Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Amy Boyd (CF 59)

1) I am an experienced nursery-based early years practitioner, qualified to level 4 (CERT EYP) and studying towards a degree in my spare time. I live in Bristol which offers employment opportunities in truly excellent nursery schools and children’s centres – including National Early Years Teaching Centres. However, in recent years much has been done to raise professionalism in childminding and accord it the same status as other early years provision, and thanks to this, last year I chose to become a childminder in order to provide the significant care, learning and development benefits that the scale, security and flexibility of the home environment offers babies and very young children. I am extremely concerned that the flawed proposals throughout More Great Childcare will undo advances in childminding provision and damage outcomes for children in all early years settings.  

2) The areas of concern that relate directly to the Children and Families Bill are the proposals for childminder agencies and agency Ofsted inspections.

3) The stated aims of new childminder agencies are either unfeasible or duplicate work already done by local authorities. For example, the report intends that agencies will help childminders and parents by providing a matching service so that parents will not have to "to investigate prospective childminders to check they are happy to entrust their children to their care".(p12) However, in my professional and personal experience parents will without fail want to meet with childcarers, as well as draw on individual Ofsted reports and references from other parents, before they feel comfortable with leaving their child in that person’s care.

4) Local authorities already help parents find potential childminders in their area by maintaining a list of childcare providers and providing parents with it on request. They also currently support childminders in other areas mentioned as a remit of the proposed agencies: When I went through the registration process I benefitted from information, support and training from local authority support workers every step of the way. I am now looking forward to developing my practice through five short courses between now and June, as well as a childminding conference with a keynote speech from experts on the characteristics of effective learning. In the near future I would like to enrol on my local authority’s well-respected quality assurance scheme – the Bristol Standard. All of this training is directly improving my practice as an educator of very young children, and I would not be able to access it if I had to pay for it through an agency.

5) There is a section of the report that asserts ‘Ofsted role duplicated by local authorities’ (p24), but the support that I described in the last paragraph is not within Ofsted’s remit. However all of it DOES directly drive up the quality of care and learning provided by childminders. The report also claims that local authority involvement in training etc "can also divert resources from where local authorities can add most value – ensuring that the most disadvantaged children receive early education and childcare that meets their needs." Again, my local authority already does this very successfully and staff that understand the needs of the local community recruit childminders to the ‘Enhanced Provision’ scheme; assessing their suitability through their experience, qualifications and Ofsted grade before interviewing them, inducting them and then providing continued support once they begin to care for vulnerable children. The report asserts that local authorities retain money that could be spent on the "front line". (p24) I would argue that money invested in childminders continuous professional development IS being spent on the front line, since children will take the benefit of high quality home-based care and education with them to nursery and school. Rather than discarding these established systems and spending time and money rushing to introduce childminder agencies, then surely the most sensible approach – in terms of both financial and human resources – is to ask local authorities that are successfully supporting quality improvement to mentor any local authorities that need to develop their service?

6) The plans to end individual Ofsted inspections are also very concerning. The report states: "Each individual childminder is inspected every three or four years, usually for only around three to four hours. There is no question of the desirability of a thorough inspection regime for childminders, but it is less clear how far the current system drives quality." (p24) When you consider that the inspector is just observing one practitioner, and the associated paperwork related to a handful of children, and then compare this to the inspections over one or two days of group settings with multiple staff and large numbers of children, then childminder inspections are at least as thorough. I cannot see how agency inspections will improve on this: If Ofsted only inspects the agency and a sample of childminders, then in order to maintain quality the agency will need to introduce its own supervision systems – thereby creating the second arbiter of quality that the report states it seeks to avoid. Furthermore, the report states that agencies must be ‘self-funding’ – therefore either paid for by parents, in which case the proposals will not bring down costs to parents as they claim, or they will need to be funded by childminders - whose operating margins are already so tight that they will not be able to sustain this. Therefore this agency model involving ‘support at a price’ and less Ofsted involvement seems more likely to risk the quality of care rather than drive it upwards.

7) The report states that joining agencies will be optional, but childminders are concerned that once the agency inspection model becomes established, the costs of individual inspections will rise exponentially from the current level and become out of reach of individual childminders, thereby removing any practical choice from childminders, and by extension, from parents – who may prefer to have an individually inspected childminder care for their very young child.

8) There are many other concerning aspects of the report that suggest a misunderstanding or mis-reading of the evidence around the issue. For example, a footnote on page 7 states that: "there are two main types of childcare provider for young children in England: nurseries and childminders. Nurseries are organisations providing early education and childcare delivered by multiple members of staff. Childminders are self-employed individuals who provide childcare, usually in their own home." Childminders do not just provide ‘childcare’ as the footnote claims, they provide ‘education and childcare’ through the EYFS just as staff in group settings do, and it is a fundamental principle of the framework that they should do so in order to provide parents with a wide choice of quality care. The report also describes childminders as ‘lagging behind’ other providers. Ofsted’s figures show 61% of childminders are graded good and 10% outstanding, just 3 three percentage points lower than group settings.(1) Surely the passion and commitment and expertise delivered on behalf of children by childminders, working independently for modest financial reward, deserves to be recognised and applauded, rather than denigrated?

9) The only clear, consistent message of the proposals is one of driving down the costs to government, in which the good work of the EYFS in raising professionalism and equality across the early years sector is a casualty, and which risks outcomes for children as a result. I urge the committee to call for these proposals to be put on hold until any financial savings to government have been weighed against a thorough analysis of the social and financial cost to children, families, and those who work with them.

Amy Boyd

1)http://m.nurseryworld.co.uk/article/1162939/NCMA-takes-Ofsted-task-claims-childminders-not-job (Accessed 14.3.13)

March 2013

Prepared 22nd March 2013