Take a look at the details and you can immediately see a whole range of concerns and contradictions. Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years, spells out some of these in her article on page 15; while Pre-School Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch takes a similar stance in his Viewpoint piece online (www.nurseryworld.co.uk/comment).
Cost and quality, as ever, are at issue. The plan to bring in agencies is intended to help increase the supply of childcare and bring the cost down. Yet agencies have to be paid for - either by charging a fee to childminders or by asking parents to pay, or both. As Ms Bayram points out, one organisation which looks set to become a pilot agency in September has start-up packages for new childminders ranging from £199 to £599..
How will childminders pay for agency fees, unless they put their fees up?
Quality, of course, is more important, and the plan to remove individual inspections of childminders in favour of agency inspection is deeply worrying.
Why would an 'outstanding' childminder want to join an agency that may only have a 'requires improvement' rating? And what happens to the new DfE guidance that childminders who are good or outstanding have a right to receive the free entitlement funding for two-, three- and four-year-olds? The introduction of agencies seems likely to cause great complications with this.
Childminders sometimes feel their concerns are ignored, but the whole early years sector should lend their support and stand firm against agencies.
- Read the education and childcare minister's response