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
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.
(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. http://www.parliament.uk/public-reading/children-and-families-bill)