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Childminder numbers are dwindling, just when the DfE needs them most, says Sue Cowley

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Sue Cowley

When our children were tiny, I wanted to go back to work part-time. Our ideal form of childcare would have been for them to be cared for by a local childminder, but our nearest didn’t have any spaces available and they ended up going to a nursery, and they were happy there. But I always felt just a little bit disappointed that they hadn’t had the chance to build a relationship with a childminder.

One of the most worrying things to happen in our sector over the past five or so years has been the relentless decrease in childminders. I am amazed the DfE appears disinterested in this statistic. It should be promoting childminding as a great option, and supporting those practitioners who want to work in this way.

Instead, you will often hear it talk about early years settings without mentioning childminders at all – except when the Government is trying to push agencies, which have not exactly been met with universal delight.

Sam Gyimah has just launched a consultation on the 30 hours free offer, and he put forward the idea that settings should open from 6am to 8pm to support parents who do shift work. For voluntary-run, pack-away settings like ours, it would be completely impossible to offer these opening times.

Our practitioners are all parents, and they need to take their own children to school. The hall we operate in is frequently in use for evening functions, so we must be packed away and gone by 5pm. We don’t have the demand from local parents for an offer of an extended day. Of course, the ideal solution for settings that cannot offer the full 30 hours, or that are not in a position to open for a longer day, would be to combine their 30 hours with a group of local childminders.

And it is at this point that I believe the Government will look at its treatment of childminders and suddenly realise it has made a big mistake. It takes a team of people to ‘mind the child’ – parents, grandparents, nurseries and, often, childminders. When Gyimah goes to shut the stable door, he will suddenly and belatedly realise that all the childminders have bolted.

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