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Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss answers Nursery World readers' questions about More Great Childcare and More Affordable Childcare

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EYFS

Please can you ask Elizabeth Truss why the DfE produced an almost identical document 'Early Years Outcomes' to the 'Development Matters' and why did vital information such as the Characteristics of Effective Learning, what adults should do, what adults could provide and that the list of statements should not be used as a check list advice, get left out. Does she believe that these are not important. Also why was the order changed as this sends a strong message. Does she believe that communication comes before personal and social development in importance?

Helen Irving

 

Early Years Outcomes sets out expected development levels for children during the early years. Development Matters is an optional pedagogical tool which as well as setting out those development levels also sets out a particular approach to support children. We would encourage professionals to use their judgment about how to support children in their formative years in reaching the milestones set out in Early Years Outcomes.
 

Qualifications  

I'm looking forward to starting the Early Years Teacher Status training later this month but am still unclear as to whether I will be able to apply for teaching jobs in the maintained sector as the EYTS will not bring QTS. Nor am I clear as to whether the training will be followed by the equivalent of an NQT year. I'd be grateful if the minister could clarify these points.

Heidi Cox
 
The Early Years Teachers status is a really good one so I’m delighted to hear you will be studying for it. We have already recruited very strongly, exceeding by far the last recruitment to Early Years Professional Status even though the entry requirements are tougher. We are really pleased with how popular it has been. Ultimately we want professionals with Early Years Teacher Status and  Qualified Teacher Status to work together as teachers across early years and primary. As Charlie Taylor recently commented "our aim is to develop a 0 to 18 system that is led by the best schools, early years providers, leaders and professionals working together for the benefit of our children."
Academies and Free Schools already have the freedom to employ teaching staff without QTS. While QTS is currently a requirement for teachers in maintained schools, head teachers are able to employ non-QTS staff - including Early Years Teachers - if they are satisfied that they have the relevant qualifications and experience. The induction requirements of Early Years Teachers are being considered carefully to identify how these could work in practice.
 


Local authorities
 

Despite being a key stakeholder in the development of the ey&c community, local authorities appear to be being unfairly criticised in recent proposals. Can the minister outline her vision/expectations for local authorities in the future?

Annette Brooker
 
There has been a lack of clarity about different roles. We are clear it is the role of Ofsted to inspect and make judgements. LAs will have a duty to work with weaker providers to support them in the areas identified by Ofsted as requiring improvement. We want LAs to concentrate on ensuring that all children – particularly those from lower income households – get access to a high quality early education, and we want them to help the most disadvantaged through children’s centres and support to families. LAs also have an important role to play in attracting high quality providers to their area.
 
What assessment has been made of the immediate take-up rate of the 2-year old free childcare offer introduced from 1 September 2013, and what decisions are being made regarding future funding allocations for take-up of individual places for local authorities from 1 September 2014?

Julie Watkins
The right support in the earliest years can make a crucial difference in securing good outcomes for children. The two year old offer – which will be extended to 260,000 of the most disadvantaged two year olds from September 2014 – will give more children access to the high-quality early education they need to help them get on in life. Local authorities have a responsibility to deliver early education places for two year olds, and I expect councils to do everything they can in supporting parents to find and take up a place for their child. We will set out funding allocations for local authorities later in the Autumn which will be based on the number of children eligible in each area.
 

Voluntary settings  

Please could you expand on where you see the role of voluntary run settings going within the sector? It worries me that all your consultation documents talk about 'nurseries' and 'businesses', when there are thousands of preschools like ours, which are run by local parents volunteering (many of which are also charities like ours), in a brilliant example of the 'Big Society'. Do you feel settings such as ours have a valuable role to play? If yes, why do you seem to ignore them? I am also very concerned about charges for parent volunteers, at present we are fighting a charge of around £150 to allow a parent to join our committee. This charge is for a Certificate of Good Conduct and fingerprinting, as she has been outside the UK in the past 5 years. I have only just finishing persuading the DBS and Ofsted to change their policy which stated that parents were no longer going to be classed as 'volunteers' and would have to pay for their own CRBs. Does it seem fair to you to charge parent volunteers in this way and put so many obstacles in their way?

Sue Cowley

I admire and value the contribution made by voluntary settings to the childcare market. They provide high quality care and learning opportunities for children and play an important role in expanding the market. Our reforms will help all nurseries – including voluntary settings – to expand. Voluntary providers are also able to access government funding to provide free early years places for disadvantaged two year olds. Only by encouraging all parts of the childcare market to grow can we increase choice and affordability for parents.

On the Checking of Volunteers  

I am sorry to hear about the difficulty you have had. Volunteers are not required to pay the full cost of a DBS check, but a small administration fee for processing the check may apply. As a pre-school, volunteers who serve on your committee are responsible for demonstrating that they meet the DBS eligibility criteria. This includes criminal record checks and an enhanced DBS check. In the case of your volunteer who has lived abroad, this will require a Good Conduct Certificate as unfortunately there is no other way of carrying out the necessary checks.

 

Childminding 

Childminders are being encouraged to accept early years funding for 2, 3 and 4 years olds and the hourly rate paid to childminders is £3.91 in my area. The average hourly rate in my area is between £5-£6 per hour and as we are pretty busy why would childminders offer to accept funding? Will the hourly rate be increased in line with the rate of pay of childminders and if not why would the government think that childminders will agree to offer it?

Sarah Cunningham Davis, Ofsted registered childminder

 

We are taking steps to simplify funding to make sure more of it gets to the frontline and more early years places can be provided. We are also collecting data on the rates that each local authority pays to its providers and will publish further information in the autumn. In time, we want to move towards a national funding formula to remove regional disparities. We think childminders accepting early years funding is a good thing – previously they may have had to take the children in their care to a nursery to access the 15 hours.  Currently fewer than 4,000 childminders access this funding. As a result of our reforms, up to 32,000 childminders are now eligible. It will now be easier for childminders to deliver these 15 hours as part of a full time place in their homes – which will be beneficial to them and the parents they provide childcare for.  

 

You talked about making Funded Early Education accessible to all "good" and "outstanding" childcare settings, including childminders, and you even got published a statutory guidance document for the Local Authorities to follow from September 2013. Are you aware that there are still barriers being put up by a huge number of Local Authorities which have prevent thousands of childminders from being able to offer this Funded Early Education funding? My Local Authority is waiting for the law to change until they will even consider allowing childminders to access the funding. How do you propose to make sure Local Authorities remove these barriers.

Stacey Green, Ofsted registered childminder

Our guidance to local authorities is clear that all good and outstanding providers – including childminders – are automatically eligible for 2, 3 and 4-year-old funding. There is no requirement that childminders must be part of a network to receive funding. Local authorities must not depart from the guidance unless they have good reason to do so. Waiting until the law is changed is not an acceptable reason to refuse to allow good and outstanding childminders access to funding. If your local LA is putting up barriers then I would urge you to get in touch with me at ministers@education.gsi.gov.uk.

 

Many of your recent proposals have been targeted at saving parents money. How do think Childminder Agencies are going to save parents money, when they are not receiving any government funds? 

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding
 

We know that for many parents, childminders are an absolutely essential part of childcare. They offer a home-based environment - which many parents prefer, particularly for very young children. They present an excellent, affordable option for parents. We want to see an increase in affordable childcare, and childminders are essential to this. But the current situation is disheartening. For too long policy has discriminated against childminders – and their numbers have plummeted as a result. The number of childminders has almost halved over the last 20 years. Currently fewer than 4,000 childminders access early education funding. Childcare is likely to be more affordable due to there being more childminders, which are an affordable option, not because of a reduction in rates.

Childminder agencies will also reduce the administrative burdens faced by individual childminders, cut duplication, and will be cost effective, with the freedom to share resources. This will help drive down costs for parents.

 

If a safeguarding issue arises from a child in the care of an Agency Childminder who has not been inspected by Ofsted, will you feel responsible for this?  

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

The situation you describe is analogous to a safeguarding issue arising in a nursery involving a member of staff who was not present when the Ofsted inspection was taking place. Where there are safeguarding concerns, agencies will be required to share information with relevant authorities in the same way as Ofsted currently does. Agencies will also be inspected by Ofsted. Indeed, under the existing Ofsted inspection framework, a childminder might only receive a visit once every three or four year. Agencies will have much more contact with childminders – including regular home visits and additional contact time.

If you had invested endless hours of your time at evenings and weekends, along with reinvesting a large portion of your earnings into your small business, would you be prepared to hand this over to an agency and pay them a fee? 

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

We have been clear from the outset that joining an agency will be optional. We do want to see both more independent childminders and more agency childminders as this will help increase the provision of childcare. That’s why the Government has made £2million available to help people who want to set up a nursery or a childminding business to help cover things like legal and insurance costs, health and safety training and adaptations to premises. 

  Some childminders, especially those new to the profession, may want to join an agency to be part of a larger organisation rather than setting up their own business. Agencies will also provide support with invoicing, paperwork, marketing, training and legal services which will free up childminders to concentrate on providing high quality care for the children they look after. At the same time, we understand many childminders are content with the way they are working. Both options are equally valid.  

If you were a parent looking for a Childminder would you honestly pay for an agency childminder who had not been inspected by Ofsted compared to no fee with an independent childminder who had? 

Ruth Denton, Auntie Ruth’s Childminding

We anticipate some childminder agencies operating like nurseries – they will provide a local offer to parents based on their needs, and we think this will be popular with some parents. Agencies will be inspected by Ofsted and will be responsible for the childminders registered with them. As part of their inspection, Ofsted will also visit a number of the childminders registered with the agency. Under the existing inspection framework, a childminder might only receive a visit once every three or four years, whereas agencies will have much more contact with childminders, including regular home visits and contact time. Some childminder agencies will also provide extra training support for their childminders beyond what Ofsted offers, so will actually play a key role in quality assurance. With this in mind, I believe parents can be absolutely assured about the quality of childminders registered with agencies.

 

If ALL childminders remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted in the future, the main objection to childminding agencies would be removed and childminding agencies would become a support service that those that wanted to could buy into. Please explain why ALL childminders can not remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted?  

Any childminder who wishes to remain registered and inspected directly by Ofsted will be able to do so.  We trust childminders to decide what is best for them.


The wording in the Children and Families Bill, once passed and made law of this country, could be easily used without any changes to make childminding agencies compulsory. Please can you confirm that childminding agencies will never become compulsory and will always remain voluntary?

Penny Webb, plus 240 childminders 

It is simply not true to say that agencies could be made compulsory without further legislation. The Children and Families Bill makes it clear that childminders have the option of registering either with Ofsted or an agency. We want to see an expansion in provision and support more childminders in bringing their services to the market. We certainly don’t want to close independent businesses down by making agencies compulsory. I am a big supporter of small businesses and the great work they do.

 

What are the business plans for childminder agencies as there appear to be none?

Louisa and Jim Tickner

We do not want to dictate the business model for agencies. Just like a nursery, which operates to its own business plan while following due process with Ofsted to ensure they offer a safe and viable service, we would expect agencies to create their own business models. Our agency trials are now underway, and we expect to see a number of different and innovative models which work for childminders and they parents they work with. A range of organisations are taking part in the trials, including local authorities, schools, children centres, nursery providers and private companies.

 

Schools  

Can you tell us categorically if the DFE is committed to recognising the role that maintained nursery schools play in supporting the development of high quality learning, and in acting as a role model of best practice for other practitioners, and will it demonstrate this commitment by allocating appropriate funding through the designated schools grant (DSG)?

Ben Hasan, Chair of National Campaign for Real Nursery Education  

Maintained nursery schools have an important role to play in creating a diverse childcare market and increasing choice for parents. This is demonstrated by the fact that 96 per cent of maintained nurseries were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their last inspection. Early education places are funded through the Dedicated Schools Grant, and it is up to the local authority to decide how best to distribute funding in consultation with their providers.

 

Safeguarding  

Can the Minister explain why it is considered unnecessary to protect those children cared for in their own homes, denying them the same protection and high standards required of all other settings?  At the moment anyone can call him/herself a nanny, they’re not even required to hold a recognised, minimum childcare qualification.  Nannies are not inspected (unless they’re on the voluntary Ofsted Register and few are) and therefore, if found to be unsuitable, parents can do little more than dismiss him/her and s/he moves on to the next unsuspecting family.  Shouldn’t nannies be considered a part of the childcare / early years workforce, required to deliver the same high standards and measured by the same inspection standards as all other childcare and early years practitioners rather than allowing them to continue their role as the ‘Invisible’ Professionals.

Tricia Pritchard, Senior Professional Officer, EYC/WW  

Put simply, we do not think that it is right for Government to interfere in private childcare arrangements that take place in the child's own home.  It is a matter for parents to decide who they employ as a nanny in their own home. 

 
Educational philosophies

Steiner Waldorf schools throughout the world introduce formal education when children are rising 7.  We believe that a later introduction to formal learning and the broad Steiner kindergarten experience (3-6+ years) create important opportunities to lay strong foundations for communication and language skills through an oral-rich environment; for numeracy skills through hands-on activities such as baking, setting the table etc; for social, emotional, physical skills through open ended child initiated play in an enabling environment with well qualified practitioners to support them.  Steiner schools can show how this later start to formal learning benefits the development of the whole child and that through this approach they become engaged, active citizens of the world, entrepreneurial and creative - and are in no way disadvantaged in terms of academic outcomes.  To quote from a recent OFSTED inspection report (Steiner Academy Hereford July 13); ‘Pupils achieve well throughout the school, reaching above the expected levels in English and mathematics and in the other subjects that they take in Year 11, despite their later start with the formal teaching of such subjects.’  Their finding are borne out by the school's subsequent GCSE results: 80% of Y11 pupils achieved 5 GCSEs (including maths and English) at grade C or above and almost half of the grades achieved were A or A*.

As one of the 'badly misguided' group of educationalists who signed the Telegraph open letter 'Too Much Too Soon', I would appeal to you not to dismiss out of hand the evidence that there is more than one right way to successfully educate our young people and not to ignore the evidence that other approaches which introduce formal learning later do work. Perhaps I could suggest that you visit one of our schools to see this for yourself and meet some of the parents (many of whom are low income) who are passionate about later formal learning and feel strongly that the childhood of their children is being eroded by the current early school start and the downward pressure of formal teaching and testing.} My question is this - could you please explain why you will not positively engage with the debate against the current early school start and the downward pressure of more formal teaching on children which contributes to the erosion of their childhood?

Janni Nicol, Early Childhood Representative, Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship UK  

The simple fact is that a third of children start school without basic language and communication skills.  In poorer areas, this rises to nearly a half of children – which is why all our reforms are focused on improving the quality of provision. It is important to have a diverse range of provision so parents can choose which pedagogical approach delivers the best outcomes for their child. We fully support organisations like Steiner, who have been licensed to run a number of free schools. And we have also recently issued guidance on summer born children clarifying that, at aged five, they can join reception class if their parents don’t think they’re ready for Year One. Ultimately we have given much more flexibility to teachers to teach in a way that is appropriate for the level of development and age of the child. Our new Early Years Teacher specifications are wide enough to encompass different philosophies, for example Montessori.  

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