Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Children's Bureau (CF 73)

Summary
1. This submission relates to Part 4 of the Children and Families Bill, and more specifically clause 73 (childminder agencies) and clause 75 (duty to assess the sufficiency of local childcare)

Clause 75 - Duty to assess sufficiency of local childcare

2. Clause 75 of the Bill would remove the duty on local authorities to carry out childcare sufficiency assessments every three years (section 11 Childcare Act 2006).

3. Two duties relating to childcare sufficiency were placed on local authorities in the Childcare Act 2006:
- Section 6: Duty to secure sufficient childcare for working parents
- Section 11: Duty to assess childcare sufficiency

It is the latter which is intended to be repealed through clause 75 of the Children and Families Bill.

4. NCB believes the data received from childcare sufficiency assessments is critical to understanding whether a local authority is meeting its duty to secure sufficient levels of childcare provision. Repealing section 11 would convey a message to local authorities that assessing and securing sufficient childcare is no longer a priority.

5. In March 2013 NCB carried out a survey [1] to ascertain the views of its early years network members on childcare reforms proposed in More Great Childcare and the Children and Families Bill. In response to question 7 on childcare sufficiency, 60% of 205 respondents raised concerns about the removal of the Section 11 duty, with many rhetorically asking how local authorities would be expected to continue to secure sufficient childcare without it. Given that local authorities will still be obliged to provide an annual report to elected members on levels of local childcare, there will still be an expectation for sufficiency assessments to be prioritised. However, many respondents noted that without the duty in place, local authority funding and posts would be cut and there would be a greater reliance on second hand information to gauge sufficiency e.g. Ofsted inspection reports, Family Information Service data.

Evidence tells us that local authorities are not always meeting their duty to secure sufficient childcare.

6. Several recent research studies have highlighted the lack of sufficient local childcare to meet the needs of children and families.

· The evaluations of the pilot of free education for two year-olds [2] and the provision of free education for three and four year-olds [3] identified a chronic shortage of high quality places for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

· Daycare Trust reviewed the 2011 childcare sufficiency assessments of local authorities in London. Its most recent London Childcare report [4] identified that out of the 33 local authorities in London:
- 13 lacked sufficient suitable childcare for disabled children
- 9 lacked sufficient suitable childcare for children aged 0-2.
- 8 lacked sufficient suitable childcare for children aged 3-4.
- 16 did not have sufficient holiday childcare to meet demand.

· Percentage of Local Authorities in England and Wales reporting in 2012/13 that they have sufficient childcare in their local area [5] :

England

Wales

Under 2

20%

25%

3 and 4 year olds

53%

38%

5-11 year olds

31%

13%

12-14 year olds

16%

0%

Disabled children

14%

0%


7. With local authorities having to secure free early education for disadvantaged two year-olds from September 2013, it is imperative that they continue to be subject to clear duties to assess the quality and availability of local provision. Otherwise an already challenging situation, exacerbated by funding cuts at local authority level, will deteriorate.

Local authority early years teams are vital in securing sufficient, high quality childcare
8. Local authority early years development teams are key to effectively assessing and securing sufficient childcare. They provide an integral role in supporting nursery settings and childminders to improve the quality of their practice, and the experiences of young children in their care [6] . Local authority early years development workers provide continuity and proximity at ground level; through regularly visiting nurseries and childminders they build extensive local knowledge about local provision, which can be used to support parents to make childcare decisions and to ascertain when gaps in the quality or quantity of places arise.

9. The Government’s ‘More Great Childcare’ report outlines proposals to make Ofsted the ‘sole arbiter of quality’ [7] . Government is yet to provide further details about its intentions around the respective roles of Ofsted and local authorities in early years quality improvement, and the implications of these plans. However, NCB is concerned that identifying Ofsted as the ‘sole arbiter of quality’ will lead to local authorities weakening many of their essential early years quality improvement functions. We recommend that any extension in Ofsted’s remit should complement the quality improvement role that local authorities are already undertaking, rather than trying to replace it.

10. If the duty to assess sufficient childcare is removed and local authority early years teams are reduced, it will undoubtedly impact on local authorities’ ability to meet their duty to secure sufficient childcare.

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Clause 73 - Childminding agencies

11. Schedule 4 which sits behind clause 73 provides that childminders registered with agencies will no longer be subject to individual inspections by Ofsted. Instead, childminder agencies would be inspected by Ofsted, a process which could include inspection of a sample of an agency’s registered childminders.

12. To ensure that all children are provided with high quality home-based care, NCB believes it is vital that all childminders, irrespective of whether or not they are registered with a childminder agency, continue to be individually inspected by Ofsted.

Ofsted inspection process keeps children safe and promotes their well-being
13. Childminders have been regulated by Ofsted since 2001, and for the past eight years have been judged against the same Ofsted inspection criteria and standards required of all early years providers. Having a national inspection framework in place has ensured that a consistent approach to inspection is applied to all early years providers, including childminders. This has helped to professionalise and raise the status of childminding.

14. NCB is concerned that children’s welfare will be put at risk by removing the requirement for all individual childminders to be inspected by Ofsted. It has been proposed that each childminder agency will have its own system for assessing the quality of childminder provision; this will lead to variations in the quality of monitoring and may have a detrimental impact on childminder practice and the safety and well-being of children. NCB believes that proposals to stop the individual inspection of agency-registered childminders will lead to the quality of childminder provision becoming a post-code lottery.

15. Maintaining current inspection regimes would not be onerous; most childminders are only inspected every three years.

Judging all childminders against the same criteria helps parents choose high quality care
16. A Netmums/NCMA survey [8] found that 75% of parents may not choose a childminder without the reassurance of individual inspections.

17. Parents use Ofsted inspection grades to help them choose childminders that will offer the highest quality care. When a childminder registers with an agency, they will be obliged to relinquish their registration certificate and latest Ofsted grading. In making important childcare decisions, all that parents will have to go on is the agency’s grading and recommendations for local childminders.

The proposals could create a conflict of interest for childminder agencies
18. The quality of childminder agencies, as assessed by Ofsted, will be based upon the agencies’ own evaluation of their registered childminders – creating a potential conflict of interest. The individual inspection of childminders should therefore be maintained to ensure this situation does not arise.

NCB/NCMA research on the value of childminding networks
1 9 . In 2005, NCB in partnership with the National Childminding Association carried out a research study [9] on childminding networks. The report highlighted what childminders identified as the factors that made networks successful in improving their practice such as a dedicated co-ordinator with childminding experience and the opportunity to take childminding specific training at times suitable for them.

20. Childminders that took part in the research study felt that being part of a network had raised their self-esteem, and increased parental confidence in them.

21. NCB believes that the expansion of childminding networks, through focused and systematic support from central and local government, would effect the same improvements as childminder agencies without adding an expensive extra layer of bureaucracy.

April 2013

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB)

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is a leading research and development charity that for 50 years has been working to improve the experiences and life chances of children and young people across England and Northern Ireland, especially the most vulnerable.

We play a strategic support and leadership role across the sector by:

• initiating partnerships and projects, for example, [children’s play, disability, life skills, and youth justice that aim to improve the lives of children and young people]

• sustaining the effectiveness and efficiency of over 30 key specialist networks, including the Council for Disabled Children, the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, the Early Childhood Forum, Anti-Bullying Alliance, Play England and the Childhood Bereavement Network

• championing the use of evidence, and the involvement of children and young people, to shape and improve national policy and local services

• building the skills, knowledge and networks of front-line practitioners and voluntary groups working with children and young people

Every year we reach more than 100,000 children and young people through our links with organizations including local authorities, children’s service providers, academic bodies, schools and voluntary organisations.

For more information visit www.ncb.org.uk


[1] National Children’s Bureau (2013) More Great Childcare – Survey of NCB early years networks http://ncb.org.uk/media/911228/_more_great_childcare____survey_of_ncb_early_years_networks_final.pdf

[2] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) Early Education Pilot for Two Year Olds. https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DCSF-RR134.pdf

[3] National Audit Office (2012) Delivering the Free Entitlement to Education for Three and Four Year Olds. http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/education_for_3-4-year-olds.aspx

[4] Rutter J with Evans B (2012) 2012 London Childcare report. London: Daycare Trust http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/data/files/publications/49/London-childcare-report-2012.pdf

[5] Daycare Trust/Family and Parenting Institute (2013) Childcare Costs Survey 2013 http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/data/files/Research/costs_surveys/Childcare_Costs_Survey_2013.pdf

[6] NCB hosts the National Quality Improvement Network, which supports the quality improvement of early years provision at a national, regional and local authority level. We would be able to brief further on the role of local authorities and Ofsted in improving quality of provision .

[7] Department for Education (2013) More Great Childcare. London: Department for Education (page 36)

[8] Netmums and NCMA (2012) Childminders – the parents views of using and choosing childminders. http://www.netmums.com/files/Childminder_survey_report.pdf

[9] Please contact NCB to receive a copy of the report. NCB and NCMA (2005) Children Come First: the role of approved childminding networks in changing practice.

Prepared 19th April 2013