Archive for February 2016

The Push for Childminding Agencies – Do the Maths   4 comments

I have been rather quiet about childminder agencies for a while – and so have most other people. However, the Government have been busy getting ready for the next push to drive forward the idea of childminder agencies, rather than just let the idea quietly disappear.

First we had the introduction of the childminder agency inspection handbook published in January 2016 – If you are interested in the handbook, follow this link

Link for agency handbook

I note it says DRAFT, so maybe more changes are to come?  I think the publication of the inspection handbook is somewhat delayed considering documents about setting up an agency and agency regulations were issued in August 2014, and agencies were legally allowed to become established in September 2014. However as we all know the roll out of childminder agencies has not exactly been a success so far. Don’t get me wrong there are agencies out there – we all have heard about the St. Bede’s one, but there are a few others – all of which according to the information I receive from those childminders in the areas concerned have very few childminders on their books.

So as I say I have been rather quiet about childminder agencies recently but I have been keeping my eye on the ball, which is why I was interested in this article by Nursery World about the the latest push for childminder agencies.

Nursery World article about childminder agencies  published on 22/2/16

It seems the Government are not prepared to let the idea drop, and have provided 4Children with some funding to help with the roll out of childminder agencies. Interesting ….. agencies were supposed to be self funded with no money available to help set them up – but as well as the original Truss driven promotion and the associated cost of meetings, staff and so on, (not forgetting that to 4Children who went around the country talking to childminders) we now have more money made available to get people to set up agencies.

However of most interest to me in the Nursery World article was the fact that despite all the hype, all the push, those agencies that are up and running are not exactly Childminding Agencies as Truss presented them.

If you read the article you will quickly spot that VERY few (ie a handful) of those who have reportedly signed up for an agency have actually given up their Ofsted registration. YES, you read it right – most of those who have signed up for services STILL are registered with Ofsted in their own right.

We have the Rutland Early Years Agency – all of the areas 26 childminders are signed up, a success then for the Truss model? Well NO!

All 26 have signed up for the FREE support, and let’s be honest you would be silly to say no to free support. No-one has signed up for full membership, no-one has given up their Ofsted registration.

So to my mind this is not a successful agency, this is childminders signing up for free support with no strings attached (at least not at the moment)

Reading a bit further, paid for support starts at £5 a week – which actually is really a ‘bundle’ of training at a good price – again childminders would be silly not to take advantage of training offers now that local authority  free or subsidised training is scarce or not even available.

But it is not a childminder agency – it is paid for support services that can also be brought from companies that are not trading as agencies.

I note there is also an option for parents to pay £10 a year to access support in finding childcare – I note that is to find any type of childcare – so is this of any benefit to the childminders? I question if this is step in the direction of parents having to pay for information that is currently available for free in many places?

So in my opinion the Rutland agency is not really an agency, it is support services – some free, some that can be paid for.


Who is paying to provide the free bit at the moment? – Oh yes the Local Authority. So I have to ask; Is this just a carrot? Just a way of gradually imposing charges? Just away of getting childminders to think they are getting a good deal?

I am sure the free bit won’t last long, and I know that £5 a week or even £10 a week per childminder will not cover the cost of staff, or office (even a home based one) or travel to do visits, or to hire trainers. In the article Ruth Pimentel is quoted as saying the costs do not add up and so she has decided her nursery group is not going to become involved in childminder agencies. She says in the article that for start there is the salary of £25,000 – £30.000 for a coordinator – she is right that is a START – the other on costs such as those mentioned above – not to mention pension, NI and so on will at least double those costs.

So in Rutland there are 26 childminders who could pay up to £6 a week each to access the services – so that is £8’112 in total. Mmmmmm – not sustainable!

So if to be sustainable each of the 26 childminders (using £50,000 as a more realistic total cost to run the scheme) will need to pay – wait for it …… just over  £1,923. To charge any less means that there is funding coming in from one direction or another – so maybe not being charged to use an office? Or a member of staff having wages paid at least in part because they do another job as well, through another budget?

Excellent value then  for those childminders in Rutland  at the moment, but how long will it last?

At least at the moment, none of those childminders have given up their individual Ofsted registration and so can leave the so called agency if they want to. My advice would be to read carefully any contract especially the small print, so can leave or buy services such as training from other sources in the future.

Some of you may be saying, but Penny, Rutland is such a small area – things will be more sustainable elsewhere, where there will be a higher number of childminders.

TRUE – so let’s look at another of the agencies mentioned in the Nursery World article.

The one in Richmond and Kingston which is of course in London, so more childminders, a small geographical area, so hopefully more sustainable.

Full registration  which includes giving up your independent Ofsted registration costs £300 of which according to the article includes £180 worth of training – so just £120 of the £300 fee is to cover all the other costs including the statutory two home visits in the first year, and one visit per year thereafter, plus someone on the end of a phone, the Ofsted agency  fee, and all the rest.  I say ‘pull the other one’, that fee does not cover the costs of providing those services – there are being subsidised from other budgets.

So again how long will the fees remain so low? I would suggest for as long as the Government are pushing the idea of childminder agencies – after that each agency will have to stand on its own two feet – and most will not be able to, unless they  either increase fees, or find funding from elsewhere.

There is a saying that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I would suggest that childminder agencies that provide services for such a low price, are too good to be true.

And before we stop talking about the agency in Richmond and Kingston – is it a success?

Well, on the positive they say they have some childminders who are registered through the agency – so successful from that point of view – but at £300 a year each it is not successful because costs are not being fully covered.

Also I can’t remember how many childminders there are in Richmond and Kingston but so far they have 16 ‘signed up’ of which ‘some’ are full agency members with the rest buying services such as training workshops at £25 each. So hardly a success then in the grand scheme of things. I wonder who is paying for the rest of the costs, because it just does not add up.

We do of course know why the Government are pushing for childminder agencies – it is all about saving costs for Ofsted through fewer inspections as in theory it would be one inspection for the agency, saving say 19 – 39 individual childminder inspections. With the other aim being to help get childminders to work together with others, to provide the roll out of the 30 hours and other initiatives.

BUT – so far these aims have not been achieved because most childminders are still registered with Ofsted as individuals, and so no real reduction in the number of ofsted inspections, plus each childminder is still independent and so making their own decisions about which of the Government initiatives they offer.

As it says in the heading – Do the Maths.

Before I finish, I just want to say a word about membership organisations.

Membership organisations offer incredible value for money, they offer support and have staff available to answer phones; they offer training both online and face to face, some free and some that you pay for; they offer websites with lots of up to date information – and most important (in my opinion) they give childminders a voice in public and in meetings with Government; they offer local meetings and forums where you can meet with others to share information and advice; you can buy things like professional items such as attendance registers and other documents, or insurance – but you don’t have to, you can just be a member for support, information and that very important voice.

There are big organisations such as Pre-School Learning Alliance and PACEY, and smaller organisations such as ICM-SE – each has its own unique selling points, so take a look and see which one suits you and consider joining one – or maybe like me join more than one.

Support services are very important and membership of any of the organisations works out at pence per week,  so a lot less  than even the subsidised rates of agencies or the cost of support services they provide.

There are also a lot of companies and individuals who provide training, consultancy, even home visits  (suggest you look at  here    NEYTCO link if looking for these trainers and so on)  which you can buy as and when you want or need to, and which you can book together with others in your locality or through you membership organisation to make even more cost effective.

I am sure the support offered by childminder agencies is great, and if you can get it free or at subsidised rates – go for it ……. but there are lots of other options, none of which have the ‘option’ of giving up your Ofsted registration or once you have grabbed the carrot of free or cheap support, changing the terms and conditions.

However, I think most childminders (who after all run successful small businesses) have enough common sense and business knowledge, to know a good thing when they see it, and to identify when something is not as good as it seems.

And it would seem despite the push by Government and the funding to 4Children, that most childminders are keen on the idea of support and professional development, but not on what is now called ‘full membership’ of childminder agencies.


Posted February 22, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

An upset parent after nursery assessment   2 comments

Readers of my blog will know my views about excessive assessment of young children and the tick box culture we now have within early years, and they will know that I refuse to do written assessments on the children UNLESS my in my head assessments say I have a concern that the child may need support in one or more areas. When I say concern, I don’t mean the child is choosing not to do something at a particular moment in time, but the child is unable to do something / is significantly delayed in something.

Most readers will also know that I now have just one funded two year old in my care, who attends for his 15 hours of funding. And for the record I do not have any concerns about this two year old – yes his speech is a little delayed but he has made significant progress with his speech since he first started attending my setting, he speaks in sentences, his words are mostly clear, he can express his needs, and he uses speech in his play both when playing alone and with peers; and so I know that he will ‘catch up’.

This little boy has just started his planned transition in the school nursery, they do not offer two year old funding, and so he is just doing one afternoon a week which mum pays for to help him settle before he starts accessing his three year old funding at the nursery after Easter. At this point (after Easter ) he will leave my setting.

The nursery setting used to be a pre school based in the school grounds but now has been taken over by the school – however most of the pre school staff have been employed by the school and they have a lovely new classroom within the school and their own outside space.

My own children went to the pre school, and many of my minded children over the years, so I am well known by the staff. In addition the brothers of my current minded child also went to the pre school and mum has always been very happy in the past.

So imagine my surprise this morning when mum asked if she could have a word about the parents evening she had attended last week at the nursery. I could see she was upset just mentioning it, and so I asked her to come in rather than chat on the doorstep.

Mum explained that nursery had done some assessment on her child and had reported development was delayed in several areas and was cause for concern. She said both her and dad had attended and they were shocked at what they had been told.

Mum said, ‘I know you would have told me if you had any concerns, and I know our handover chats and the information in the diary, and the photo’s you take don’t indicate any concerns – but can I discuss with you what nursery have said and ask you your opinion. Mum was trying hard not to get upset while talking, and I could see she was also rather annoyed.

Naturally, I agreed to listen and to give my opinion

Based on just THREE 2.5 sessions, the nursery had assessed the child as follows

  • He only repeats the last thing said to him, so concern he has a speech difficulty.

Yes, he does repeat things a lot, but he also forms his own sentences and uses words in his play. As an example this morning we are going upstairs to use the bathroom, he repeats ‘Let’s go for a wee’ BUT then he says on seeing the dog’ Max going upstairs. Max running’ Then when the dog goes out of sight ‘Max hiding. Where has Max gone?’

I could give hundreds of other examples – but I think this one example from this morning demonstrates that my observations are different to the nurseries.

  • He does not sit still and can not concentrate

Not sure where this comes from and can only assume that he is still settling and not yet used to the environment or activities / experiences on offer. When last at my setting (Tuesday) he play with a set of number puppies for over an hour sitting more or less in one place on the floor – he lined the dogs up, he counted them, he moved them in and out of the basket, he ‘fed them’ some wooden threading fruits, he barked for the dogs, re lined them up – need I continue. As well as the puppy play, he played with the duplo for over 20 mins, threaded the wooden fruit getting 10 pieces on the lace, sat reading some books to himself, and watched Gruffalo’s child with interest, laughing and joining in with some of story.

  • He does not play with construction toys

This one made me laugh and I reminded mum of all the photo’s I had shown her of her son playing with wooden blocks, duplo (including Toolo duplo) and magnetic polydron – all very complex and detailed and prolonged, especially with the magnetic polydron. And if that was not enough, today we had a play date at my colleagues setting and he played cooperatively with another child building a model with wooden blocks together. (I took a photo and showed mum and dad when they collected the child).

So what is going on?

I completely understand that the child is still settling at nursery and that I have lots of evidence from the last six months


– WHY has the nursery not spoken to me about the child

– WHY have the nursery not asked mum if she has any info from my setting (she does – his daily diary)

-WHY did nursery feel it was appropriate to try to assess the child after such a short time in nursery?

In my chat with mum this morning, and both mum and dad this evening, I explained that it is all part of the reason why I campaign; as it is the governments tick box requirements and the governments belief that children should all develop in the same way, at the same time  – and in nice straight linear lines.

I also explained that the nursery now not only has to  worry about what Ofsted will say, they have the pressure from the school to assess the children and prepare them so they are ‘ready for school’ by the time they are 4.

It is all so wrong, how many parents would on hearing this sort of negative feedback about their child be upset, be worried, be concern enough to implement formal activities such as pre reading and pre writing (and most likely on some sort of electronic gadget)? How many would remove their child from the nursery and try another one – with all the associated attachments issues – only to find that their child did no ‘better’ in the other setting?

I have to ask what is the point of this sort of assessment before a child is even 3?  In this case it has led to a very upset mum and dad and …..

……. for the first time to me feeling guilty that I am retiring from childminding because I wanted to be able to say to this mum and dad ‘Don’t worry he can access his 3 year old funding here if you want him to’

But of course he can’t because I won’t be a childminder next term.

There is little I can do to change things at the nursery other than give the parents confidence to challenge the nursery and to provide evidence that their son is actually doing very well in the grand scheme of things.

However, it does reiterate to me that it is not time to put away my soapbox yet.


Seems others think the same as me – in the news today (12/2/16)




Posted February 11, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

My Celebration Event   2 comments


Saturday 30th April 2016


Central Birmingham, close to all three Birmingham train stations

Venue Details

The Studio, 7 Cannon Street, Birmingham, B2 5EB


9:00 – 17:30 (However, very informal so can arrive late or leave early, if need to)

Who should attend?

Anyone who has a professional interest in the well being of young children

Anyone who has met me, read about me or read my blogs

Anyone who has signed a petition started by me

Anyone who thinks the Government are through their policies taking young children on the wrong educational journey

Childminders; people who work in Pre schools, nurseries, children’s centres or schools; foster carers; people who work for children’s charities or organisations: people who provide training or advice to those who work directly with young children


£35 – to include all refreshments and a two course hot lunch

Need to stay overnight?

There are plenty of hotels near the venue, however quite a few (including me) are staying on Friday night at the Premier Inn near New Street Station – and we are planning a bit of a get together!

Don’t need to rush home after the event?

A few of us are planning an after event get together to continue our discussions and networking, not sure where yet but it will be close by.


Programme for the day?

Please Note – Subject to change as all speakers are providing their contribution for free and may have to withdraw or change time and / or subject of their contribution


9.00 – 9.40                   Arrival and refreshments

9.45 – 11.15                Session one – Let’s start at the very beginning

Setting the scene – Penny

Secure attachments – Anne Gladstone

Starting school (well Kindergarten) – Penny

Links to Frobel, Steiner, Montessori – Richard House

First ‘school’ report – Penny

Firm foundations through play not academia – Sue Palmer

Moving to Worcestershire – Penny

Transitions – Beth Thomas

Thoughts from the room?


11.15 – 12.00              Refreshments / Making connections


12.00 – 13.00              Session Two – In an English Country Garden

A different sort of school and home life – Penny

Outside play – Kathryn Solly

Testing bad enough at 11 – Penny

Why we should not test at 4 or 5 or 6 but support transitions into school and to being more independent – Liz Bayram

My early childminding carer  – Penny

Thoughts from the room?


13.00 – 14.00              Lunch


14.00 – 15:30              Session Three –  Finding my voice and an unexpected chapter from an unlikely source

My ethos – Penny

Developing and sharing that ethos – Sally McGowen and Jennifer McQuillan

Quality in Early years – Penny

Overcoming barriers  – Laura Henry

More Great Childcare / Ratio’s  – Truss bringing us together to speak with One Voice – Neil Leitch

Working Together across the sector and organisations – Wendy Ellyatt

Thoughts from the room?


15:30 – 16.00             Refreshments / finishing all the tasks


16.00 – 17.00             Session Four  – Thinking Outside the box

The achievements of one woman who had an opinion, who enlisted the help of others – and found many others on similar journeys – Penny

Why? and How? are so important –  Sue Allingham

Sharing through writing and training –  Rebecca Martland

Joining together to achieve more – Tricia Wellings

Thoughts from the room?


17.00 – 17.30            Session Five – The End?

As one door closes, other doors open for me, and many others – Penny

Thoughts from the room? – Open Mike!


 How to Book?

Please copy and paste, and fill in the reply slip below

Please send to Penny Webb 105, Chaffinch Drive, Kidderminster, DY10 4SY OR email to


I would like to attend the celebratory event on 30th April 2016




I enclose a cheque for / have transferred the full cost of £35

I enclose a cheque for / have transferred £10 as a deposit and will pay the remaining £25 by 1st March 2016

Please make cheques payable to Penny Webb

Transfer to my account       14269181                     Sort Code 09-01-31


Receipts will be issued via email, so if posting reply slip please provide an email address for receipt to be sent to or if prefer a stamped addressed envelope.

Any Questions?

Email me


I really hope that you will be able to attend, to network, to share information and of course to celebrate my retirement from hands on childminding



Posted February 10, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues