Half of pilot childminder agencies will not set up shop

Monday, July 28, 2014

An investigation into the pilot childminder agencies by Nursery World has revealed that half of the 20 organisations that trialled models will not be going ahead with their agency in September.

A further four are still unsure about how they are going to proceed.

Of the 17 organisations that responded to Nursery World, ten - including two that pulled out of the trial early - said they are not planning on opening an agency in September after taking part in the Department for Education's (DfE) pilot. The majority of these are local authorities, some of which already have childminder support in place.

Twenty organisations were chosen by the DfE to take part in the trial of childminder agencies. They have been piloting agency models since last summer.

Reasons given by the organisations for not going ahead with an agency include not having enough support from the DfE, a lack of time or money to fully develop a model and limited interest from childminders.

Liverpool City Council told Nursery World that it has decided not to proceed with a childminder agency in September because it didn't 'stack up financially'.

Natalie Bishop of First Year Childcare in York said she is not going ahead with an agency as she believes her model would not benefit the sector and may cause a divide between childminders.

An Ofsted outstanding childminder herself, Ms Bishop raised fears that the 'lack of structure the Government has placed on the trial agencies' could mean that inexperienced people, who are not able to support and regulate childminders, will be able to set up a childminder agency.

She added, 'I can see the good points, and in some areas I feel the agencies may provide childminders with valuable support and training. However, I do not feel it will reduce childcare costs. In fact I believe it will increase the cost to the parents.'

South Gloucestershire Council, which will not be going ahead with an agency, said that while being involved in the trial had proved to be a valuable experience, feedback gathered during the pilot suggested that local childminders want to continue to work in partnership with the council.

Based on this feedback, the council is now redesigning its early years support function for all providers, which will mean childminders have the same access to services and support as other providers.

Some of the organisations that are not starting an agency in September are still considering developing one in the future.

Caroline Noel, owner of training consultancy Noel Quinn, based in Warwick but providing services in Devon, told Nursery World that despite pulling out of the DfE trial, it is currently working with its partners to develop a 'relevant and sustainable' business model for a childminder agency, primarily for childminders in the Devon area.

She said, 'We recently pulled out of the trials primarily because we felt that we needed to develop a service for childminders that was relevant and fit for purpose and this takes time. While we may no longer be part of the trials, taking part in it was a really valuable exercise for us as it led to more detailed discussion with childminders about what support and training they require.'

Jonathan Bishop, head of Broadclyst Community Primary School in Devon, said his school was considering establishing a childminder agency later on, 'possibly in the autumn term.'

Four of the 20 organisations chosen by the DfE to take part in the trial of childminder agencies - Calderdale Council, Merton Council, Riverside Cares and Entrust Ed - told Nursery World that they are still undecided about whether they will be launching their agency model in just a few weeks' time.

Gaby Morris, co-founder of Riverside Cares in London, which provides training and recruitment for the early years sector, runs a nanny agency and offers elderly care, said, 'Riverside Cares remains committed to the idea of a childminding agency and subject to understanding the details would like to go forward with the project. We have many useful resources already embedded in our systems and know how, which would enable us to support childminders.'

A spokesperson for Entrust Ed, part of Capita, said, 'Entrust remains in dialogue with the DfE and is currently considering its options.'

It is unclear whether a pilot consortium made up of three different councils - Salford, Rochdale and Wigan - is going ahead with its plans, as Nursery World received three different answers about whether it intends to proceed or not.

The 20 organisations involved in the childminder agency trial are:

Family Info Link, Stockport; St Bede Academy, Bolton; Liverpool City Council; Salford Council/Rochdale Council/Wigan Council; @HomeChildcare, Nottingham; Entrust Ed, Stafford; Noel Quinn,Warwick;Telford & Wrekin Council;Buttercups Day Nursery, a group of eight settings in London and Middlesex; Riverside Cares, London; Merton Council; Broadclyst Community Primary School, Devon; Trio Childcare, Wiltshire; Bournemouth Council; South Gloucestershire Council; First Year Childcare, York; Calderdale Council; Rutland Council; Warwickshire Council; Hampshire Council

Agencies opening in September

St Bede Academy in Bolton and Trio Childcare, based in Wiltshire, have both confirmed that they will be launching their agencies in September.

Along with running an Ofsted outstanding primary academy, St Bede's also operates three nurseries and seven out-of-school clubs, with three more settings opening in October.

Childcare director and headteacher of St Bede Academy Jack Hatch says that the St Bede agency will 'widen parental choice.'

He said, 'Some parents will want a nursery for their child and others will want a childminder, but all of them want to be confident that they are getting the best quality of care for their child and we feel we can offer this to them at an affordable cost.'

Mr Hatch says that the academy is beginning to recruit for new and experienced childminders within Lancashire, who will be able to choose from a 'pick and mix' style package with varying levels of support depending on their experience.

Agency manager Kimberley Dearden added, 'As a growing company, the agency is able to offer sickness and holiday cover for parents and childminders alike providing continuity of care. During slower periods of work, we can also offer the opportunity for bank work at one of our venues, providing a continual income for the childminders.'

Trio Childcare, established in 1996, provides advice and training for early years providers.

This includes working with local authorities to offer support to childminders.

Managing director Julia Hinns said, 'Trio, at this stage, is planning to launch its Community Childminding Agency in September for childminders that wish to have a one-stop shop for training, support and inspection. It will be a self-funded quality improvement network by another name and provide another choice for childminders, as one size does not fit all.

'Our thinking behind setting up a childminder agency is that we need to ensure that at least one has the childminder and child at the central core, and now that agencies are set in legislation we can no longer bury our head in the sand and think that they are not going to happen.'

Ms Hinns said she believes the agency will be an 'excellent way' of increasing the number of places for two and three-year-olds where they are needed.

Sue Robb, head of early years at 4Children, which has been working with the DfE to provide support to those organisations piloting the childminder agencies, said, 'The trial was all about testing models to see what works and what doesn't.'

She added, 'Some good local authorities that didn't take part in the pilot have expressed interest in operating a childminder agency.'

A DfE spokesperson said, 'Childminder agencies will open up new routes to the profession, offering valuable training and support while giving more choice to parents.

'We have been working closely with all providers throughout the trial period and we expect a number of organisations that took part in the trials, plus a number of other bodies, to open agencies this autumn.'


jane-mediciJane Medici, former NCMA (the organisation now known as PACEY) project manager, has revealed that she is currently developing a social enterprise childminder agency, which she hopes to launch in September.

She said, 'The idea behind the Community Childminding Agency is to provide an opportunity to return quality control back to local groups, and build in opportunities for parents and childminders, along with reducing costs and the administrative burden faced by childminders.'

Ms Medici said that the agency, which will be open to childminders across the country, will work in a similar way to local authority childminding network systems in the past.

She said that there will be a number of packages available to agency childminders members and those that wish to remain independent, including one for newly registered childminders, one for training only and a package that provides more one-to-one support.

Training courses, which will be delivered by experienced childminders or early years trainers, will include an introduction to childminding, safeguarding, observation, the EYFS, learning and development.

Groups of childminders will also be able to request specific training to meet their needs.

The agency is still looking at figures to decide on the cost of membership and packages. Ms Medici said she has had interest from childminders and people experienced in HR and training.

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