New framework for childminder agency inspection released

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Childminding agencies will either be judged as ‘effective’ or ‘non-effective’ by Ofsted during their inspections, new guidance reveals.

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The new framework comes as a renewed push starts by ministers and the inspectorate towards getting more childminders to sign up with childminder agencies.

Currently eight childminder agencies have been registered by Ofsted, but it is understood that there will be further drive  towards their expansion this year, ahead of the 30-hour childcare offer.

The guidance sets out what inspectors need to do to prepare for inspecting childminding agencies.

A childminder agency will be inspected six to nine months after it registers its first childminder.

The guidance - draft handbook for inspectors published by Ofsted yesterday - includes the evaluation schedule on judging the effectiveness of the agency and the main types of evidence inspectors will collect and analyse.

It also reveals that 10 per cent of the childminders on an agency’s books will be inspected.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance raised concerns that such a small proportion of childminders would be inspected directly, and questioned how parents could feel confident about the standards of care when agencies were rated as either ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘This handbook, published over a year after the registration of the first childminder agency, highlights exactly why agencies are such a flawed idea and why they have had such a low take-up rate.

‘Ofsted ratings are widely viewed by parents to be a key quality marker for early years providers, and yet, despite this, only ten per cent of registered childminders are likely to be visited by Ofsted directly – and even then, the purpose of these visits is to “assess the effectiveness of the agency’s arrangements for assuring the quality of its childminders”, and not the actual quality of the childminders.

‘Given the level of concerns that the sector has raised about agencies, particularly those around safeguarding and welfare, it is disappointing that that inspectorate is pushing ahead with this flawed initiative. It may be a cheaper way to inspect childminders, but as we in the early years know well, doing things on the cheap and ensuring the provision of high quality care and education are two objectives which simply do not align.’

PACEY said that while the support and training offered via agencies may well benefit childminders who wanted to buy-in these services, the continued focus on an agency's regulatory role remained a major disincentive to most childminders joining an agency.

Chief executive Liz Bayram said, 'PACEY has always been concerned that the registration and regulatory requirements set for childminder agencies will not provide the reassurance parents need to know their child is in a quality setting. This handbook does nothing to allay our concerns. Inspecting only ten per cent of childminders on an agency's books and using different grading terminology to that widely recognised by parents and other providers will only further add to the confusion agencies have already created.'
 
'Parents want to know what Ofsted believes is the quality of care offered by the person who will be looking after their child. Local authorities and other providers use good and outstanding judgements to inform whom they work with to deliver services including the free entitlement. An ineffective /effective judgement will mean very little to the people who matter most to childminders. It's a missed opportunity not to build on the progress on parity that the Common Inspection Framework has achieved.

'We firmly believe that individual Ofsted registration and inspection of childminders  is the best way to reassure parents and support childminding sustainability. Given how critical childminding will be to the delivery of 30 hours funded entitlement, PACEY will continue to make clear that keeping childminding in the same regulation and inspection framework as all other early years settings is vital for success.