I was really interested when a Tweet popped up in my timeline from @honestmummy who is a fab blogger who always writes interesting content. I followed the link to her blog post about an event which she recently attended run by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, MP Sam Gyimah to celebrate Early Years Childcare. During the event guests were apparently invited to hear all about his parties policies and the best practice from all over England. During this lavish event guests were presumably fed all sorts of information about progress, best practice and by the sounds of it a lot of information about how this government is doing an amazing job. This to me sounds exactly like a brilliant PR exercise in advance of the election because from my point of view Early Years Childcare is at crisis point. This is my perspective, which to put into context, is as a registered childminder considered Outstanding by Ofsted and a mum of 3 children.
Whilst I was at work in a fairly senior position in local government I found myself in a situation of needing childcare. Initially I decided to take my child along to a nursery, however, looking at several and seeing them staffed by young, inexperienced practioners, being fed poor quality food and being made to take naps on gym mats on the floor I quickly decided this wasnt for me. One nursery which came highly recommended had exposed plug sockets, dangerous outdoor toys and food was stored in the mens toilet. For the pleasure of this I could pay more than I was earning in a day. Lets just say that I imagine the nursery at Westminster is not a reflection of most nurseries across the UK. I quickly decided a childminder was for me and fortunately I found a brilliant one, whom I recommend to this day.
However, because of the expense of childcare I literally could not afford to work unless I got some free childcare and fortunately the grandparents were in a position to assist me. I had the joy of working (see this as adult company) for precisely no profit whatsoever, however, this is what the government wants because I paid my Tax and National Insurance and wasn’t one of the unemployed statistics. For me, being at work was a good thing as my job is as much of a vocation as anything else. However, I fail to see the argument that for children its better to have working parents. My children were passed from pillar to post spent a lot of time travelling to settings, they did not have settled routines.
Unfortunately all the effort and sacrifice to remain employed was not really worthwhile as I was made redundant. Being the sort of person who needs to find something worthwhile to do I re-trained as a childminder and began looking after some wonderful kids. I quickly found that to do childminding properly you need to make incredible sacrifices; your home is no longer your own, you have to display horribly designed government/ Ofsted posters, things get trashed and very quickly you find out that other parents have very little respect for you. However, I really did love looking after the children and did my best for them and I hope that my Outstanding status reflects that.
The thing which no-one really tells you though is that to be an Outstanding childminder you need to do absolutely huge volumes of pointless paperwork. I would be working all day looking after small children alone, which is demanding both physically and mentally and then sometimes spending most of the evenings either on training courses, reading the latest practice or doing the huge amounts of paperwork. No-one really looked at all that work, done in time which I could have spent with my own family. It was just there for Ofsted incase I had to prove what I was doing. I was alert at all times during my practice to make sure I took pictures of the children doing activities, so I could prove that they were doing things, conscious that it would have been better at times to actually be doing the activity with them at that moment rather than taking a picture of it. Some childminders are constantly on their phones filling in their Baby Days app as they go along through the day, they then don’t need to do all the paperwork later on in the evenings. Surely its better just to interact with the child? This is all part of the ‘best practice’ the government tells you about.
The thing that really did it for me was when I realised that about 50 % of the childminders I came across I wouldn’t have left my cat with. Some of these people are highly rated by parents and by Ofsted. The parents don’t see them at the local soft plays, farms and activity centres where they take their (usually at least 4 children) and dump them whilst they sit at the table with a coffee and a copy of The Sun steadfastly ignoring them for an entire morning. 4 x £6 per hour, thats £24 an hour, say a morning lasts for 3 hours, thats £72 for nothing. Meanwhile strangers, random parents are actually interacting with the children. I’ve heard horrific stories of children being left in cars outside supermarkets, left on the toilet for hours at a time, taken to the childminders tennis lessons (telling the parents the child is attending tennis lessons). I’ve seen them fed slop, junk or nothing.
Frankly I’ve seen it all. The problem is that many of these people are good at paperwork, they know how to play the system and in the Early Years the children cant actually report them. I tried to report one particularly bad practice to Ofsted, it took me three phone calls each time on hold for over 30 minutes and then I got no-where. The system really doesn’t work, its all talk and its just a matter of time before something else goes wrong.
Despite the Government talking the talk, there is very little local support for childminders as funding was withdrawn during this Government. In addition to this the funding amounts allocated to childminders for specific groups of children in Early Years is slowly being reduced and withdrawn. I know some really good childminders who don’t offer these places because it simply isn’t economical to do so. Clearly this isn’t in the best interests of the child.
With the withdrawal of funding has comes the issue of training, childminders and Early Years practitioners now need to fund themselves and although the training is provided by the County Council its still an additional cost to your business. I’ve struggled to afford the training as I don’t take many children into my setting, because I want to provide the best possible care for them. This is a ridiculous situation.
As someone keen to work, I thought that I might start my own business offering after-school care and school holiday care. Looking into this I have discovered that I need to have a CACHE level 3 Early Years Qualification. I strongly approve of this and applaud its introduction as best practice. However, since funding has been withdrawn for this in order for me (an Outstanding Childminder with experience running Beavers, Young Archaeologist Club for 12 years and 3 University higher degrees) to run this club I would need to spend in the region of £2000. Given that I would need to have at least 10 children per session in order to break even at that cost this isn’t a viable route for me to go down. I’m not the only person in this position and it strikes me as an incredible waste of potential talent.
At the moment I’ve become so disheartened with childminding and Early Years practice, that I am taking a break from it and trying to get back into my usual work as a museum curator. It will cost me to go to work but I intend to employ a nanny who will hopefully nuture my children without the constraints of paperwork and the rest of the baggage which goes with childminding. My youngest will still also be attending a pre-school which I am very happy with.
Interestingly Honest Mum was told about some research to quote her:
‘I was amazed to hear that research shows that a pre-schooled child has more chance of getting better exam results and ultimately earning higher wages than those not, according to a study published in September 9 2014.
‘The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary (EPPSE) research shows children who go to pre-school are projected to earn £27,000 more during their career than those who don’t. They are also more likely to get better GCSE results – the equivalent of getting 7 Bs compared to 7 Cs’.
I’d love to hear a bit more about this research as it seems rather odd to me. Do those children who attend pre-school come from backgrounds where the children are encouraged to succeed because the parents are working and are ‘those’ sorts of role models? How do we know they will actually get better GCSE results- these children from the current ‘model’ of best practice aren’t actually there yet. It seems to me spin and conjecture.
From experience my children have all been through a fantastic pre-school which really lives up to expectations and offers a lot in terms of learning experiences and emotional/ social care. As an Early Years practitioner I cant fault the setting, but Ofsted have not given it Outstanding, rather, they have given it Good. This is on the basis that they felt that they don’t interact enough with parents. This is a playgroup which I know is adequately and consistently run because it is the only one in my area that actively asks for a parent to be present at every session to contribute and observe. Its a best practice model as far as I am concerned. I know of lots of other settings which wheel out different activities and practices when Ofsted visits, these visits are not random, the setting gets time to prepare.
With good preparation its easy to ‘cheat’ the system. I also know of several settings which take the Government 3 year funding and then ask the parents for ‘top ups’ or ‘charitable donations’ not because they are doing something better for the children, but because they are money making enterprises. It wont be long before there is a scandal like those in the old people home sectors. I fail to see how children are better off in any of these settings than they would be at home with an engaged parent.
As far as I can see when Government ministers travel the country talking to providers and settings they are visiting high end providers or those who have had plenty of time and assistance to prepare. They simply are not seeing what is happening on the ground on a daily basis. I’d like to question who the advisors are, what their back ground is. I’d be surprised to see Joe Bloggs childminder on there; the ones who are dealing with the child who has been dumped with them with sick bug because the parents cant afford not to work. Or the overworked pre-school manager sinking under a mountain of personal development journals whilst balancing the books with an ever shrinking Government contribution to childcare fees.
I’d argue that at the present time in Early Years childcare there is a crisis, you have mums like me who cant really afford to work and don’t qualify for the free childcare incentives offered by the government. If you cant afford these preschools then what happens to these children’s results and potential careers long term?
You also have an entire army of grandparents fulfilling the role of Early Years careers at a time when they should be enjoying their retirement. These volunteer careers should be paid for their time, without them the UK simply would not function. Goodness knows where they will find the volunteers who are going to be manning the libraries and museums which are all turning to volunteer help, because as far as I can see most of the likely candidates are looking after pre-schoolers.
Coupled with these issues you have un qualified and inexperienced staff in settings which really are not up to scratch, you have a demoralised workforce who cant afford more training and are fed up with the amount of paperwork required of them and you have the Government reducing the amount of funding available whilst trying to get more people into work. Its a totally mixed up situation.
So to summarise I’m disappointed, the Government have undertaken a PR exercise to try to convey to people that they are doing the best for our pre-schoolers. They’ve done this by spending a lot of money and having a swanky lunch and inviting people who they see as influencers and allies (sorry bloggers this isn’t meant as a dig). There would have been better ways to spend the time and money than a back patting exercise.
Where to start?
If the Government asked me to advise them I’d initially focus on a few key areas:
Making childcare for preschoolers consistently free across the board for all children 2 years and above if it really does have that much of an impact on a childs future
Instigate random ‘drop in’ by Ofsted at any time for any practitioner
Remove the requirements for such detailed assessment and paperwork to focus time on effort on the well being of the child
Reinstate local support network funding and create a much better organised national system of training and support
Ensure that all practitioners meet a certain level of training by offering subsidised affordable practical training similar to that on offer for teacher and teaching assistant training
Have a one strike and you are out system for bad practice, especially with childminders.
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this one…