Wednesday, 9 July 2014


On our way to toddler group this morning we passed under the mature Horse chestnut tree down the lane. Its branches extend out over the road but the trunk itself is in the grounds of a house. The tree is a familiar talking point with the children all year round. We look for the first tight sticky buds in Spring. We have watched the leaves unfurl over the weeks and then marvelled at the flowers as they appear. (If you have never look closely at the Horse chestnut flower you should.) Then we glimpse the first of the husks that will contain conkers, and finally in the Autumn we collect the conkers that litter the driveway of the house. For years now I have walked under the tree with different children as company.

Today I had a conversation with a child very similar in many ways to the conversation I had two years ago. But back then the child was familiar with the tree. She remembered picking conkers with me the previous year. We talked about how I would pick conkers in the Autumn from this tree, and the child would be picking conkers from another tree. This is because she was moving on to nursery so wouldn’t be with me. I was reassuring her that traditions carry on and she would find another Conker tree and collect conkers with Mummy, or even with the children from her new nursery.

Today's conversation was a little different because the child is too young to understand that by the time the conkers start to fall he will be in nursery. And he does not really have the memory of collecting conkers with me from this tree as last year he was tiddly and small. So we picked up a small green husk that had fallen from the tree and gazed at the many husks growing above us and I chatted about conkers, how the leaves were moving in the wind and wondered aloud if there were squirrels in the tree?

Now personally I fully support children going into nursery/pre-school provision. I believe it is right that children can make that progression from a small setting such as mine, with a nurturing environment that gives them the skills they need to make a success of their time at nursery/pre-school. Nursery and pre-schools are a further stepping stone to making that leap into being 'school ready'. Early Years Entitlement/Funded Education/Free Entitlement whatever you want to call it, is there to support children so when they get to school they are indeed 'ready'.

Childminders have been given the impression they have a place in the provision of EYE, an equal place. Indeed it was said that the extended 2 yr old Free Entitlement would fail without Childminders signing up, there just wasn't enough places available to supply the expected demand. The push to ensure there are enough places to provide the extended Free Entitlement for 2 year olds from September 14 has seen many childminders, myself included opting in. Unfortunately things are not as rosy as they should be, and many childminders have discovered that they are being asked to cover the hours that nurseries and pre-schools do not cover.

The problem for childminders is not just confined to the FE for 2 year olds. I had a chat with a fellow childminder a few weeks ago, she had been asked by a parent to provide FE for a little chap she had in her setting & was looking forward to it. We discussed the administrative challenges she was facing, and the fact that funding for the early years entitlement (3& 4 yr old) did not cover her hourly rate, but she was still keen.

The almost invertible has happened, the parent has changed their minds and the child is now going to nursery. The childminder has been asked to pick up & provide an hour or so childcare a day. This happens time & time again. Yes, of course there are childminders out there who have been successful in providing FE and who have provided the Full Entitlement of 15 hours, or the majority of it. There are many childminders I am sure who have a very positive experience of providing FE in conjunction with another setting. But too often Childminders are being seen and used as the inferior provider, only fit to provide breakfast and end of day care, or a taxi service.

I fretted over my decision to provide EYE or not. I worried about being disadvantaged in the marketplace if I didn’t and I worried over the financial implications of a lower hourly rate if I did. I was swayed by the knowledge that I would be supporting families, families that had possibly been with me for some time.  
I think the bottom line is that parents do what they think is right for their children, and what is right for their family situation. I do not know if I will ever be asked to provide FE. I am happy at present to focus on providing the very best childcare I can, for the very youngest children and fully support parents decision to take a place at nursery when the time is right. 
Would I consider providing just 1 or 2 hours of childcare if asked by a parent? No. 
I guess I will be having plenty of conker type conversations in the future.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

weary of all the hype

In 2007 my fee for an 8 hour session of childcare was £28.80. In 2014 my fee for an 8 hour session of childcare is £32. Which is an increase of £3.20, something like a 12% rise over 7 years.

However the news today says that childcare costs have increased by 27% over 5 years. It does not say that figure is an average, so my conclusion is that SOME childcare has increased by 27% (at a guess London). But people will believe the hype.

I will own up. After 3 years of keeping my fees at the same level I will be increasing them soon. An 8 hour session will cost £33.28 from April.

Still not an increase of 27% though.

Friday, 14 February 2014

from bad to fanciful

Troubled thoughts:
The government is systematically trying to destroy childminding as we know it.
Childminder agencies run for profit are not needed and will push up the cost of childcare. The 'pilots' are barely begun, they all seem to have run unique services which means there is no systems testing to ensure Childminder agencies will work.
With Childminders now leaving the profession in droves because of the uncertainty, the latest news is likely to be the final straw for many. Ms Truss may claim the numbers were already declining but as Local Authority support is now so reduced many childminders find themselves alone. There is anger and disbelief that the government is not listening to the childcare sector.

The latest proposals to allow 3 hours unregulated childcare is a safeguarding disaster waiting to happen. All of us who have ever attended Child protection training know this.

With Gove facing a brick wall over changing teachers contracts we now have Ms Truss ideas of expecting childminders to care for pre-school children from 9-3 and then march them to school to supervise a mixed age group of 30 school children till 6 pm. This is the most fanciful idea yet.
Do parents really want their children in 'school' for 9 or 10 hours a day- 5 days a week? At least a toddler in nursery for 10 hours a day can be assured their Welfare is paramount. Toddlers have their individual needs met, their care routines are embedded in the EYFS. Are we to see dormitories added to schools so the tired 5 and 6 year olds can nap?
I suspect the Childminder Agencies will want to tender for the new extended school hours. How will parents feel about their children's care being put out to tender?
Children will end up being in school for longer than their parents are at work. What sort of childhood is that.

Unbelievable? no. The DfE said it intended to amend the regulations in April, with a view to introducing the new regulations in September.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

love glitter

We are well and truly immersed in glitter. It is everywhere.

Christmas comes but once a year, and in this setting it comes with oodles of glitter.

Glitter is fun. Special. Glitter is absent from the setting for about 9 months of the year, a bit like snow. When it arrives it makes the children giddy with anticipation and excited to use it to the full.

One of todays activities was to decorate polystyrene balls using pva glue and sequins, on a tray. I thought it would be fun, but I knew within minutes that this was not a winner. One child backed away in confusion, one child painted the tray with the glue and the other child was very worried about getting the glue on their hands. I had not foreseen how difficult it would be for the children to hold on to the polystyrene shapes.

As no one was enjoying the experience we all ended up in the cloakroom washing hands and playing with the soapy bubbles in the basin. And then all traces of sequins and polystyrene shapes were removed from the playroom.

Thank goodness we still have plenty of glitter.

Friday, 29 November 2013


You may have noticed that I took a break from blogging. I'm back, not that I've been anywhere. I have just been busy and other things have taken priority.

Childminding is quite overwhelming sometimes. The amount of effort it takes to run even the smallest of settings seems at times disproportionate to the number of children 'on the books'. I think it is due to doing everything single-handedly.
People may think that once I close my doors at the end of the week that I have nothing more to do than enjoy my weekend. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its takes 15 minutes to tidy the playroom, deal with the nappy bin etc. Then I carry my planning folder into my office along with the childrens folders and spend the weekend writing observations, cross referencing where the children are in their learning and thinking about the next week.
At the moment I'm also preparing summative 'reports' as we near the end of another term. And I need to write up some notes from a training I recently attended,  and as a result of the training I am reviewing a policy. I say reviewing, what I mean is totally rewriting. I do a lot of research online, anything from formula feeding protocol to the benefits of children being/playing outdoors. The list of jobs is endless. True, not all I choose to do in my own time is completely necessary, but as any small business person knows 'you get out what you put in'. That applies to the children too.


When I last bogged the world of childminding was sitting on the edge of a precipice. We'd lost our Networks, Elizabeth Truss was attacking with calls for the 'French system' and everyone was worried about the quality of childcare as we believed ratio's were about to be eroded. Not much has changed, and then again everything has changed. Childminding Agencies are being piloted in certain areas and will be rolled out next year. There appears to be quite a lot of trumpet blowing about what a great thing a Childminding Agency is. I do not believe a word of it.

Ofsted have also joined in the attack on childcare by 'toughening up' the inspection process. I personally really do not think childcare is of such a poor standard in this country. I have my own little theory on all this nonsense. Its not a matter of raising the bar, its more about moving it so we have to find it again. So Ofsted will inspect using the new Safeguarding, Safety and Teaching criteria. We will see an overall lowering of grades given, but as settings adjust and learn what Ofsted are looking for we will notice a gradual improvement once again in the grades. And soon Ofsted will be able point out how they 'improved the quality of childcare'.


This is the tip of a massive iceberg of change taking place now. The problem is the government is not listening to my professional colleagues, they are too focussed on money and statistics to notice the iceberg will melt, and sink us all.  

I've mixed metaphors. Never mind.





Thursday, 21 February 2013

The writing on the wall

The Children and Families Bill is going through parliament, it has its second reading in the House of Commons on 25th February.

Part 4 deals with childminder agencies.
Incidentally this all comes at the exact same moment that the West Sussex Childminding Networks disappear for good.

Of course these two (networks and agencies) could not occupy the same space. It was on the cards that Networks would be going, although why they disappeared so abruptly is not known.
-And just to make it clear: Networks and Agencies are in no way the same thing, although with some changes the Networks could have taken this role, and after all they were going a good (if financial unsustainable) job-.

Losing the networks has come as a bitter blow to many experienced childminders who relied on the network co-ordinator to support them. Not that childminders needed help with the day to day issues of running their own business, because us childminders run our own small businesses very successfully. Network co-ordinators helped with advice on which training or qualification to go for next, dealt with the cascading of information from ECS, they also provided encouragement to childminders to continue reflecting on their practice, and they assessed childminders before they became FE childminders. Network co-ordinators also supported newly registered childminders by matching them with an experienced childminder to be their 'buddies'. Since their inception the Networks have raised the quality of childminding in West Sussex, they were a great success and were widely recognised as such.
Of course recently things started to unravel, funding was cut and the areas each remaining Network co-ordinators covered increased to such a ridiculous level it was unworkable. The writing was on the wall and underlined in indelible ink, when the Childminding Conference was suddenly cancelled, childminder training reduced and Forum meetings postponed it was only a matter of time before they were lost.


What network co-ordinators did not do (because their job was about ensuring quality not profit) was find us work, they did not do the childminders paperwork, nor charge parents and childminders for the services provided. But it seems that is precisely what the agencies will do.

Agency childminders will not be individually inspected by Ofsted, which begs the question how can the quality of care be measured? If Ofsted is the ‘sole arbiter of quality’ but does not inspect the indivual agency childminders the grade given to the agency will be meaningless. Don't parents deserve better information before they send their child to a childminder? If Agencies then start grading childminders according to their judgement but have business factors to take into account will there not a conflict of interest and their judgement on quality be questionable?

Are childminding agencies a way of reducing costs for Ofsted and privatising the whole registration system pushing costs onto Childminders and parents? Yes.

Childminders who remain independent will have their work cut out keeping their business sustainable. They will probably be expected to pay dearly to have individual Ofsted inspections and training may cost more (If local authorities no longer have a role to improve quality they will have no reason to subsidize training?).

Removing quality improvement from the remit of local authorities will reduce the support for quality in Early Years settings. And what will happen if the whole of Early Years, (nursery, pre-school and non-agency childminders) are made to rely on the Ofsted inspection rating as the sole test of whether they can offer funded early education for two, three & four-year-olds? Settings will be able to ask for another inspection (something that doesnt happen now) if they are disappointed with the grade recieved and have since made steps to improve,  but they will be focused on meeting Ofsted's standards not neccessarily the best exaimination of quality. Look at local authorities quality assurance schemes and compare that to Ofsted requirements! They are two different things!

So what of Funded Education? and then there is the sticky point of Tax credits and employer vouchers. Too many questions and not enough answers as yet.

One thing is apparent, Elizabeth Truss is ploughing ahead. There may be a Bill going through Parliament, and a consultation in progress but that isn't going to stop her.

I'm really not a political animal, but I am passionate about quality childcare and I'm worried about the agency model.


(As well as the More Great Childcare consultation document, there is also a chance to comment on the Children and Families Bill through a process being piloted called public reading.



Monday, 11 February 2013

advertising vacancies

It is snowing hard, even though in the photo it doesn't look like it is.

My mission today was to put a postcard advertising my vacancies in the window of the local store in the neighbouring village.

It had started to snow before I went out to catch the bus. The bus was on time and I noted with relief that the road was clear as we left the village. The road has a habit of flooding in the spot where the road dips down into the rife, before rising again to a safe level. I knew I was going to have to walk back along the road which is why I was feeling relieved the road was clear. It was still snowing when the bus dropped me almost outside the store, I paid £3 to have my postcard displayed for 6 weeks, and then left to walk home. The bus doesn't do the return journey anymore. It did until last year when some bright spark (or group of bright sparks) decided  it was unnecessary. Now the only way to get from my neighbouring village to my village is to either walk or get the bus to the next village along and wait for the bus to return from the town, and get on that. 

But enough of buses.

I started to walk home and as I left the village I entered a small wood. It was snowing even harder and the path was a quagmire. Just inside the wood was a pile of twigs and branched, so I selected a sturdy stick to help me stay upright because even with my walking boots on it was very slippery. I stopped to take a photo of the snowdrops, and of the sheep eating turnips in the field and so it took me a good 10 minutes to pass through the wood. Its not really a wood as such, more a narrow corridor of wooded land squeezed between fields and a road. When I reached the far end I left my walking stick lent up against a tree for the next walker who comes by that way.

I had to walk along the road now. There's no footpath and it is quite a busy road that twists and turns and narrows as it approaches my village. Which means I spent a great deal of time stepping onto the grass verge to avoid cars and lorries, and the closer I got to my village the more tricky it became to find enough room on the verge to stand and not find myself in the hedge. It is not a walk I do often, and I would never take children that way.

The whole outing took less than an hour. I hope my advert generates some interest.