Policy and Politics
Children and Families Bill: nurseries win right to call in Ofsted inspector
Plans to introduce childminder agencies and give early years providers the right to request an Ofsted inspection are included in the Children and Families Bill published today.
Reforms to speed up adoption, overhaul special educational needs, and family justice are also set out.
The right for nurseries and childminders to request an Ofsted inspection is a victory for early years organisations, who have been lobbying for settings to be able to call Ofsted in and pay for re-inspections, given the Government’s intention to link funding with quality.
Many nurseries have feared that they could be locked out of funding for two-year-olds, which is targeted at good and outstanding providers, if they did not achieve a good or outstanding grade and were forced to wait for their next inspection - which could be a wait of four years or more.
Parents are also increasingly using Ofsted grades as a basis for choosing childcare.
The Children and Families Bill gives early years providers the right to request an Ofsted inspection, and allows Ofsted to charge a set fee for carrying out the inspection when it has been specifically requested by the provider, and is not part of the normal inspection cycle.Another key change is a clause in the Bill to remove a legal duty on local authorities to carry out childcare sufficiency assessments. The Bill repeals section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006, which means that local authorities will no longer have a duty to undertake an assessment of the sufficiency of childcare in their area every three years.
Following last week’s announcement by childcare and education minister Elizabeth Truss of the Government’s intention to allow schools and other providers to set up childminder agencies, the Bill includes measures to make an amendment to the Childcare Act 2006 to allow for ‘registration of childminder agencies on the childcare register and the registration of certain childcare providers with those agencies’.
Proposed shared parental leave reforms will allow parents more flexibility in how they share statutory leave in the first year of a child’s life, so that fathers can have more involvement in caring for their baby.
Ministers want to move away from an ‘old-fashioned and rigid’ system to a more equal system, so that both parents are able to keep links with their workplace.
They say it will create a more flexible and motivated workforce and help employers to attract and retain women and prevent them from dropping out of work once they start a family.
Other provisions in the Bill include the right for all employees to request flexible working, which the Government says will widen the pool of talent in the labour market and help drive growth.
Business Minister Jo Swinson said, ‘Current workplace arrangements are old-fashioned and rigid. The Children and Families Bill will bring the way mums and dads balance their lives at work and at home into the 21st century
‘Employers will soon get used to more men taking time off after their child is born and more mothers returning to work earlier, shattering the perception that it is mainly a woman's role to stay at home and look after the child. These measures will really help our aim of ensuring more businesses are making best use of women's talents throughout the organisation, from the boardroom to the shop floor.
‘This Bill will also allow fathers to have greater involvement in the early stages of pregnancy and raising their child.’
Other proposals, already announced by ministers, to speed up the adoption system and reform the special educational needs system, are also included in the Bill.
Finally, the Bill builds on John Dunford's review of the Office of the Childcare Commissioner in England by making the role of the Childcare Commissioner in England more independent from Government and giving the Commissioner a statutory remit to 'promote and protect children's rights'.
Speaking ahead of a keynote speech, at an event organised by Barnardo's, children and families minister Edward Timpson said, ‘I am determined that every young person should be able to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For this to happen we must tackle the disadvantages faced by our most vulnerable children and families. Our measures in the Children and Families Bill do just that.
‘In this Bill we will overhaul adoption - breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice - tackling appalling delays and focussing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people – transforming the Special Educational Needs system and better protecting children's rights.’
Commenting in the Bill, Working Families chief executive, Sarah Jackson said, ‘These changes are good for families and good for business. All our research and day to day work with our employer members shows that flexible working brings performance gains. Employers who allow flexible working benefit from better retention rates, reduced absenteeism and from loyal and motivated employees.
We welcome the greater flexibility for parents to share the leave and pay in the first year of their baby’s life. Over time these changes will change attitudes in the workplace, allow fathers more time to spend with their children, and start to tackle the maternity discrimination that so blights our helpline callers.’
Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie, said, 'In these difficult times protecting and promoting the well-being of the most vulnerable children in society must be our absolute priority, now more than ever.
'We welcome the parliamentary precedence being given to the Children and Families Bill and we are supportive of the Government’s efforts to break down unnecessary barriers and bureaucracy so that those children most in need are helped quickly and effectively.
'In reforming the system our utmost concern must always be the child and we will always fight for their voice to be heard and their needs put first as any changes are made.'
However, speech and language therapists are concerned that many children with communication difficulties could lose out through the proposed changes to special educational needs services.
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) says that most children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) will not be eligible for the proposed new education, health and care plans.
Kamini Gadhok, chief executive of the RCSLT, said, 'We are pleased that the support available for children who do not have these plans will be set out in local authorities’ local offers. However, we look forward to seeing more detail on this. Our fear is that current financial constraints combined with changes in the special educational needs system could mean these children will lose out.'
The organisation is calling for all children with SLCN to have access to appropriate services purchased jointly by local authorities and local health services.