Truss asks to meet only those open to agency idea

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Childminders are accusing the Government of ignoring their views after it was revealed that Liz Truss, the education and childcare minister, appears to only want to meet with childminders who are supportive of her reforms.

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Northamptonshire Childminding Association (NCA) was approached by the Department for Education to see if any of its childminders would be interested in meeting Ms Truss to discuss proposals for childminder agencies.

Plans to introduce agencies were set out earlier this month in the Children and Families Bill.

The invitation for childminders put up on the NCA forum said, 'They have had plenty of negative feedback from the sounds of it so would like to hear from childminders who are broadly in favour or at least open-minded about moving to an agency model.'

Many childminders took to the thread in protest and NCA posted a clarification to state that the association does not support childminder agencies.

One forum member said they had written to Ms Truss to ask, 'How in a supposedly democratic society a consultation type meeting could be set up but only those in support of your plans invited to come?'

Another said, 'Of course if they get a room full of people, they can say they consulted with childminders over the idea and they do want it.'

Sarah Neville, an 'outstanding' childminder who runs Knutsford Childminding, told Nursery World, 'I'm shocked that she only wants to meet people that are supportive and I question the democratic process.'

Meanwhile, a request for comments on childcare agencies on www.parliament.uk has led to a stream of negative feedback from angry childminders who are against agencies.

Ms Neville added that she has also been disappointed by the consultations by other early years membership organisations.

'Neither consultation had a tick box under these options for us to answer the most important question - Do you want agencies? Since when did a consultation start with a fait accompli? Should a consultation really say - it's happening - let's choose the least damaging option? Where is the consultation process if we are not given the option to say, "No, we do not want this to happen?" I have written to the organisations with my comments. These consultations will present biased and false results because they start from the premise that childminders want agencies.'

Asked for a comment, the Northamptonshire Childminding Association, said, 'NCA was asked by the DfE if any Northamptonshire childminders who are supportive or open-minded about agencies would be interested/available to meet with Elizabeth Truss for a roundtable discussion. There has been some interest from childminders but it's not yet clear if this meeting will take place. Meanwhile, NCA is concerned how the proposals will raise quality and give parents more choice as it has raised so many questions.'

The NCA said these included issues, such as, 'If not registered individually, how will local authorities administer grantfunded places? It's not clear how many agencies may be operating within one area. How will agencies be funded? Will it be "payment by results"?How much of the training and support costs would be passed on to parents? What powers of enforcement will agencies have?'

The NCA added, 'The document quotes a "confusing regulatory regime" as a major problem with the current system, but we are concerned that these proposals would only make it more confusing for parents and childminders and ultimately drive down quality and outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable.'

Ms Truss has previously come under fire for blocking followers to her Twitter account who have criticised the reforms set out in 'More Great Childcare', particularly the controversial change to staff: child ratios.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We have met a wide range of people to discuss developing childminding agencies and childcare reform more generally. For example, childcare minister Elizabeth Truss recently met Neil Leitch of the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

'The Government intends to legislate to introduce childminding agencies which will provide a one-stop shop service for childminders. This will be enabling legislation and we will launch a full consultation about the framework to which anyone will be able to respond.

'Childminders will have the option of joining an agency; they will not be compulsory.'

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