05 Sep 2014, Catherine Gaunt
The independent childminder agency evaluation of the trials was commissioned by the DfE and carried out by Ipsos MORO and Ecorys.
The report sets out the findings of the childminder agency trials, and aims to help organisations who wish to set up a childminder agency.
The research was carried out with the 20 pilot agencies that were chosen to take part in the trial last summer.
The report notes that those that took part in the trials ‘reported resistance from existing childminders regarding childminder agencies.’
In response, a number of pilots held focus groups with childminders to dispel myths about agencies and help the pilots understand what childminders would find useful.
It said that prospective childminders were likely to be a key market for agencies, and those that were interviewed as part of the evaluation were more positive about the type of support that an agency could provide.
The report includes examples of different types of support that childminder agencies might offer, including a start-up package offering mandatory training on the EYFS and first aid, mentoring support from experienced childminders and a pre-registration home visit.
Childminders that register with an agency would then be able to choose different levels of support, including continuing professional development, mentoring and business software.
Childminder agencies will need to be ‘self-funding’ and evidence from the trials suggests that ‘staffing will be a major cost for agencies ‘in particular in relations to roles requiring particular expertise) and will, therefore, need to be fully analysed when setting up an agency.
In an interview with Nursery World last week, prior to the report’s publication, childcare and education minister Sam Gymiah said, ‘A lot of the research was done very much in the early days, sometime in 2013, when there were still a lot of myths around CMAs, for example a lot of childminders thought that it would be compulsory, and they would lose their Ofsted rating, which they wanted to keep, and this certainly not the case. So this research was done when the policy was still being formulated.’
Commenting on the findings, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said there were ‘significant’ costs in running agencies that would be passed on to parents.
Mr Leitch said, ‘This evaluation tells us very little we didn’t already know about agencies, and seems to be intended as a guidance document for organisations considering setting up agencies, rather than an objective analysis of the respective pros and cons of the model.
‘What the evaluation does make clear, however, is that the steps that agencies will need to take to provide a service of value – such as employing suitably qualified staff, carrying out regular quality assurance visits and providing bespoke face-to-face support – all have significant cost implications.
‘Given that research has shown that these costs are likely to be passed on to parents, many of whom are already struggling with the cost of childcare, we still fail to see how this model can be viable in the long-term.’
Victoria Flint, head of communications at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early ears, said, ‘This evaluation raises further questions around the sustainability of the childminder agency model. We find it disconcerting that it does not provide firm conclusions on the basis of the childminder agency trials that took place, which questions the purpose and value of this initial phase.
‘Although the evaluation states that CMAs will have to demonstrate how their inspection gradings differ from Ofsted inspection, we have concerns as to how this will be ensured in practice. Transparency on this issue will be crucial to help parents understand how an agency-registered childminder's quality of care has been assessed.’