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Government launches consultation on childminder agencies

The Government announced a freeze on Ofsted fees for childminders on the same day that it launched its consultation on how childminder agencies will operate.

The childminder agencies will cut the red tape burden from childminders and give them vital support, training and advice, according to the Department for Education.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “I want parents to have better access to affordable, high-quality childcare. Freezing fees and reducing the bureaucracy will encourage new childminders to enter this vital profession.

“We know that good early education gives children the best possible start in life.

Childminders are an important part of this and offer huge flexibility for parents - we want to see their numbers increase.”

She added: “Figures also show that more families are using nannies and nanny shares - indicating parents’ need for home-based flexible care.”

The fees that early years childminders pay to Ofsted are being frozen for the fifth year in a row, keeping them at £35 per year.

The consultation will look at the technical details of how childminder agencies operate from September 2014.

It will explore the annual fee agencies will pay in line with that of nurseries at £220, the number of hours of professional development offered to childminders and the number of quality assurance visits provided by the agency.

It will also look at the number of hours of direct support agencies given to childminders and the role of local authorities, particularly the power they have to intervene in local markets and their role in delivery.

Bolton headteacher and childcare provider Jack Hatch, who plans to open a childminder agency and has been involved in a trial, believes the childminder agencies will be highly beneficial. He said: “Parents can have a relationship with the agency and have a point of contact beyond the childminder. They have support if for any reason the childminder isn’t available. Children can gain so much more from the exciting experiences and opportunities they get from their individual childminder having more professional development and support.

“As an agency we are involved in the pilot inspections by Ofsted and this is proving so helpful in checking our documentation and procedures and giving us the security to know we are on the correct path.”

Professor Kathy Sylva from Oxford University called it an “exciting opportunity for childminder agencies to work more closely to their mutual benefit with teaching schools or primary schools with foundation stage provision” and said: “Parents would then have access to a blend of centre-based and home-based care, which might benefit parents and children alike.”

4Children’s head of Early Years, Sue Robb said: “Childminder agencies are set to become a part of the childcare landscape for parents and this consultation will play an important part in determining exactly how the agencies will operate from when the scheme rolls out from September.

“The charges for setting up a childminder agency and to individual childminders have been kept as low as possible with no increase to the registration fees for individual childminders. It is important that childminders, particularly existing workers, continue to have the choice as to whether to remain as an individual childminder or join a childminder agency. The fee structure announced today highlighting that fees payable to Ofsted will be frozen means that this choice will not be compromised by financial considerations.

She added: “The draft regulations for childminder agencies have the potential to continuously monitor and evaluate quality but Ofsted inspections must be robust and rigorous.”

Earlier this year, the Children and Families Act introduced the powers to create childminder agencies however there has been a fair amount of opposition to the agencies from childminders, partly due to the fact that agency-registered childminders will not have separate individual inspections.

The plan is for Ofsted to inspect the agency itself and a sample of childminders on the agency’s list, with the agency getting the Ofsted grading not the individual childminder. The Government has also removed the requirement for separate registration if a childminder is providing food - this will now be done automatically when they are registered with Ofsted.

For the consultation go to www.gov.uk/government/consultations/childminder-agencies-and-changes-to-the-local-authority-role

April 2014

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