And there are now just under 3,000 fewer registered childminders than at the end of March last year.
Ofsted's figures on ‘Registered childcare providers and places’, show that as of 31 March 2014 there were 51,789 childminders, down from 53,938 at 30 September 2013, a loss of 2,149 childminders in six months. This is the equivalent of a four per cent loss.
This compares with a fall of 840 childminders in the six months before (31 March-30 September 2013).
The latest statistics displaying movement in the childcare sector reveal that 4,968 childminders left the profession, while 2,819 joined.
The decline in childminders also had a knock-on effect on the number of childcare places available. On 30 September 2013 childminders were able to provide 273,813 places compared to 265,366 places in March 2014, a fall of 8,447 places.
There was also a decline in the number of nursery places on offer, although just a loss of 11 providers (childcare on non-domestic premises). Comparing figures with the end of last September, nurseries offered 841 fewer childcare places than at the end of March 2014.
Joiners are the number of providers that have been added to Ofsted’s registration database between 31 March and 30 September. Most of these are new registrations, but figures also include providers that have re-activated their registration or changed provider type or register.
Leavers are the number of providers that have been edited in Ofsted’s registration database to ‘inactive’ status between 31 March and 30 September. Most of these are resignations, but figures also include providers that have had registration cancelled or changed provider type or register.
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We want there to be more high quality childcare providers, including childminders, so that parents have real choice.
'We are encouraging new childcare providers to enter the system, while cutting red tape for current ones.
'We are also making it easier for school nurseries to open from 8am-6pm, with over 800,000 places in schools, to help ensure parents can have what they deserve - affordable and accessible childcare.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, ‘PACEY is concerned to see that the number of childminders registered with Ofsted has decreased. A tough economic climate, combined with threats to the sustainability of the childminding profession, are both undoubtedly having their impact on the number of childminders leaving the sector.
‘We know that childminders offer a flexible, high quality service to children and families. The figures highlight the need to encourage new entrants to childminding, as well as support existing childminders to stay in the profession and improve their level of expertise. PACEY would also like to see greater support from local authorities to communicate the value of childminders to parents and families, as a crucial part of the childcare market.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'It’s very concerning to see such a significant net reduction in the number of childminders over a relatively short period of time.
'These declines are clearly a result of poor policy-making, which has created a feeling of real uncertainly and instability within the childminding sector. We know that many childminders feel that Government plans to encourage schools to offer more out-of-hours care and, additionally, to raise the threshold for "informal care" to three hours, have not only undermined their role within the early sector, but also pose real threat to the sustainability of their businesses.
'Add to this the fact that the Department for Education has seen fit to proceed with the introduction of childminder agencies despite almost universal opposition, and it is clear why so many are opting to leave the sector.
'If the Government doesn’t start engaging properly with childminders, and recognising the pivotal role they play in the provision of high-quality care and education, this trend is likely to continue.'
Bea Heath, director of the Independent Childminders Social Enterprise (ICM-SE), said, 'The fall in the number of childminders is not surprising given the uncertainty in our sector.
'As I have said many times, we must try and hold our nerve. If childminders do not join agencies then they will not prosper. As professionals we do have power over our own destiny and we must not forget that parents are not fools either.
'It is up to us to shape the future of childminding and not allow others to ignore our specialist knowledge. Our strength lies in how we meet the challenges ahead of us and turn them to our advantage.'