Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Abigail Pollard (CF 90)

Dear Sir,

I would like to add my comments to the consultation on the Children and Families Bill.

1. I am an Outstanding Ofsted registered childminder with 10 years of experience caring for young children as a childminder and a total of over 25 years experience as a nanny and nursery nurse as well. I hold the NNEB diploma, and am Montessori trained, and to refresh my qualifications and skills, I completed the NVQ 3, Diploma in Home-based Childcare, with an A grade. I attend regular training courses, and read up on latest thoughts and ideas in professional journals & websites.

2. The areas of the Children and Families Bill about which I have most concerns are - ratios for early years children, childminder agencies and qualifications for early years workers.

3. Ratios for early years children

3.1 We are told by experts that children, and young children in particular need to develop strong bonds with the adults who care for them, as this supports their learning and development, and enables them to grow to fulfil their huge potential. They need space to move in, to ensure they develop physically. They need caring, supportive, loving adults with time to listen and talk, to encourage listening and language skills on a one-to-one basis. If ratios are increased, there will be less time, space and energy for an adult to devote to each individual child. Therefore the young children and babies will be adversely affected by this.

3.2 In the current economic situation, alot of childminders and nurseries throughout the country are struggling with sustainability as there are fewer children accessing paid for childcare. If settings can care for more children, that reduces the number of children ‘available’ and will threaten the viability of other settings. I am also concerned about WHERE all these children who need care are coming from! I am in a rural area – the demand is not high, and if a local preschool increased their numbers, I could quickly lose my business.

3.3 Another concern with an increased ratio is the safety and well being of all the children. The children’s toileting needs, emotional well being and individual needs must all be met, as well as playing with the children! One adult to six 2 yr olds in a nursery setting is a scary thought. Even if there were two staff members to twelve 2 yr olds, some children may not have any meaningful interaction during a session, as staff will be taken up with the caring routines. It does not matter HOW qualified a staff member is, no qualification gives you an extra pair of arms or eyes.

3.4 Childminders can already increase their ratios for continuity of care in exceptional circumstances, and there is a procedure to follow to ensure every child will be safe and that their educational outcomes will not be affected. We write a risk assessment, considering the impact of the changes for all the children and ensure it will not lessen the care, love and attention any child receives, or the outcomes for any child. If the ratios are increased, I am concerned that the outcomes for children will suffer.

3.5 In the same way, I am concerned about the removal of the ‘floor space’ allowance. Children need space to move around in, to play and to move away from a busy area for some quiet time, or time alone. More children in the same size rooms or smaller rooms will adversely affect their learning outcomes, as they will have less room in which to grow and develop.

3.6 As a childminder I currently care for 3 children under 5 years, in fact, generally I care for 3 children under the age of 3½ years. We go out and about in the community and local area; we explore the villages, the woods, the parks, the beaches, museums & castles, experiencing the changing seasons, listening to nature and investigating everything and anything that catches our attention. We also take and collect children from school and visit local groups and childrens centres. We are well known and have made many friends on our travels. We use public transport, walk and use the car. I am able to keep the children safe on outings as I know each child well and have robust risk assessments in place. I am concerned that more children per adult will lead to greater risks whilst out and about, as it is hard enough to keep an eye on 3 children! There is also the cost implications of a childminder needing to buy bigger cars, bigger pushchairs, more car seats, which could mean that children are not taken out of the setting so often, or they are at risk. The increased cost to childminders having to buy these items may then get passed on the parents, which would not reduce the cost of childcare.

3.7 Ms Truss is suggesting that by caring for more children, settings will be able to reduce the cost of each childs care to parents. This will not be possible, as each child will still require time spent on individual learning plans and diaries, food and drinks, heating & lighting, water, toys, equipment, resources. The childminder will need to pay for Ofsted registration fees, public liability insurance, and registration with the information commissioner’s office. As well as the costs incurred by running a car. I also have the costs of outings and toddler groups and the time and money I spend researching, making and /or buying resources to suit my current minded childrens interests, to ensure that my home is an exciting, stimulating place to be. I also pay to keep my training current and to ensure that it is relevant. Childminders already earn less than the minimum wage per hour per child, and alot of childminders do only have one or two children per hour to care for, and not even all day every day, as the number of children requiring care in some areas is very low. Some childminders only earn £2.00/hour per child, and it is out of this income that everything else has to be paid. After all my expenses are taken off, I only earnt a small amount above the personal tax allowance in the last tax year, this is despite working more than 40 hours a week. Ms Truss is trying to turn childminders into babysitters, not the early years and childcare professionals that we are, and have spent the last twenty years fighting to be recognised as.

4. Agencies for childminders

4.1 There are a number of strongly worded petitions and letters made to government and the Department of Education last year, making it very clear that childminders did NOT want agencies. I understand that it is because of this that ‘More Great Childcare’ says that established childminders will not have to register with an agency and may remain ‘independent’. This will, I believe, create a 2 tier system which will cost more to administrate and just cause confusion for parents.

4.2 I cannot see any benefit to a newly registering childminder that an agency can give, that a local authority, with adequate support and governmental backing cannot give. Many childminders are being left without support as local authority networks are being disbanded; this I presume to lead the way for agencies. But these I don’t believe are required or wanted. Local Authorities CAN provide what is needed by childminders - I am very lucky, North Yorkshire County Council is very supportive of their childminders, offering superb support and training. Our Families information service is great as well, and really helps parents when looking for childcare.

4.3 I am very unhappy about this ‘consultation’. There has been no consultation and we are told that agencies will be piloted in September. We are told that Ms Truss consulted with early years professional, yet every day, we hear that another early years professional, such as NCMA & PLA, have publicly stated that they do not and did not agree with Ms Truss’s proposals and advised her against agencies. However, she has not taken any notice of them. Over 280 comments were left on the government website on the reading of the childcare and families bill in only 12 days, the majority of them were negative. There has been no consultation, despite over 60,000 signatures on petitions against childminder agencies. It has also become apparent that Ms Truss does not want to talk to anyone who is ‘anti’ agencies; in fact, childminders in Northampton were openly asked to only attend a meeting with Ms Truss, if they were in favour of agencies! That is NOT democratic. Letters that have been written to both Ms Truss and the Department of Education are replied to with standard letters, that do not answer any questions, just quote chunks of ‘more great childcare’, and suggest the person who sent the letter reads ‘more great childcare’!

4.4 Agencies are most likely to be run by private companies who will want to make money out of them, or schools/nurseries. Agencies are to be ‘self funding’, yet I have read that they do not expect them to charge parents... so childminders will be paying someone to do something that they have successfully been doing themselves! I very much doubt that an agency run by a nursery will pass much work onto a childminder - just the odd bits that don’t suit them or doesn’t fit into their increased spaces, such as the early hours or late nights that some parents require, and that we, as childminders are ‘meant’ to do, because we are ‘flexible’ and ‘at home anyway’.

4.5 Agencies will be in charge of local training for childminders who are part of the agency and as local authorities are disbanding networks/training/support etc (paragraph 4.2) this will also lead to a 2 tier system where established independent childminders have to pay to access training, which could mean that their Ofsted grading is affected and eventually all childminders are forced to join an agency to access training to gain back their gradings. This could lead to unsupported independent childminders being unable to compete with agency childminders. My great concern here is the emphasis on needing childminders to provide the care required for the ‘disadvantaged 2 year olds’ scheme. Newly registered childminders are unlikely to have the experience and skills required to care for these children, as it is not easy, and as well as caring for, and educating the child, you also parent the parents and provide a good role model of care. Yet, a more experienced childminder is less likely to be part of agency, and therefore may not be asked to care for these children, when it is THESE childminders who are much better placed to care for them an their families.

4.6 Childminders have managed their own successful businesses for many years without the need for agencies. Agencies will lead to resentment and confusion within the profession and may lead to many highly qualified, experienced and respected childminders leaving their vocation. This will lower outcomes for children, as the newly registered childminders will not, as yet, have developed the skills, experience and qualifications of those they are replacing.

4.7 Agencies will control the local market, as if they set the fees for the agency childminders, this will create a 2 tier system, which will lead to independent childminders possibly having to lower their fees. These is then likely to lead to reduced quality of care and education as the childminder may not be able to offer all they wish to offer, or used to offer.

4.8 I have only been childminding since Ofsted have been ‘in charge’ of childminders, and I think childminders have adapted well to the demands made of us. However, constantly changing requirements and Ofsted inspectors who do not understand childminding and how childminders operate have caused difficulties. (childminders told by inspectors that they cannot be graded outstanding as they are not a nursery, childminders having to tick many more boxes than a nursery to be graded outstanding – childminders are often given the action of working with other professionals, especially local nurseries & preschools – I have NEVER heard of a nursery or preschool to be given the action of working with other professionals such as childminders!) A 2 tier system will evolve with agency childminders losing their right to an individual Ofsted inspection and having to take on whatever grade the agency is, and non-agency childminders being unsupported and unable to gain the higher grades their experience should allow them, because they no longer receive training or guidance.

5. Qualifications for early years workers

5.1 having read Cathy Nutbrowns consultation document, I do not think that the early years qualifications structure set out in ‘more great childcare’ is what was suggested. Again, this will create a 2 tier system to confuse parents and staff alike.

5.2 I know many childcare workers who do not have degrees, or even GCSE math or English, yet they are fantastic with the children. Such qualifications are not an indication of someone who can provide the best outcomes and highest quality of care for children. My highest qualification is the NVQ 3. Had I more time and could afford it; I would love to do my foundation degree in early years, and then a whole degree. This doesn’t make me less able to care for children, just because I don’t have it. In fact, I think I am more capable than some people with early years degrees.

5.3 To suggest that someone with an early years qualification in better placed to care for more children is daft. A degree does not enable you to grow an extra set of arms to cuddle and cherish a child, or to change 2 nappies at once, nor does it give you an extra pair of eyes and the ability to run like a cheetah as you spot child A about to launch himself into space. It does not give you extra hours in the day to read stories, play games and sing songs. This change will further put childrens outcomes and safety at risk.

5.4 We need people who love children and want the absolute best for them in everything they do; to care for and to nurture our future generation, as it is THESE children who will discover the cure for cancer, fly to mars and save the environment. But they won’t have the chance if their opportunities are curtailed by the ill considered proposals of ‘more great childcare’.

I hope you take my comments into consideration and help me protect outcomes for the next generation of our children and my livelihood.

April 2013

Prepared 24th April 2013