Leap Ahead in west London has been judged ‘Effective’ by Ofsted. Staff were found to apply the agency’s registration processes ‘rigorously’ and were said to be ‘uncompromising in the decisions they make’.
The agency is run by the social enterprise Achieving for Children,set up by Richmond and Kingston councils to run children's services and revenue-generating services.
An Ofsted spokeswoman confirmed that visits had been made to a sample of four childminders to test how well the agency had assured itself of the quality of childminding. Childminders reported that the support they receive from agency staff enables them to improve their practice.
However, the inspection highlighted that procedures for dealing with information that suggests a breach of non-safeguarding requirements needs to be improved. Leaders have recently introduced an additional layer of management to support staff and hold them to account for the work they do. The full extent of these responsibilities for the head of early years is still being established so the inspector recommended ‘sharpening’ the new management role. It was also recommended that the agency should ensure that all available information is analysed in order to identify areas for development.
Leap Ahead childminder agency officer Helen Swan said, ‘The Agency found the Ofsted inspection comprehensive with all aspects of the suitability, registration and monitoring process looked into in detail.
‘We were pleased with the outcome of the inspection, particularly that Ofsted found our registration process and decision making rigorous and “uncompromising”. The childminders reported to Ofsted that they value the support the agency provides and feel it is improving their practice, which ultimately will impact on the outcomes of the children.’
Leap Ahead has 25 registered childminders with another five currently in the application progress.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA), welcomed the publication of the report, especially as there has been little information on the progress of the childminder agency initiative in recent months.
‘While it is positive that the agency in question has been rated “effective”, we note the concerns around the agency’s ability to deal with EYFS breaches, training attendance and use of the self-evaluation process detailed in the report. These issues suggest that, as we have previously argued, a two-option “effective” / “ineffective” rating system is insufficient, as it provides no distinction between agencies that are delivering an acceptable service and those providing an excellent one,’ he said.
Ofsted has confirmed that there are no plans to change the current two-tier grading system.
Childminder agencies were launched by the former education minister Liz Truss in 2013 to provide childminders with a range of services, including continuous professional development, training, quality assurance checks and business support. They also help parents to find suitable childcare.
Despite 4Children being drafted in in February to boost the number of agencies joining the scheme, there are still only eight organisations registered with Ofsted as childminder agencies. Childcare organisations the Alliance and Pacey both oppose the model, with a spokeswoman for Pacey saying that its members don’t want to join. ‘Pacey doesn’t believe the model supports quality for parents nor a level playing field for childminders alongside other providers,’ she added.
Mr Leitch said that it remains ‘sceptical’ of the scheme, highlighting a conflict of interest in the reliance on agencies’ own quality assessment of their registered childminders. ‘Both the government and Ofsted would do better to focus their resources on the extensive network of experienced, high-quality independent childminders already operating, and ensuring that sufficient support is available to help stop their continued decline in number,’ he said.