A Day in London to speak at a Westminster Briefing – 19th April 2016   Leave a comment

The pre-amble (skip this if not interested)

A couple of weeks before the 19th April, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in speaking at a Westminster Briefing on ‘Developing & Supporting Your Childminder Workforce: Strategies for Success’

Before anyone thinks ‘Wow Penny’ – I should point out that I was second choice – but still it was a real honour to be asked.

So after my usual self-doubts, and seeking opinion (to boost to my confidence) from a few close colleagues, friends and family – I decided to say YES – and then me being me – went into a complete meltdown around my ability to do it.

Still time was short and I had to write a biography and send it ASAP so it could be included in the conference handouts. I also had to think on my feet of some words to describe myself – because of course I can no longer say I am a registered childminder. I came up with ‘Penny Webb; Campaigner, Volunteer and advocate of registered childminding’. Thinking about it a bit more, I need to change that a bit because it does not mention advocating for children, so over the next few days, I will be reflecting a bit more and will come up with a strapline that covers it all. Still in the time I had, and for the event in question, I think the strapline (in bold above), said what it needed to say.

Then of course there was the presentation!!

I really did not have a choice as Westminster Briefings provide memory sticks to everyone who attends with all the presentations and other information.

Trouble was I did not know where to start and how to cover the impressive but slightly terrifying title of my bit – in just 20 minutes.

‘Examining the future of Government policy and the sustainability of childminding’

More panic, more self-doubts, more asking friends, colleagues and family.

My husband Garry said ‘Stop panicking, you can do this’ and then when I said ‘But the room will be full of experts’, he replied ‘You will be the expert in the room’ Seriously ME?

My colleague Carol said ‘Just condense some of your blogs’ –  Yes, good idea Carol but I have written so many blogs – which ones should I condense?

Close professional colleague said words of encouragement like ‘You need to have confidence in yourself – you know your stuff’

 

Time ticked on, and there was not much time in the first place to complete this task – plus I had lots of other things on my ‘very urgent to do list’ which were causing yet more panic in the Penny’s Place household. So me being me, I knew I had to finish some of those other tasks, otherwise I knew I would not be able to focus on my presentation. This meant getting up in the very early hours of the day for several days in a row to complete some of the other tasks – including sending out receipts and information to all of those who had booked to attend my celebration event at the end of April 2016

Finally by Sunday 17th April, I had done enough of the tasks on my ‘urgent list’ to clear some headspace, and so started on my presentation. I managed to set up the slide format, the title page and the last page with my contact details – and then floundered!

So I got up in the early hours of Monday 18th – deadline day to send my presentation to the organisers of the event. As I had no choice (other than letting everyone down and not going – which is just not my way of doing things) I knuckled down and in two hours had it more or less completed – by completed I mean the slides on the Powerpoint – no notes, no detail (not even in my head) BUT I was feeling a bit better about things, and thought that I could actually do this. For reassurance I sent my presentation to Carol – she came back with ’You have more or less covered it’.  Garry when shown it said ‘You seem to have plenty of points to talk about’. So while I felt ‘good’ about it – I emailed it to the organiser. A few hours later I got an email back to say it looked ‘great’

Roll on to the morning of Tuesday 19th April, after just two hours sleep, I was up at 4.28am and catching up on some of my ‘to do list’. By 6am I was ready and set of on the walk to the train station – all these trips to London (and therefore walks to the station) must be doing me good, because I have reduced the time it takes to walk to the station from 45 mins to 30 mins.

At the station I got a surprise!

There on the platform is a neighbour (whose child goes to the same school as one of my foster children), so I went over and we chatted – it seemed we were both heading to Marylebone station and we both had conferences that ended at more or less the same time, and both had tickets for the same train home! So we agreed to sit together on the journey, and to meet at the station for the journey home.

I have to say it was lovely to have someone to chat to and it made the journey seem shorter (even though the train was slightly delayed)

My neighbour and I said goodbye at Marylebone station, and I headed straight to the underground, as due to train delay, I was now short of time to get to the venue. I am now so much more confident on the underground – and I prepare better (in my bag I had a note book with all the details for the day, include which tube I needed, the changes I had to make and the route from final station to the venue.

The actual event (welcome to those readers who skipped the pre-amble)

I arrived about 10 minutes after registration had opened, I was warmly welcomed, given my badge and conference pack, and then shown to the event room. I was given a brief explanation about the day and my part in it. I put my bag near the chair on the front table that had my name on it (and those of the other morning speakers). No going back now!

I grabbed a quick coffee and a pastry, before going back to room to get ready and to try to do something about my nerves. I was introduced to the other speakers and we chat about things related to the day (this did help stop the nerves overtaking me).

 

Before I knew it we were all being asked to take our seats so that we could make a start. I have to say that I was disappointed (although also relieved) that there were not that many people in the room. I have attended other Westminster Briefings where there has been well over 100 people in the room – today – including the speakers there were less than 30 in the room – and one or two people were not present that I had been told would be there – representation from Ofsted and DfE.

Rebecca Griffin who is Media and Campaign Manager for Family and Childcare Trust chaired the meeting and so did the domestics, introduced the morning speakers and said a little bit what we were here to discuss – pointing out that although there were presentations it was very much a two way discussion with opportunities to ask questions and give feedback.

If you want to read a bit about Rebecca Click on link for her Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-griffin-31b88633

If you want to know a bit more about the Family and Childcare Trust – click on this link https://www.linkedin.com/in/rebecca-griffin-31b88633

 

The first speaker was Sarah Read from 4Children – it was supposed to be Sue Robb but apparently she had chosen to attend another event – so Sarah was doing this one.

If you want to read about 4Children please click here http://www.4children.org.uk/

 

Sarah’s presentation was called ‘A New Era for Childminding’. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am not a fan of the whole Childminder Agencies agenda and in fact have been activity challenging the Government about this for around 4 years. Childminder agencies became a legal reality in 2013 – so it made me smile to read the title of Sarah’s presentation.

However, I need to make it clear, my opinion and comments are not about Sarah personally, nor do I think the presentation was necessarily based on her personal opinion, as she was just doing her job. In fact I have to applaud Sarah because her presentation was factual and she did not try to make things out to be better than they actually are.

As always I am not going to give full details of any of the presentations, nor did I make any notes – so this is just my recall, from memory of Sarah’s presentation.

There are still just 8 Childminder Agencies registered – and some of those have a way to go before they are ‘up and running’. Even those that are up and running are finding it hard to recruit existing childminders to become Agency Childminders, although there are a few that have taken this decision. A few have recruited new people to take through the registration process – but even the first agency to register – the St. Bede’s one is hardly a ‘success’ so far. The numbers speak for themselves – from my in the head calculations around 100 childminders / prospective childminders from  across the whole country – in the almost three years since Childminding Agencies have been a legal option.

It was clear to me and to nearly everyone in the room that Childminder Agencies are struggling to get going – despite the funding given to 4Children to help promote the idea and to give support to those wanting to set up a Childminder agency.

It was also clear that the agency model is just not sustainable. Sarah provided a case study based on the Leap Ahead agency based in Richmond and Kingston – you do not need a Maths GCSE to work out that the fees being charged by agencies such as the Leap Ahead one do not add up. It is clear that in the long term without other income strains or clever use of other budgets such as training; or shared (or even free) use of buildings; or staff paid through doing more than one job – childminder agencies will not be sustainable. One person in the room, did have an interest in starting up an agency to support her setting with the roll out of the 30 hours and she was seeking reassurance that it would be financially viable. She did not get that reassurance from either Sarah as the presenter – or from those in the room.

The next speakers were a double act from Kent – Sandi Mortimer who works for Kent Council and is the Early Years and Childcare Partnership and Integration Manager and Gwenderlyne Southhall who is a Quality Improvement Manager for Prospects – who have provided services to childminders on behalf of Kent County Council since 2015.

Sandi spoke about what they are doing in Kent to support childminders and to stop the fall in numbers as last year Kent had a higher % decline in numbers of registered childminders than the national average. She also spoke about the support for those wanting to register and those wanting to offer the funded places. Kent has over 1200 childminders with just over 400 providing funded places.

Kent have a wide range of training and support packages available – including their ‘Threads to Success’ package (which Sandi had a copy of to show people in the room).

Gwenderlyne spoke about the things are doing – some of which I really liked the idea of – such as working with Children’s Centres – telling about childminders and even inviting staff to visit childminders so that staff are able to explain the benefits of childminders to parents, and signpost to childminders with vacancies.

She also spoke about their free briefing sessions – so people can make an informed decision before starting the Start Up Course.

They also use local information to ensure they have capacity – but also so they do not recruit more childminders in areas where there are already enough childminders (nor open new group settings).

Gwenderlyne explained that Prospects are using social media – such as their own Facebook Group to ensure information is easily accessible – and shared. In addition they also have a voluntary Peer to Peer support scheme.

Kent feel it is important to encourage different business models and new ways of working, and are removing barriers that used to stop childminders accessing support in the same way as group settings.

 

By now it was 11.50, and so Rebecca as Chair of the meeting decided we would have a comfort break – for which I was very grateful, as I was the next planned speaker.

During the break I checked with another speaker about how to use the computer provided, visited the ladies restroom – and had a coffee. During the break several people came up to me and said how pleased they were to meet me – and that not only did they read my blogs – they agreed with just about every word I said. This did my confidence the world of good.

And so at aprox 12.05, Rebecca introduced me – and I just had to ‘do it’. I still had no notes and not much in my head in the way of a plan – but of course I did have lots and lots of personal opinion and previous ‘stuff’ in my head from things I had read, things I had discussed with others, and things I had written.

 

I spoke about the past– about Childminding Networks; and how many hoops childminders had had to jump through since EYFS 2008 came in; about the variations that are still in place in EYFS 2014 between childminder settings and group settings.

I spoke about the present – about childminding agencies; the roll out of the 30 hours; the reduction in childminder numbers but recent increase in number of places in childminder settings; the changes to Tax Credits; the rules meaning that childminders can not offer funded places to relatives including own children and grandchildren; the requirement to work in partnership – but that this was often not really partnership.

I spoke about the future – about wanting a graduate or early years teacher in every setting – and about not valuing those graduates and early years teachers who run childminding settings; I spoke about my thoughts that a lot of what the Government are doing is to try and bring in the 1:13 ratio’s – so more children in schools, more formal activities – and from a younger and younger age. I made it clear that it is not about children being in schools it is about what happens in those buildings; Finally, I spoke about childminding agencies and why I though peer to peer support including that via national organisations, local organisations and even social media were more beneficial. I concluded that childminders do want / need support but that childminders do not want to lose their independent Ofsted registration and they do not want to pay for things they do not need – and prefer to pay for things as and when they need them. I suggested that there is a future for registered childminding but that childminding was changing and to be sustainable childminders would have to be adptable.

 

As I went to sit back down there was a round of applause.

Next we had ‘Question Time’ which Rebecca facilitated. No one had a direct question for me, but I was able to add a childminders perspective in response to questions asked to the other speakers.

 

Lunch followed – I managed to find a couple of sandwiches which I liked and also had a banana and a rather nice mini Treacle tart. During lunch I talked to several people, and had in depth conversations with a couple of people. The concerns in the room about the future of the early years sector and in particular childminding were huge.

After lunch I sat at a table in the main part of the room as of course there were other speakers for the afternoon session.

One of the afternoon speakers was a childminder called Maisie Collin who is also a Early Years consultant. Maisie came over to say hello, we spoke about my blog (Maisie reads it as well) and Maisie’s success at the Nursery World Awards a couple of years ago. (Maisie – if you are reading this, I am really sorry I did not get to say goodbye to you or to congratulate you on your presentation)

 

Rebecca started off the afternoon by introducing the afternoon speakers.

First up was Gill Holden who is a Senior Quality Improvement Officer for Calderdale MBC. The main focus of Gill’s presentation was about their peer support scheme, which is working really well – in fact Gill said that the childminders currently involved have said that even if the funding for the scheme disappears they would still like to be involved as they find the training and support so useful.

Gill explained how they recruit and train the support childminders and their role. Some in the room were surprised that the support childminders do home visits, but Gill said both the support childminders and those being support found this aspect of support to be very beneficial.

An interesting point was the phone survey carried out by Gill and her team – as they all worked late one evening and managed to make contact with 93% of the childminders in the area. I know from my own experience that this sort of success rate is hard to achieve if you phone in the day time – so maybe something others could think about doing.

Some other benefits for the support childminders are ID badges, DBS, supervision and standardisation.

Gill also spoke about Calderdale’s ‘Children Come First Childminding Network (good to know there are still some running) They have 48 approved network childminders with more going through approval – and a waiting list of 18. I find it really interesting that this one network has almost as many childminders associated to it as ALL the childminder agencies put together. Says a lot I think.

Gill then spoke about the impact of the Network and the Peer support scheme on the quality of childminding in Calderdale – including the outcomes of Ofsted inspection.

 

Next up was Maisie Collins – Maisie spoke about the decline in childminder numbers from the perspective of a Hackney childminder.

Many of the points had been covered in the morning session but Maisie had a couple of very important extra points to make. One is the time it is taking to obtain a DBS, and the fact that some cannot wait the average time of 7 months and have to look for other employment. The time for DBS is not such an issue in my area – and in fact I have recently had some done for volunteering roles that came through very quickly. Therefore I am grateful to Maisie for raising this concern as I can see it will have a huge impact.

The other point Maisie made (as well as reinforcing the points made in the morning) was about the shortage of suitable rented property in London, the cost of renting – and the fact that not just childminders but also young families are often given notice in preference of young professional people without families. It is a particular issue for childminders who have larger settings and employ assistants.

Maisie also mentioned the level of funding from Government as it is a huge issue for London based settings with some already unable to offer funded places – and many more saying the roll out of the 30 hours will mean that they either can’t offer the funded places or will have to close their settings. Again I am grateful to Maisie because although I am aware of this issue from my London based colleagues, and my engagement on social media – I had not made the connection between the levels of funding – and the rental issues.

 

Next was question time – there were quite a few for both Maisie and Gill. Rebecca then asked everyone for suggestions about things she could raise with the Government departments she works directly with. There was general agreement in the room that Government need to rethink the roll out of the 30 hours, that they need to actively promote childminding as an option to parents, pointing out the unique benefits but also the fact that childminders follow the EYFS and can provide funded places. It was suggested that a little funding could go a long way in the right hands – and that if childminding agencies agenda was dropped that the time, effort and money put into this could be better used.

 

Rebecca then brought the event to close, everyone said their goodbyes, but a few lingered in the room, including me. I spoke to Rebecca and offered to stay in touch and to do whatever I could, to advocate for registered childminding – including attending meetings.

 

I also spoke to Kay, who told me my presentation was the most refreshing, enlightening, measured cm perspective she had ever heard. Thank you Kay – I hope others thought so too. Your comments certainly made me feel good about myself as I headed off to catch my train.

 

Post Westminster Briefing Comments

I did meet my neighbour at Marylebone, we enjoyed a coffee together before catching the train home. We were both tired but it was good to talk about our totally different days – and as a bonus I was able to signpost my neighbour to my blog (which she was not aware of).

I have to say that back home it was really good to read through the documents given out, and to view the presentations on the memory stick given out to everyone as they left.

So would I do it again – put myself through the stress of speaking at such an event?

YES, I would, it was beneficial to me to hear others speak, there were excellent networking opportunities – and I hope my presentation gave people things to think about.

 

Maybe, just maybe – new opportunities to advocate for childminders, and for the well being of children will now come my way – as one door closes maybe others will open?

 

 

 

 

 

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