

Mentions that some experienced childminders may want jobs as mentors – in my opinion these might be the childminders who are planning on resigning as childminders – or who are thinking ‘covering their own backs’ , or the sort who already carry out that sort of role for membership organisations and enjoy volunteering. But nothing that we did not already know. Childminders have always acted as mentors (or peer support) to each other

Page Ten – some suggestions of Business models and packages – I may be wrong but I am sure I have seen similar list elsewhere – now was it membership organisations? Networks? LA’s? mmmm – nothing new again – just re inventing the wheel from what I can see. I could have provided that list in about 10 mins – and for free – in fact so far – if the DfE had took me out for coffee and cake one morning I could have provided all this information for free (well aside from the cost of coffee and cake)

Page Eleven – Talks about the value of parental contribution – but just look at the percentages stated – the highest response is 31% – hardly something to base a business model on

In then talks about ‘new services’ – Now I am getting cross – these are not NEW services – they are already offered through various schemes – clearly more re inventing of the wheel – but what a joke they make it sound like they have come up with some really good suggestions – but they haven’t – been there, got the T-shirt!

Page Twelve – Has a box with examples of these new services – why didn’t they ask membership organisations, social services and LA’s who already have these in place? Why did they not ask me?

The last bit of page 12 is about helping childminders with expansion – how the heck do they think the many childminders who have successfully expanded their business have coped up to now – without childminder agencies? Clutching at straws comes to mind

Page Thirteen – All about recruitment and marketing – and nothing we didn’t already know – just basic common sense really

Page Fourteen – All about recruiting new childminders – think they may have copied and pasted from a LA / membership organisation website – it is all ‘old’ information – we did not need childminder agency pilots to find out any of this – we already knew it.

Page Fifteen  and Sixteen – All about quality assurance  and working with other –  Just what everyone already knows – however this bit made me smile;

Consideration may need to be given to separating within an agency the support and quality assurance functions of an agency to minimise conflicts of interest.

What have I and many others been saying – agencies should not provide support and quality assurance – and here they are saying there is a conflict of interest


The rest of the document is just the Annexes and list of who took part.


So there we are are you any more informed? Are you reassured?


As far as I am concerned my answer to these questions that I asked at the beginning

So – Am I enlightened? Have I found out anything I didn’t already know? Am I reassured? Do I think the pilots have been useful? Do I now want to issue an apology and say – sorry I was wrong, these agencies are going to be wonderful – just what we all need (parents and childminders that is)


IS NO, NO, NO, No and NO

What a complete waste of time, effort and money – and what is worse based on these pilots, we now have the guidance – and childminder agencies are going to set up – without the benefit of ‘proper trails’. or ‘proper evaluation’. The Government might as well have said – just go do what you want – it will be fine’


Only trouble is – I am worried that it won’t be fine


Posted September 5, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

How to upset thousand of people in one sentence! – Yes Mr.Wilshaw I am talking about you   28 comments

This sentence to be precise


With poor families now getting 15 hours free provision of childcare, the Government should try to ensure they go to a school-based nursery, not the local child- minder.”


Taken from this article in the London Evening Standard Link to Wilshaw article in London Evening Standard


As I sit here at my laptop ……

……during nap time, when I could be doing many other things related to my childminding setting – washing up from snack time, cleaning the floor after snack time, putting on a load of washing of those lovely washable hand towels, updating children’s records, reading one of my professional magazines, starting to put together the weekly parents newsletter, doing some background reading for my degree, cleaning toys, – oh and so many other things that as a sole practitioner I have to fit into every day – as well as the 11 or 12 hour working day …….

…… I find myself lost for words – and regular readers of this blog will know that it is not often that I am lost for words.

But I am so angry, so frustrated , so disappointed – and to be honest thinking ‘Well, I may as well give up now. What is the point?’

When you add this to my inspection experience, where one of Mr. Wilshaw’s Ofsted inspectors did not do their job, where on complaining about it, I got fobbed off, not listened to and not believed – and now I am ‘stuck’ with a good grade (which if it was based on my practice I would be proud of) and recommendations that I don’t understand how to implement (because not based on my practice, and worse are already part of my practice) – you will understand that today, I am seriously considering my career options. It seems to me that while Mr. Wilshaw is the Ofsted chief – childminding is not valued, not given professional respect – and from today’s comments would seem that not even wanted as a choice for parents needing childcare.


However – I love my job – that is the hands on work with the children, and working in partnership with their parents, and with other professionals – so would I find a job that I loved as much, and one in which I could hand on heart say – would make a difference to the children of this country?

Anyway back to Wilshaw’s outrageous statements (and not just about childminders, as he has managed to insult parents and schools as well)

I first became aware around breakfast time – when colleagues started to contact me and highlight this article – Facebook was unusually busy with comments as childminders read the article and then commented – the feelings being expressed were similar to my own. Twitter than became another platform for people to express their shock and disbelief that Wilshaw had said these things.

And I agree – how can someone in his position – Chief of Ofsted who are supposed to  be an independent regulatory body, not influenced by political leanings, make these sort of comments? Ofsted are supposed to make judgements on what they observe . Even though a few don’t – most do, but what will they do now in light of these comments by Wilshaw.


My own observation is that Ofsted seem to be unable to recognise Outstanding childcare and education when they see it – yesterday I had a call from a childminder (and she is not the first) asking if I would advise  she complains because her inspector could not think of a recommendation – yet the inspector said she was grading the childminder as ‘good’. Surely if her inspection notes do not identify any areas for improvement the childminder should be outstanding – and not asked to make her own recommendation?

The cynical side of me says that inspectors will find it hard to justify giving a childminder a outstanding grade when Wilshaw has said (in so many words) that childminders are not good enough.


And I can just imagine how if any childminder made such sweeping discriminatory remarks about children, or families or other professionals – would be treated – yes they would have the regulation book thrown at them – so why is no one throwing the regulation book at Wilshaw?


I could say so much more – but I would find it hard to do so without stepping over the line of professionalism – and although Wilshaw is prepared to step over this line – I am not.

For other comment – please see
Pacey’s comment

Pre-school Learning Alliance comment
Pre school Learning Alliance comment

As other release their responses I will add them here

Blog by Annelize Cruz    CLICK HERE

Blog by Emma Harris CLICK to go to Little Caterpillars Website

Letter to Evening Standard by Bea Heath Dear Mrs

Letter to Wilshaw by Lindsay Clayton

Letter by Christine Clarke letter re Sir Michael Wilshaw

Blog by Rachel Pocknell  Rachel’s blog

Liz Bayram’s response Pacey’s CE Liz Bayram ‘s letter to Sir Michael

Posted September 4, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

OH DEAR, OH DEAR AGAIN – I was hoping that at least one of the political parties would think ‘outside the box’   1 comment

However it seems not

I am well known for my comments about the current Government policies and proposals for education and childcare, and in particular early years – which as we all know despite being a coalition party – is really mainly Conservative polices – and governed by the need to save Government money, and increase tax revenue.


I have commented in the past that the Labour Party are also too focussed on getting  parents into work – and the idea that somehow childcare is better than being cared for by parents


And now today 3rd September 2014 – we have the Lib Dems – saying they will provide free childcare for for all two year olds – and when resources allow, to provide more free hours ….. and to younger children


If not read – here is the link Link to BBC News story


In my opinion there are three main issues;

Amount of funding from Government – Lack of support for parents who don’t want to use an early years setting – Meeting the needs of all children


I guess some readers many think it a little odd that I am commenting against proposals that could technically lead to more work for myself as registered childminder – and for colleagues across all types of early years settings.

However to my colleagues it will not appear odd – and this is because (and it maybe a shock to Government and opposition parties) I (we the early years sector) actually care about the children and their families, and want to provide the best possible start for each child – as appropriate to them. This means that each child and their families needs will be different. We are not talking about parcels that can be moved around for best fit, and efficiency; we are not talking about storage solutions for those boxes; or redesigning so fit the system better…….


WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN – real live humans – not even mini adults, but children with their own unique development needs.

Amount of funding from Government

It may also surprise Government and opposition parties to know that most  early years setting are not really in childcare just to make money, they are in childcare because they want to improve outcomes for children and support families. Of course they need to cover their costs and even to make a small profit to ensure they are sustainable, but the most important thing is the well -being of the children.

But even the most dedicated early years professional do not have a magic wand to to pay bills that they they just don’t have the money to  pay; to continue to cut cost when there are no more to cut without impacting on the care of the children; to achieve the possible without the funds to do so.

However it should not be a surprise because early years settings have been saying for over a decade that the funding provided by the Government for funded early years education places (and funded has had several names over the years) is simply not enough – and so early years stetting have been subsidising this out of their profits – and in some cases out of owners own pockets.

Early Years settings would love to pay their staff more – and owners would like to be paid for the hundreds of hours they put in every year that are unpaid. However they can’t, if they did they would be bankrupt within weeks – and that would mean closing settings – something that  caring early years  professionals will avoid if at all possible.

Early Years settings would love to be able to give their staff paid time off to undertake further qualifications and CPD – and indeed to pay for those qualifications – but can’t because usually they simply cannot afford to do so – and so many early years staff end up doing qualifications in their own time – and sometimes at their own expense.


And all because the Government do not pay enough for funded early years places – shocking but it has been going on FOR YEARS.

The trouble is that every time the Government increases the number of hours funding per child, or lowers the age at which a child can access the funding – the worse it gets and now early years settings are saying – we just can’t do this subsidising any more.

Which means the Lib Dems proposals will worrying to early years settings and possibly if implemented, will be the straw that broke the camels back.

And not just the Lib Dems plans – remember Labour and the Conservatives also want to increase the number of funded hours.

It would be nice to read about proposals that actually considered this aspect of sustainability for early years settings instead of, just expecting more and more from those least able to afford to do so. In other words provide a funding rate that covers the true cost – which is higher than both the current funded rate and the hourly rate charged by early years settings – as neither cover  the true cost, if all the hidden costs paid for by staff and owners were took into consideration.

Lack of support for parents who don’t want to use an early years setting

There seems to be an assumption within political parties that all adults should be in work and indeed would preferred to be in paid employment outside the home. There also seems to be an assumption that all families want a place in an early years setting for their child, and indeed that all children will ‘do better’ in a childcare setting than at home with their parents.

The trouble is this blanket approach is wrong – so wrong – and what is it based on?

Some cherry picked bits of information, a huge amount of assumptions – and a ‘We know better than you’ attitude.

For a start – not all adults want to work and put their children in childcare, and the silly thing is research shows that for most children being at home in their early years is the better option. Many parents would prefer to stay at home with their child but family finances mean they have little or no choice.

From a Government financial point of view, in many cases any income brought in from taxes is wiped out through the benefits given. Some have suggested it would be more cost effective to offer a ‘home carers’ allowance to those who wanted to stay at home and care for their own children (and the same could apply to the care of elderly relatives)

I agree that for families that only have one wage earner – even a small amount per week would make a huge difference, but in my opinion what we need is some of that radical ‘thinking outside the box’ stuff – because we pay out huge amounts of money in different benefits – we also pay out huge amounts in providing the admin side of these benefits, we tax people to give it back to some but not to others – it removes personal choice and traps some in poverty, and generally does not work.

So how about we enable people to stand on their own two feet and make their own choices about if they want to work, or if they want their child to use childcare and so on. I don’t have access to Government financial figures but I have seen enough personal cases to know that some families get too much, some don’t get enough, some get financial  help but not the support they need.

My basic thought  is that people should have the money in their pocket and plan how to cover their own expenses – including where they live, how many children they have and so on. People need to make sensible choices and not expect others to pick up their bills / deal with the aftermath of bad decisions

So it would be nice if we could  stop this Government knows best nonsense – whether that is about 2 yr olds in childcare, 4 yr olds in school, and all the other ‘One Size fits all’ rules and regulations across all aspects of our lives

As I don’t have access to the figures to do the sums – here is a stab in the dark – but maybe a starting point? Of course I really don’t have any idea about such things – I am just ‘waffling’ BUT what I want is for some one (political party / think tank) to think outside the box / to scrap what is not working and come up with a radical vision that works for parents, children – and the country as a whole.

So for my waffling

Scrap early years funding (Shock – horror – but you have to start somewhere) – but instead ensure parents who work can afford to pay for childcare …..

…….. Raising minimum wage to an amount nearer to a living wage – say £9 per hour (this would of course include early years practitioners) I realise that this in itself would put up childcare fees …..

…… so scrap VAT or at least half in first year / then scrap in second year – it costs every day people a lot of money – what people want is support with the cost of living – scrapping VAT would help everyone. Who knows people would  buy more items and boost the economy this way – or they may be save more in pensions and so on. Whatever they do, the individual would have more money in their pocket and more choice about what to spend it on.


Massively increase the amount of  child benefit for the First Child Only,  my thinking it is the first child to whom all the costs are attached (equipment / clothes etc) – including parental decisions about if one of them stays at home with the child. If parents want more children then that is their choice and their financial responsibility (By the way I am not against large families – I have four children but did not have more because could not afford more, nor had ability to house more or transport more )

So, I am suggesting   child benefit  for second or subsequence children. are only increased slightly – or even scrapped because if getting sufficient support for first child, the basis are covered – and if people want more than one child, then they should ensure than their family budget (together with the first born child benefit) can support those children

Enable the stay at home parent to transfer as much of  their personal tax allowance as they want / need  to the parent / grandparent that works (has anyone considered the plight of grandparents who work part time to care for grandchildren / or support their children and grandchildren financially?)

Remember this is not a ‘sensible’ plan – just some thoughts with the  sole purpose of turning the box of current ideas upside down – so that some new ideas can be considered. I do not claim to be an expert on such things – I just know the current systems / policies do not work

The benefit system when fist introduced was never intended to do what it does now, so we need a complete rethink – and although I know there would be difficulties moving from one system to another, it is just a case of thinking about how this can be done. So how about it political parties – will you be the one who puts forward proposals for real change?


Meeting the needs of all children

There is not a lot more that I can say on this that I have not said before – and that many other academics, parents,  practitioners, membership organisations and experts in the field have already said.

All children are different, all learn and develop in different ways and at different times


What we need is choice for parents so that they can choose what is best for them and their child. For some it will be a playgroup, for some a nursery, for some a childminder, for some a maintained nursery class,  – and for some being at home with their parent.

For some children – 15 hours is about right, but for others more hours or less hours would be right .

For parents it is even more complicated – some need mornings, some lunch time, some evenings, some just to cover over lapping shifts, some 7 days a week, some just now and then.


It is really impossible to have a one size fits all, or to assume that Government knows best

If parents had real choice in where and when to use to childcare – including the option not to use childcare – then the needs of children would be better met – not prefect as sometimes the needs of parents conflict with the needs of children – but it would be a step in the right direct.

Parents need money in their pockets to spend on the things they need – childcare is just one of those things, for some but not all parents.

Posted September 4, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

The DfE Childminder Agency Step by Step Guide   3 comments

In my last blog about the Ofsted Childminder Agencies Handbook CLICK HERE IF NOT READ YET , I commented that the DfE had not published any new information – despite saying they had.

Well it seems I was a little too quick off the mark – and looked before they had had chance to do so!

So here it is the DfE Childminder Agency Step by Step Guide (if you have not seen it yet) Link to DfE site


So I expect you are all wondering the same as I was …..

…… Is this the document that sets out those robust regulations and requirements that will reassure those who are concerned that Childminder Agencies will not be high quality and will not achieve the Governments admirable, but ill thought out aims?

Is this the document that sets out expectations about services and level of support?


Sorry to disappoint – but the answer is NO – that’s right A HUGE NO


In fact, I have to admit that although I read the first few pages very carefully by page 8 (of a 47 page document) – I had lost to will to read in depth any more – and just scanned the pages – in the hope that some reassuring words would ‘jump off the page’ – but they didn’t.


Why – you may be asking?

You may be saying ‘But Penny, we rely on you to unpick and digest and translate Government documents into easy to understand language – surely this document is vital – and we all need to understand the ‘MUSTS’ and the ‘SHOULDS’ ………..


WELL – Dear reader, that is the problem – there are very few ‘MUSTS’ or ‘SHOULDS’ – the document is full of ‘MAY’. ‘MIGHT’ and ‘COULD’ – let me give you a few examples (may save you the bother of reading it all)

Page 6

For example, they MAY, in agreement with their childminders, provide invoicing services’ and a bit further on ‘ Agencies MAY also be able to help childminders apply to provide free early education places and manage the funding on their behalf’


Still on page 6,

‘They MAY be able to help match parents with a childminder ….’ and further on ‘Where a childminder is unable to work, a childminder agency MAY be able to offer alternative cover’


Hang on, HANG ON …… I am sure that was to be one of the main selling points – cover for holidays, and illness, and other emergencies. One of the things that I personally thought – well that would be good and reassuring to parents. However, I could have told them that providing emergency and planned cover is not easy or cheap – you see as a ex CCF Childminding Networks co-ordinator – I KNOW that to provide this sort of cover you need childminders who are happy to provide this service and not fill all their places – but of course this means a loss of potential business, and therefore income. I mean would you like to sit around with no income just so every now and then you could provide back up cover? I know it would suit a few people – but not many. So the only viable way to do this is to pay that person to keep places open – and that costs money – lots of it. And of course SOMEONE has to pay. Now let me see would that be the agency owner out of company expenses – well maybe but guess where the money would come from YES – OF COURSE from the fees paid by childminders and parents using the agency., thus making it more expensive for everyone – well everyone except the Government or the agency owner.

So to be clear agencies MAY provide back up cover.

Bottom of page 6

‘Agencies MAY want to support prospective childminders in meeting all the mandatory pre registration training requirements’

SORRY? MAY want to? Again I thought that was going to be one of the key things about childminder agencies – that they would support those wanting to become childminders by providing everything they needed – I seem to remember the phrase ‘ONE STOP SHOP’ – everything in one place, no need to trawl the internet and training providers, and not to mention the much talked about cost saving by dealing direct and bulk buying of services.

So again to be clear agencies MAY provide the training for mandatory requirements.


I am sure by now you are thinking – BOY Penny, I am surprised you got to page 8 – page 6 alone is depressing enough!


I have to agree – although I now have some sympathy and empathy for Ofsted – it must have been really hard to come up with requirements for childminder agency registration and inspection within the criteria set out in the DfE step by step guide.

Still lets carry on – there is a slight chance that I missed the positive bits

Page 7

‘They MAY want to provide their childminders with a dedicated co ordinator with experience of childminding / early years …….’

All I can say is – for goodness sake – if they don’t it will be the uniformed leading the uniformed in the case of prospective childminders and the informed (the experienced childminders) leading the uniformed agency staff.


I am really sorry DfE – but where is the quality in all this? Just how do you imagine that standards and outcomes are going to rise?

Still page 7

‘Agencies MIGHT also help arrange insurance cover for their childminders – well if they don’t – who is going to provide cover for childminders with out an individual Ofsted number, without a grade or report that gives at least some reassurance that they are meeting the requirements and keeping children safe?

There is lots more that I could comment on – but I am not going to because the whole thing is a complete waste of time – and there is no quality assurance in place, no reassurance that the Government have at least listen to concerns, no last minute adjustments to make the best of a bad situation


However, I will make one last comment – taken from near the bottom of page 16


Childminding agencies MAY choose  whether or not to register childminders and other providers. Where an agency refuses to register a childminder, the decision CANNOT be appealed.


So there we are, if they think there is not enough business in the area (or any other reason) they don’t have to register you. The document says refusal is not indicative of a persons suitability – can we be sure of this? Can we be sure that it won’t be a case of ‘Mates first’ or ‘Face doesn’t fit’? I don’t know but I would have preferred a system that stated clearly why a person had been refused – not just to ensure equality of opportunity but for Safeguarding reasons and to ensure the unsuitable, did not just go round all the agencies till they found one that would take them on.


I apologise if I have upset anyone with my negative comments – but I can’t help feeling depressed about all of this.

We had a system of registration that worked – and still works

We had a system of support that on the whole worked – and yes it was not consistent in all areas – but it needed improved not scrapping

We had access to training from various sources – and most understood that LA training could not continue to be free and that we would have to start paying  (in fact some already were) – but again on the whole in worked and there just needed to be a bit more across area consistency in availability and cost.

And now we have childminder agencies – enough said

Please if you are considering becoming a childminder – look into becoming an Ofsted independent registered childminder

Please if you are considering using a childminder – look into using an independent Ofsted registered childminder

Of course the  agency route may suit you best – but please at least do your research and comparison because an agency childminder is not the same as a independent Ofsted registered childminder.



Posted September 2, 2014 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues