The eight-week consultation outlines plans to inspect childminder agencies in the same way as other early years settings with no notice inspections and judgements of outstanding, good, requires improvement, and inadequate.
In the document - ‘Inspecting childminder agencies’, Ofsted acknowledges that its proposed inspection arrangements will need to be ‘flexible enough’ to cover a wide range of business models, from very small community-based agencies to ‘potentially large national private sector businesses’.
For this reason, no method of self-evaluation is prescribed in the proposed framework, leaving agencies free to provide the inspector with any evidence of ‘whatever’ system it uses to evaluate practices.
The consultation does not cover the requirements that agencies will need to meet in order to register with Ofsted. Nor does it cover the cycle under which Ofsted will have to inspect childminder agencies.
Ofsted does not include any new information about the inspection of individual childminders, only to reiterate that they have a choice about whether they join an agency or remain independent.
Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsted national director of childminding and regional director for the West Midlands, said, 'Childminders will have the option of joining an agency from later this year. We want to make sure that they are inspected in a way that is fair to agencies and which gives assurance to parents.
'As the inspectorate and regulator, we will have a big role in helping childminder agencies in improving the quality of early years provision. Our inspectors will work with agencies to help drive improvements and give young children at least a good start in life.'
At the same time that Ofsted has launched the consultation, an amendment has been made to the Children and Families Bill, currently going through Parliament, following concerns about how childminder agencies will guarantee quality of care. The Government admendments will require Ofsted to report on the effectiveness of a childminder agency in measuring the quality of care and education delivered by individuals registered with it.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, 'It is good news the Government has now accepted PACEY’s view that Ofsted should assess how well a childminder agency ensures the quality of the care and education delivered by any childminder on its books. To have simply relied on Ofsted's assessment of an agency's leadership and management systems and its quality and standards of training and other services to childminders would never have been enough to reassure parents.
'We are still concerned about other aspects of agencies and are convinced a childminder's individual registration and inspection with Ofsted remains the best way to demonstrate quality to parents, but this is progress.
'PACEY wants to ensure that any childminder or parent who chooses to use an agency can find independent and impartial information on the quality of the care and education it provides for children. This amendment should make this a reality. We look forward to seeing Ofsted's proposals on how they will do this and we will continue to make sure that the views of our childminder members are heard.'
- The consultation closes on 21 March 2014.