The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, flagged up one or two issues such as the survey. The survey was intended to inform our understanding of what barriers might be preventing early-years providers from using an existing flexibility that is already there for three-to-four year-olds. We wanted to know why that arrangement, which would no doubt have come in under the noble Baroness’s Government, was not being used. Social media was used for that; it is a cost-effective and quick method of gaining some responses that might help to inform that. It was limited; it was live for just under a week and received 260 replies. The department will have a look at that as part of its ongoing work. It was looking at why the existing flexibility was not used.

I reassure the noble Baroness and other noble Lords that the Childcare Act 2006 provides a framework for the regulation of childcare which prescribes the detail in secondary legislation subject to the negative resolution procedure. These powers contain a simple but effective safeguard in that there is already a requirement that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education must consult Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills and any other appropriate persons before making welfare regulations. The existing process achieves the right balance between an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny and taking into account the views of providers, parents and other interested parties.

I hope that I have reassured noble Lords on the key point that the Government are not proceeding with the proposals which were initially put forward. It is important that all these areas should be looked at, addressed and considered, so that we see what their implications might be. However, in the light of that decision not to go ahead, I hope that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment and be reassured about those ratios.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I thank the noble Baroness for her response and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for their contributions. The Minister’s response on the principle of something like this going into primary legislation was pretty much what I thought it would be. However, she did not quite answer the point about

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why the Government think some issues can be in primary legislation but not this one. However, the Minister did not just quote what the Minister, Elizabeth Truss, said rather ambiguously on 11 June, but on two occasions she said—I have written it down and will check in

Hansard

—that the Government,

“do not intend to proceed”,

with these changes and, “are not proceeding”, with the previous proposals. That is a bit more definitive. I will check those quotes in Hansard, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this point.

Amendment 235 withdrawn.

Amendment 236 not moved.

Clause 74: Childminder agencies

Amendment 237

Moved by Baroness Morgan of Ely

237: Clause 74, page 51, line 10, at beginning insert “If, after a consultation period of not less than three months, and the publication of a response to the consultation, the Secretary of State is satisfied with the provisions, he may make an order so that”

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): I will speak, on behalf of my noble friends Lady Jones and Lady Hughes, to Amendments 237, 239 and 240 in their names.

I have listened patiently for weeks to the deliberations of this Committee and have been very impressed with the standard of expertise and knowledge. I have been asked to speak to these amendments relating to childminders and childcare agencies because, when we started to discuss this, I became very animated. I felt that noble Lords were all at the grandparent stage while I am still at the mother stage. Having served as an MEP, rushing off to Brussels every week while my children were very young, and now abandoning them again to come to your Lordships’ House, I confess that I am utterly dependent on my childminder, Margaret. There are hundreds of thousands of other parents in the same situation. We all, of course, want the best for our children. We need to feel confident that they are in a safe and secure environment, especially if we are not there to protect them. Getting this right is critical, not just for the well-being of the children, but for the peace of mind of countless parents throughout the land and to ensure respect for the profession.

I will focus on the issue of childminder agencies, as mentioned in Clause 74. It is essential that a high standard of care is maintained and important to note that there have been many improvements over the years. In 2008, the early years foundation stage was a welcome development in the professionalisation of childminders, leading to increasing standards and better qualifications. However, I remember watching my own childminder despair at the paperwork that mounted up; a new and challenging part of her job. The purpose of this clause is the introduction of agencies which would take away the paperwork burden and allow childminders to concentrate on what they do best.

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At first, encouraging childminders to join agencies might seem like a sensible suggestion, as these agencies can give advice, share best practice and provide a useful network as well as lessening the burden of paperwork. The problem is that, however competent the agencies are, much of the paperwork involved is about observation, assessment and planning for the individual child. So I am not quite sure what they will bring to the party, other than an extra tier of bureaucracy and significant additional cost. This goes directly against the Government’s recently published paper

More

Affordable Childcare

.

These costs will, inevitably, be passed on from childminders to parents, adding to their burden. Childcare costs are one of the key issues causing the cost of living crisis under which so many are currently suffering. In addition, as this is a dramatic departure from the current system, it would make sense to wait until this proposal has been properly piloted and consulted on, prior to putting it in the Bill. We seem to be putting the cart before the horse here. This is the general gist of what we are trying to address with Amendment 237.

On inspection, childminders are currently inspected by Ofsted, operating under the early years foundation stage statutory guidance. I want to probe further what the Government are suggesting in new Section 51D of the Childcare Act 2006:

“Inspections of early years childminder agencies”.

The new system would allow childminders to register with, and be inspected by, a childminder agency, rather than by Ofsted. Ofsted would not be responsible for assessing the quality of care of the individual childminders registered with the agency; rather, it would inspect the quality and support provided by the agency.

My concerns are threefold. If the nature of your private business—the agency—is to attract more people to use your service but you are at the same time policing the people who pay you on the quality of the service that they provide, there is a clear conflict of interest. Paid, privatised regulation should be regarded with a degree of suspicion. Is there not a chance that standards of care will be reduced if agencies are inspecting their own people? How can the Government ensure standards when individual childminders are not inspected? We all know the pressures that Ofsted is already under. In time, it is likely that fewer and fewer individual childminders, signed up to agencies, will be spot-checked.

Under the current system, the costs of inspection are borne by the local authority. In future, these costs will inevitably and dramatically fall on parents. The costs of childcare are already seriously impeding many from returning to the workforce, in addition to putting immense pressure on already hard-pressed families. Is the Government seriously suggesting that, in future, they will have to cough up significant extra money to pay for childminders to register with an agency? We are creating a two-tier system, and a lack of reference in new Section 51D to individual childminders being inspected seems to underline this. Amendments 239 and 240 draw attention to this two-tier system, and ensure that all childminders are treated equally, with no temptation for the agencies to cherry-pick which childminders they inspect.

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The introduction of a two-tier inspection system could dramatically increase the cost of childcare for already hard-pressed families. Before launching into such dramatic changes which have not been well tested or consulted upon, surely we should see if they work through properly constructed pilot programmes which are endorsed by the profession and by the parents they impact on. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I have considerable concerns about this clause, which is why I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill, to initiate a probing debate. As I understand it, the Government’s objectives are to recruit more people to childminding, to improve quality and to make childcare more affordable for parents. Those are all laudable objectives with which I have no argument. I am yet to be convinced that these objectives will be achieved by setting up for-profit childminder agencies. I realise that it would be voluntary for childminders to sign up to an agency. If that was where it ended, that would be all very well. However, I fear that the existence of these agencies could affect non-participating childminders, parents and children. That is of great concern to me. I am aware that pilots are being carried out, but this measure will be in place before they have reported. In addition, when the pilots are assessed will that assessment cover just the agencies themselves, how many childminders they sign up and how satisfied the parents are, or will it go wider than that and study whether there has been any adverse effect on other early years provision in the area?

7 pm

I will take the Government’s perceived objectives in reverse order. First, I cannot for the life of me see how this measure will make childcare more affordable for parents. These are profit-making organisations and they will have to set up a whole administration system, provide quality improvement services for childminders and comply with all the regulations. To pay for all that, they will either charge childminders to be registered or charge parents a percentage of what they pay the childminder. Both options will fail to cut costs for parents since childminders are low paid. If they pay the agency, they will have to pass on the costs to parents by increasing their fees. Alternatively, the agency will have to pay the childminder less if they are to keep the cost to parents the same. Childminders cannot afford to accept less money for their services. The average childminder only earns £12,200 per year and has no paid holidays or sick leave. They may earn much less than that.

Let us look at recruitment. I have to accept that it is possible that a new recruit to the job might be attracted by an agency that offered help in setting up the new business, getting registered and trained, and complying with safety regulations. However, good local authorities already do this for childminders so there is really no need for profit-making agencies to take over the role. It is the fear of many childminders, most of whom have declared that they are not interested in signing up to an agency, that, in places where there are several agencies, the services to independent childminders offered by the local authority will be severely depleted

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because of issues of scale. They will eventually be forced into agencies against their will. They are independent small businesses who decide when and how long to work and how to go about things, within the safety standards and the early years foundation stage. Those who have been in touch with me say they really do not want to be told what to do by an agency. Childminding will only become more attractive as a profession when they are paid more, but the agency proposal does nothing to achieve that.

Finally, on the most important issue of quality, I am very concerned that Clause 74 requires Ofsted to inspect only the way the agency supports its childminders—and a sample of its childminders. Since inspection is now moving away from local authorities and exclusively into the hands of Ofsted, parents will rely even more than they have done on the conclusion of an Ofsted inspection when choosing a place for their child. How can a parent be sure of the quality of an individual placement if it has not been inspected? On what basis would parents be able to rely on the judgment of an agency? Why should an outstanding childminder sign up to an agency that has only a satisfactory rating?

It seems to me that handing the responsibility for ensuring quality to the agencies is simply a way to take it away from local authorities, many of which have great expertise in assessment and improvement services—but could always do more. Replacing the successful Ofsted registration system for childminders with a fragmented combination of local and national inspection systems risks undermining standards, lowering the professional status of childminders and reducing the transparency of information on quality for families. Broadly, it is difficult to see a long-term future for a fragmented early years inspection system that hands responsibility for certain aspects of inspection to providers themselves. Some high-performing early years systems operate successfully with regulation devolved to local authorities, but there are no examples of privatised regulation. This is an approach that the Netherlands, whose example the agency model is based on, stepped back from after quality problems arose.

I can see only one possible advantage to parents, and that is when their usual childminder falls sick and cannot work. In that case, an agency may be able to provide a replacement at short notice. However, most childminders already belong to networks and often have friends in the business who can help out in an emergency, so even that is not a unique selling point. Why are we rushing to legislate now when there really is no evidence that this will be advantageous to parents or children?

I accept that many, although not all, foster parents are currently found by agencies. However, fostering is a very different situation. Foster parents are inspected by the local authority and have a close relationship with it. In the case of childminders and agencies, they would no longer have that, which causes me a lot of concern.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I want to ask the Minister how the vision and the application of this proposal will work together. The Government

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have a laudable wish to increase the level of childcare that is available to families—mostly women who find themselves unable to work because they do not have good childcare arrangements. The Government want to provide good quality childcare and ensure that the costs are manageable. They want to reduce bureaucracy and provide a focus for childminders so that they can share some of their understanding together. I appreciate the last point in relation to agencies, but the others I find very difficult. I cannot see how the solution fits the vision.

On transparency, I share the views of other noble Lords, which is that anyone who has been involved in inspections—noble Lords know that I have been a regulator in at least three different agencies—knows that asking a regulator to inspect its own is fraught with danger. That is my major concern with regard to ensuring that child protection issues are picked up. We know how easy it is, as they say, to consume your own smoke within an organisation. Transparency and protection issues in all this would be difficult.

It has been demonstrated that the increased costs would, in the end, increase the cost of childcare for families. Some childminders are already extraordinarily expensive. The childminder employed by my niece—who I brought up as my daughter and who has the equivalent of my grandson—is extremely expensive. That is because she is confident that the care is of high quality and meets the right timeframes for her. I would like the Government to find a solution to some of the issues they have identified that matches the vision which I believe they have for the care of children when mothers need to return to work in order to increase their own opportunities.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, to the Grand Committee. It is very helpful to have a parent who is bringing up her children taking part in the Bill and it was good to listen to her tribute to her childminder, Margaret. I am also grateful to the Minister for hosting a meeting on this matter. The discussion was useful, and it was particularly helpful to be reminded that childminder agencies will be one way to help childminders feel less isolated. I have visited childminders in the past. They were part of childminder networks which they found very useful. They would meet regularly and take on training together. That is the positive side of this.

I want to encourage the Government to be open-minded in terms of how they develop childcare in this country. Perhaps I may highlight the value of nursery schools and other things that the Government are involved in, but I should voice my concern that an over-emphasis on private provision may not be helpful. After all, the cost of this provision is in the pay and training of the women—and it is women—who do this work. Historically, it has been very difficult for these businesses to make a profit. These nurseries have found that they just do not get enough bums on seats and therefore it is costly to run the whole business which means that they have to drive down price by cutting training or pay. We know that pay in nursery care has historically been very low indeed. The risk is that by having too much provision in the private sector

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we will move towards something which may not be much cheaper but may be inferior in quality. From memory, the turnover of staff in nursery schools is about 4% whereas in some of the large private providers the figure can be 14% or 15%. I recall that the latter offer quite a different setting. It is so important that our young children have continuity of care and that their professionals stay around for them for long periods. There can be stagnation but in general we want that long-term relationship with the carer.

I conclude with a quotation from Childcare Markets: Can They Deliver anEquitable Service?, edited by Eva Lloyd and Helen Penn. Professor Penn states in her summary:

“The key question is whether the childcare market is a reliable and equitable way of delivering childcare. For neoliberal countries, the risks and complications involved in allowing entrepreneurs to provide childcare are either unrecognised or deemed acceptable—or a combination of both”.

I think this was what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was referring to—the possible extra costs of placing more emphasis on the private sector. Professor Penn continues:

“In other countries where there is a childcare market, it is carefully controlled and generously funded, and although there may be many kinds of provider, the type of funding and the regulatory framework means that for-profit companies have limited room to manoeuvre. In yet other countries the childcare market is altogether unacceptable, and the government takes on the responsibility for providing childcare”.

Given that we are having a clause stand part debate, I remind the Government that a range of options are available and they can benefit from taking a very active role in this regard. Professor Penn concludes that there are,

“limitations and tensions in relying on the childcare market. Viewing childcare as a commodity to be bought and sold undermines equity and quality, and regulation has to be comprehensive and wide-reaching in order to try and compensate for these failings”.

This also speaks to the concern that has been expressed about relaxing inspection in these new arrangements. I do not consider that I understand the area sufficiently to be particularly critical or to be either for or against what the Government are proposing but I encourage us all to be as open-minded as possible in this area.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: Will the Minister answer two questions given that the statement of policy intention talks about the 20 childminder agency trials that are now up and running, with which the Government are testing this idea? In summing up, will the Minister say how many of the agencies in the trials are private sector companies as opposed to local authorities or voluntary organisations? Do the Government have any knowledge or evidence from anywhere else in the world of private sector companies being given responsibility for the regulation and inspection of childcare providers?

Lord Nash: My Lords, I would like to speak to the group of amendments including Clause 74 stand part, Amendments 237, 239, 240 and government Amendments 240A to 240Q on childminder agencies. As regards Clause 74 stand part, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue. There are superb childminders right across the country, but their numbers have fallen

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significantly in the past 20 years. Through the introduction of agencies we aim to increase the number of childminders in the market, and provide an affordable, high-quality service to parents. This is enabling legislation. Childminder agencies will be voluntary. No childminder will be forced to join an agency. However, some childminders, especially those new to the profession, may want to take advantage of the support that agencies can offer.

Securing high-quality outcomes for children is central to the agency concept. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, the chair of Ofsted, told us when we met with Peers last week that when childminders work together, there is a clear improvement in quality. Ofsted regards this as a way of professionalising the sector and driving up standards. Ofsted will play an essential role in ensuring this through its inspection of an agency—including, for example, observing a sample of childminders registered with the agency to make sure that the agency is providing a high-quality service.

7.15 pm

Affordability of childcare is a growing concern for working parents. Agencies will be able to operate more cost efficiently by reducing administrative burdens on individual childminders and helping them to fill their spare places. This and increasing the number of childminders will help make it more affordable for parents.

Amendment 237 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes of Stretford and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would delay the coming into effect of the childminder agency provisions until after a period of consultation. We already have plans for consultation on agencies. During the course of the passage of the Bill through the other place, my colleague the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs committed the Government to consulting on the key requirements for registration for agencies, and we will bring forward plans to do so in due course.

On the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley about piloting, we are supporting trials and will disseminate the learning so that others who may be interested may follow. No one will be forced to set up or join an agency. Twenty organisations are participating in these trials, including local authorities, schools, children’s centres, nursery providers and private companies. Of the 20 trials, six are private businesses, eight are local authorities and two are academies.

I will take the second question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, away, but I know that fostering agencies, which will probably be many of the organisations concerned and cover a large proportion of the fostering market, are expected to secure the quality of their carers. We do not expect Ofsted to visit every one.

Baroness Walmsley: Can my noble friend the Minister answer my question about whether the assessment of the pilots will include looking at the effect on the rest of the childcare provision in the area of the pilot?

Lord Nash: I will attempt to answer that question in a minute. All the organisations I mentioned are getting involved to explore new and innovative ways to deliver

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the quality childcare that parents and children need. There will be a full evaluation of the trials with a first report early next year, including the difference they make in the local markets. Moreover, key requirements for registration will be set out in regulations and subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way.

Amendments 239 and 240 seek to make all childminders registered with early years childminder agencies subject to individual inspection by Ofsted. However, we believe Ofsted will have sufficient powers to inspect early years providers registered with an agency. First, the Bill contains provisions that will enable Ofsted to inspect early years provision by those registered with an agency, as part of its inspection of an agency. Secondly, Ofsted retains its existing powers of entry to any registered childcare premises to determine whether providers are complying with requirements imposed by the Childcare Act 2006. If there are concerns about an agency-registered childminder, Ofsted will have the power to go in and investigate.

That is not dissimilar to the process for other organisations subject to Ofsted inspection. School inspections do not observe every teacher but instead observe a sample, although they pay close attention to the arrangements in place to secure good safeguarding. That is the approach we wish to see. We are working closely with Ofsted to develop a robust registration and inspection regime for childminder agencies to make sure that agencies are providing a high-quality service to childminders and parents. We expect Ofsted will consult on its inspection framework later this year.

A key feature of the agency model is that the agency rather than Ofsted is responsible for monitoring the quality of provision and compliance with registration requirements for its childminders. It is the agency that is responsible for communicating the outcome of monitoring evaluations to parents. The intention is for agencies to help remove some of the burdens that childminders currently face. It does not make sense for agency childminders to be subject to two separate inspections by different organisations. Agencies will be required to monitor the standards of care being delivered by the childminders they register and will be able to help childminders with training, business support and advice, and in finding parents needing childcare. They will also be a valuable service for parents who want to find a high-quality childminder. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, to withdraw her amendment and the other noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, not to push their other amendments.

I turn to government Amendment 240A. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations about the suspension of a childminder’s registration by a childminder agency. Amendment 240A seeks to make clear that those regulations must provide for a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal for any childminder whose registration is suspended and should be included in the Bill.

Government Amendments 240B to 240Q seek to amend the disqualification regime set out for childminder agencies in the Bill. Safeguarding will be paramount,

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and agency-registered childminders will be subject to the same checks as independently registered childminders. However, agency staff who are involved in marketing support, for example, will not be caring directly for children. These amendments are required to ensure that the Government can make appropriate disqualification provisions for those who apply to register as, or work in, childminder agencies, which are in line with the roles that they will play and mirror the approach taken by similar bodies.

Amendments 240B and 240C will therefore amend the Bill so that the consequences of disqualification from registering as a provider relate solely to the delivery of childcare or any direct concern in the management of childcare provision. Amendments 240D to 240L will make corresponding amendments to the Bill so that the consequences of disqualification from registering as an agency relate solely to the running of an agency, in the sense of being involved in the management of an agency or working in an agency in a capacity which involves visits to childminders’ homes. Amendments 240M to 240Q are technical amendments which are consequential on those I have outlined above. They amend provisions concerning powers of entry to the premises of a childminder agency and offences by corporate bodies. Amendments 240B to 240Q should be included in the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, withdraws her amendment, as I assume she will, I will just make a point about the Minister’s analogy that not every schoolteacher is inspected by Ofsted, but a sample from the school. We have a very different situation here. Childminders are working on their own, behind closed doors and on their own premises. Teachers in schools are all on the same premises and their work is quite visible and open to everybody to see. When I did my teaching practice, I was in an open-plan laboratory and my supervisor was the other side of the bookcase. It was terrifying. The fact is that it is very easy to know, in a school, if a teacher is not doing the right thing or is just not up to standard. It is not the same thing at all and I really would not accept that analogy.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, I thank the Minister for addressing some of those issues. I would like to pick up on a number of them. First, he suggested that childminders working together makes sense. Yes, absolutely that makes sense, but informal networks exist already. Local authorities are doing a lot of this work already. It also seems very odd that we are still in the middle of a pilot and are putting something into the Bill when we have no idea whether it will work. Even if it does, the sample we have is just six private companies out of 20. When the whole point of this is the suggestion that we move to a private sector approach, having just six out of 20 does not seem to make much sense.

The Minister mentioned that Ofsted can inspect any of these childminders. The question is: will it? The cost of inspection according to Ofsted is £701 per childminder visit. That is quite a lot when Ofsted is already under pressure financially. I am very disappointed

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that the Minister did not address the issue of the conflict of interest, because that is absolutely fundamental. If a private provider inspects childminders who are paying it, there has to be a conflict of interest. At this time of austerity, when people are really up against it financially, to suggest that costs will come down is fairy-tale land. The assumption that the Minister makes is that a childminder does not have enough children, and that they can go to an agency that will have a whole pool of children they can pick up. That is unlikely to be the case because we know that there is already a shortage of childminders. The probability is that costs will increase for childminders and they will pass that cost directly on to parents. That concerns me but—

The Earl of Listowel: What would stop the Government from injecting funds into local authorities to enable them to build more networks? Rather than going down the agency route to bring these childminders together, what obstacles would there be to a push to enable more local authorities to build on the networks they already have? Why would that not meet the Government’s aim of building the capacity of childminders?

Lord Nash: I will take that away. My first thought would be that we have not got any money at the moment. Secondly, the assumption that the public sector can run things more efficiently than the private sector is one that I would probably disagree with on principle.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 237 withdrawn.

Clause 74 agreed.

Amendment 238 not moved.

Schedule 4: Childminder agencies: amendments

Amendments 239 to 240 not moved.

Amendments 240A to 240Q

Moved by Lord Nash

240A: Schedule 4, page 175, line 21, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations by virtue of subsection (1) which make provision about the suspension of the registration of an early years provider or a later years provider with a childminder agency must include provision conferring on the registered provider a right of appeal to the Tribunal against suspension.”

240B: Schedule 4, page 178, line 17, leave out sub-paragraph (3)

240C: Schedule 4, page 178, line 24, leave out sub-paragraph (4)

240D: Schedule 4, page 179, line 32, leave out “member,”

240E: Schedule 4, page 179, line 32, after “of” insert “, or partner in,”

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240F: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, leave out “or otherwise work for such an agency.” and insert “be a member of the governing body of such an agency, or otherwise be directly concerned in the management of such an agency, or”

240G: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, at end insert—

“(d) work for such an agency in any capacity which involves entering premises on which early years provision or later years provision is being provided.”

240H: Schedule 4, page 179, line 34, at end insert—

“(1A) No early years childminder agency or later years childminder agency may employ a person who is disqualified from registration by regulations under section 76A in any capacity which involves—

(a) being directly concerned in the management of an early years childminder agency or a later years childminder agency, or

(b) entering premises on which early years provision or later years provision is being provided.”

240J: Schedule 4, page 179, leave out lines 35 to 40

240K: Schedule 4, page 179, line 41, leave out “(2)” and insert “(1A)”

240L: Schedule 4, page 179, line 41, at end insert—

“( ) A person (“P”) who contravenes subsection (1A) is not guilty of an offence under subsection (3) if P proves that P did not know, and had no reasonable grounds for believing, that the person whom P was employing was disqualified from registration.”

240M: Schedule 4, page 181, line 33, leave out “member,”

240N: Schedule 4, page 181, line 33, after “of” insert “, or partner in,”

240P: Schedule 4, page 181, line 34, after “agency,” insert “a member of its governing body or otherwise directly concerned in the management of the agency,”

240Q: Schedule 4, page 183, line 20, at end insert—

“ (1) Section 87 (offences by bodies corporate) is amended as follows.

(1) In subsection (1) for “This section” substitute “Subsection (2)”.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(3) Subsection (4) applies where any offence under this Part is committed by a partnership.

(4) If the offence is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any partner, that partner (as well as the partnership) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”

(3) In the title, at the end insert (and partnerships”.”

Amendments 240A to 240Q agreed.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.


7.30 pm

Clause 75: Inspections at request of providers of childcare to young children

Debate on whether Clause 75 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this is a probing debate because we now have a very new and different Ofsted framework for early years settings. Local authorities will no longer inspect them, although they will retain their duty to help improve quality, based on the Ofsted verdict. There is some confusion as to whether Clause 75, which allows settings to pay for an additional

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Ofsted inspection, only applies to early years providers operating on non-domestic premises. That would exclude childminders and, I think, Sure Start children’s centres. I hope that the Minister can clarify this point because I have received two different interpretations from the sector.

Referring back to our debate on Clause 74, it occurs to me that childminders who are signed up to agencies but who are not chosen in the sample of those to be inspected by Ofsted when they inspect the agency, may wish to ask and pay for an individual inspection in order to establish their own standards. Can this be done? I am doubtful about how many childminders would want to pay for an inspection if the Government decided to extend the provision to them. They are not highly paid and may not be able to afford it. A small nursery setting might also find it a burden. How much are the inspections likely to cost? We do not want to add to the running costs of settings, in order to avoid them putting up the price of childcare for parents. Could settings that did not previously have a “good” Ofsted rating make quick improvements and ask for another inspection? This might give them an advantage over other settings, since normally the inspectors turn up without notice. However, if you have just made improvements, ask to pay for another inspection and then the inspector comes along exactly when you are expecting to see him, that gives an advantage.

How often can settings ask for a paid-for inspection? Can they keep on going until they get to the quality they are looking for? The Secretary of State is against multiple GCSE entries; is he also against multiple Ofsted inspections?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the aim of this clause is to enable early years providers to request and pay for a reinspection from Ofsted outside the normal inspection cycle. We are aware of the impact an Ofsted inspection rating can have on a provider. Both reputation and the ability to offer funded early education for two, three or four year-olds will be affected. This could, in turn, have a dramatic impact on the viability of childcare provision, as much early years provision is run by private, voluntary and independent organisations.

We need to ensure a balance between maintaining high standards of provision and encouraging providers to make swift improvements in quality. While we recognise that Ofsted has introduced changes to its inspection framework for group providers from 4 November 2013 so that providers who receive “requires improvement” or “inadequate” ratings will be reinspected in six to 12 months, there are a number of providers, for example those judged “satisfactory” prior to 4 November, who will not benefit from these changes immediately and may wait a number of years for the opportunity to be reinspected, regardless of having made improvements much sooner.

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The intention behind this clause is to enable providers to request a paid-for reinspection at an earlier date, should they wish to do so. This opportunity to demonstrate improvement sooner provides an incentive for providers to make improvements at a swifter pace. We appreciate that it would be unworkable if every provider requested and was given an early reinspection. That is why the Secretary of State, working closely with Ofsted and others, will set out in a remit letter the conditions under which such reinspections can take place. For example, we intend to have a minimum time between inspections to ensure that the provider has had an opportunity to make the necessary improvements. The situation will be kept under review and further conditions will be introduced if necessary.

My noble friend asked about costs. The fees will be set out in secondary legislation and the amount will be decided based on further negotiation with Ofsted and in the light of any consultation with the sector. Ofsted has indicated that the cost of childcare inspections is likely to range from around £700 for an individual childminder to £1,500 for group settings. Individual providers would need to decide for themselves whether or not paying for an early reinspection is worth it financially in terms of generating future additional income. I remind my noble friend that it is of course entirely voluntary. On her analogy with endless GCSE resits, I would say that costs could be a factor.

My noble friend also asked about the scope. It will include childminders and childcare within a Sure Start children’s centre. It does not include inspection of children’s centres’ wider functions. Childminding agencies could request reinspection, but not the childminders registered with them. If that does not sufficiently clarify, I am happy to write to my noble friend in answer to any of her questions. I hope that she has been reassured as to the intention of the clause and that she will be happy to allow it to stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank my noble friend for her reply. As I said at the outset, this is a probing debate. The Minister has clarified one point about the scope of the application of this power to request another inspection. As I say, I have had briefings from two different groups, one of which said that childminders were not included and the other that they were. Having said that, I cannot imagine many childminders forking out another £700; they just cannot afford it. Of course, I am sure that we would agree that it is far better to provide a high-quality service and get a good inspection rating in the first place. My noble friend has clarified some of the issues and I am satisfied enough to withdraw my opposition to the clause.

Clause 75 agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.37 pm.