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Sue Griffin explains the thinking behind the first-ever Quality Assurance scheme for individual childminders Launched in October, the National Childminding Association's (NCMA) quality assurance scheme, NCMA Quality First, is now well under way.

Sue Griffin explains the thinking behind the first-ever Quality Assurance scheme for individual childminders

Launched in October, the National Childminding Association's (NCMA) quality assurance scheme, NCMA Quality First, is now well under way.

The NCMA responded to members' requests for a quality assurance scheme that would give individual childminders access to a project designed specifically for them. Initially, the NCMA will be working with a few 'trailblazer' Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCPs) in England and Wales, but from next April, it hopes to involve more Partnerships.

Quality First aims to offer childminders the chance to demonstrate their good practice, by showing parents and Children's Information Services that they provide a high-quality childminding service. This is likely to become increasingly important for childminders, as other forms of early years and childcare provision also become quality assured.

It isn't always easy for childminders to comply with quality assurance schemes that have been developed to suit centre-based provision. Quality First aims to be directly relevant to childminding, and for individual practitioners working in a home-based setting.

Three levels

The scheme operates on three levels, and childminders choose which to work towards.

* At Level 1, they need to meet all the NCMA's Quality Standards, as well as show they have plans to improve.

* At Level 2, they need to meet all the standards, and exceed some.

* At Level 3, they need to exceed all the standards.

A reflective materials initiative requires additional work at each level. A childminder who initially achieves Level 1 or 2 can complete the materials for the next level during the three years their certificate is valid - or wait until renewal time to move up a level.

This quality assurance scheme for individual childminders sits alongside the quality assurance scheme for childminding networks, Children Come First, which the NCMA has run for more than three years.

It's important to remember Quality First is complementary to Children Come First, and does not replace it. Childminding networks do offer a pathway to quality assurance for childminders, but have other purposes and advantages.

Together, these two schemes provide opportunities for childminders to show the high standards of service they offer.

Equal recognition

The NCMA wants its quality assurance scheme to have equal recognition with those other providers offer. However, its terminology and assessment methods mean childminders can have an equal chance to demonstrate good practice.

The Quality First scheme is designed to start childminders on the quality assurance 'journey'. It is not a one-off snapshot of the quality of a childminder's practice, but takes participants through a process that will help them to acquire appropriate skills, develop the habits reflective practitice, and be continually open to ways of improving.

When childminders enrol with the NCMA for Quality First, they are sent a portable case in which there is a ring binder of reflective materials, together with detailed guidance on the scheme. The reflective materials are in ten sections, each related to one of NCMA's Quality Standards - the standards that all childminder members of NCMA sign up to. At the end of each standard, the childminder sets out their plans for the future development of their practice.

Participants complete the reflective materials at their own pace, working around their professional and personal commitments. Various documents such as policies, examples of record keeping, emergency plans, and so on, are included, so the childminder can build up a professional portfolio.

Throughout this process, they have access to the support and advice of a NCMA Quality First mentor, by phone and/or e-mail.

In some areas, childminders can attend EYDCPs workshops for additional support in completing their portfolios.

Participants also receive a visit by an NCMA Quality First assessor, who observes their interaction with the children and prepares a report to be included in the portfolio. Then, when the portfolio is complete, the childminder sends it to a different NCMA Quality First assessor.

Childminders who successfully complete Quality First are given a certificate that is valid for three years, although they will have to send a short report to NCMA each year. After the three years is up, they can apply for renewal.

For more information, contact the NCMA on 020 8464 6164 or visit www.ncma.org.uk.

Sue Griffin is training manager at the NCMA

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