The latest findings from the longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), which is tracking 6,000 children from the age of two to the end of Key Stage 1, highlights the good quality of childcare provided by childminders.
Although childminders provide much of the childcare for this age group, not much in-depth research has been done before, the report’s authors said.
The research by the University of Oxford and 4Children was commissioned by the Department for Education following the Government’s extension of two-year-old funded places and aims to shed light on the key characteristics of childminding provision, including quality and care.
Researchers visited 99 childminders spread across five regions in England to observe their practice.
Almost all childminders in the study had worked in other jobs before becoming childminders, with one third previously in childcare roles.
Childminders’ early years and childcare experience varied from less than a year to more than 30 years.
Ninety-two per cent of childminders in the study had a Level 3 qualification or higher, with Level 3 the most commonly held qualification.
Just under half of the childminders visited worked with an assistant or another childminder, with a ‘substantial number’ of them having six to ten years’ experience of the early years sector.
Half of the childminders surveyed were taking part in a quality improvement programme or quality assurance scheme.
Only half of the group had support from their local authority through visits, training and guidance.
More than half of the childminders surveyed provided six places, with a fifth offering 12 places when employing an assistant or working with another childminder.
Three-quarters were registered with their local authority to deliver funded twos places, but the report noted that this was a high percentage compared to the 2013 (DfE) childcare survey.
Childminders typically worked from 8am or earlier to 5 or 6pm during the week. Only a few offered weekend or overnight care.
The study used two scales to measure the quality of childminders’ provision: the Family Environmental Rating Scale-Revised (FCCERS-R) and the Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing Scale (SSTEW).
The overall average score from the quality measures was ‘good,’(where 1 is inadequate and 7 is outstanding).
Sixteen per cent of childminders were graded outstanding on the SSTEW scale and 11 per cent on the FCCERS-R measure.
Quality was also assessed through questions about child: adult ratios, size of the group of children, and childminders’ education and training.
The report concluded that keeping child: adult ratios low could help cut the likelihood of poor quality care; professional development can improve the quality of care; childminders should be encouraged to stay in the profession as high quality is associated with more years of experience.
The report’s co-author Professor Edward Melhuish, said, ‘Childminders are very important for early childcare. Our report shows that they can provide good quality childcare, and that quality is improved by professional development.
'Local authorities have a big role to play in ensuring the availability of professional development for childminders, and professional associations also play a role. For the development of a complete early years service, we need to see childminders better integrated with other pre-school providers, such as nursery schools, primary schools with nursery classes, as well as day nurseries and playgroups.’
4Children said the findings showed that childminders were ‘well-placed’ to deliver the 30 hours but that childcare providers needed to work together for this to succeed.
Sue Robb, head of early years, said, ‘Childminders are an invaluable part of the early years workforce, providing high quality care in the kind of personal, homely environment that many parents favour.
‘This report highlights the excellent work many childminders are doing. It also points to certain aspects that have a real impact on quality delivery, one of which is being part of a quality improvement network. We’d like to see far more than 50 per cent of childminders benefitting from membership to a professional network.’
‘Childminders are well placed to help deliver the free 30 hours offer, but in order for the programme to succeed, we need to establish a more blended, model of community childcare whereby childcare providers across the community work together to drive up quality and meet demand. Quality improvement networks can help to facilitate this and bring about the kind of community childcare model that will reap the greatest rewards for the sector and families in the future.’
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said the findings were encouraging but the Government funding and professional development were key.
‘The study clearly demonstrates that commitment to personal development and training lies at the heart of good quality provision – and that belonging to a network or professional association has a large role to play in inspiring high quality care.’
But she added that most childminders paid for their own professional development themselves and local authority support had been cut.
‘We know that our members benefit from belonging to a professional association that can support them to develop at the time and pace that suits their busy working lives – and many enjoy the support provided by PACEY Local, our active network of childcare professionals.’
‘Childminders could be well placed to deliver the Government’s expanded free childcare offer, but only if the funding is sufficient to cover costs and if the other barriers that prevent childminders from offering free places are addressed. These include inflexible local authority payment procedures, red tape and the ban on claiming free early years education for related children in their care.’
Education and childcare minister Sam Gyimah said, ‘We want parents to have a choice of a diverse range of childcare providers and peace of mind that if they choose to return to work, their children are getting the best quality childcare. We know that childminders are an essential part of this. That’s why we have changed the rules and provided start-up funding to make it easier for registered childminders to provide the 15 hours free childcare for three- and four-year-olds, and the latest figures show that 6,100 childminders are doing this.’