Childminder agency plans approved despite 'lack of detail'

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Early years organisations say that the Government has failed to act upon the sector’s concerns over how childminder agencies will operate.

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The Department for Education is going ahead with draft regulations on childminder agencies

Despite a significant number of the 678 people that responded to the Department for Education’s (DfE) consultation on childminder agencies and local authority support expressing concern surrounding safeguarding arrangements for agencies and the quality assurance of childminders, the DfE has determined that no changes need to be made to the draft regulations.

As a result, the draft regulations, which are subject to parliamentary approval, are expected to be in place in time for next month’s deadline.

Within its response, the DfE states, ‘The Government has carefully considered the views expressed here and does not consider that they warrant changes to the requirements set out in the draft regulations.’

However, the department does acknowledge that some of the requirements do not explain clearly what might be required of agencies or childminders registering with them, and says that more information about ‘transitional arrangements’ and ‘safeguarding’ will be included in its upcoming departmental advice.

The Government will also work with Ofsted to ensure registration guidance for agencies addresses key issues.

The DfE’s response to the consultation also reveals further information about how childminder agencies will work.

Subject to parliamentary approval, agencies will be required to provide 20 hours of ‘practice support’ to early years childminders, 16 of which will be focused on continuous professional development (CPD).

However, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), says the Government’s definitions of CPD is too ‘broad’, and could be open to interpretation.

Childminders registered with agencies will receive a minimum of one visit per year after they have been registered with the agency for 12 months. This is despite 53 per cent of consultation respondents disagreeing that one quality assurance visit is adequate.

Early years organisations have expressed their disappointment at the lack of detail in the Government’s consultation response.

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, PACEY is disappointed that the Government has not made the changes recommended by us and other respondents to the consultation that would strengthen the regulatory framework for agencies.

‘We believe that the definitions of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and the time allocated for CPD and other support are still inappropriate, leaving it open for agencies to meet these definitions with low standards, and omit important aspects of childminding such as safeguarding and risk assessments. Despite our recommendations, there is still a lack of qualification requirements for those agency staff who will be working with childminders.

‘We are also disappointed that the Government has ignored more than half of the respondents to this consultation who said that one agency visit to a childminder per year isn’t enough. More contact is needed to maintain high quality childcare.

‘The assurances from DfE that Ofsted’s registration and inspection criteria will be enough to ensure quality mean little when you consider agencies will not be providing direct services to parents, and that childminders who register with an agency will no longer have an Ofsted registration.

‘Although the decision to require agencies to share agency-registered childminder inspection grades with local authorities is welcome, the fact agencies won’t be required to share those grades publicly risks parents being unable to easily access information about childminder quality, thus further confusing the system.

‘PACEY will be scrutinising agencies from September to ensure that quality and safeguarding are not compromised for children.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PLA), said, ‘We are disappointed by the lack of detail contained in the consultation response. As it stands, there is still very little clarity on how agencies will operate in practice, despite the fact that they are set to come into force in less than a month. The Government response itself states that some of the draft childminder agency regulations “do not in themselves explain clearly what might be required of agencies and/or childminders registering with them”, and yet the Department for Education has seen fit to proceed with its plans regardless.

‘The department has said that it will provide further information on how agencies will operate in practice – as well as several other key issues such as expectations around CPD, support time and safeguarding arrangements – in its upcoming ‘departmental advice’ document, but this is all information that should have been included in the original consultation document.

'While we accept that agencies are now part of the legislative landscape, we remain concerned that the government is rushing to implement a model that is clearly flawed.’