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.

BUT HANG ON

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

4 responses to “The Push for Childminding Agencies – Do the Maths

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  1. shared the heck out of this, great blog Penny.

    theyrenotyourteeth
    • Thank you.

      I think it is time people did the Maths and realise that we are being led up the garden path and not told the real reasons why the Government keep pushing this agenda

  2. Great article, personally I would rather pay for my inspection once every five years than join an agency and potentially hand over my business to someone else.

  3. Great overview Penny.. What a waste of money.

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