Childminding is a fantastic career - there aren’t many jobs that enable people to work flexibly, from home, and earn a professional salary while doing something as important and rewarding as caring for and educating young children. By all accounts childminder numbers should be increasing. Instead, they are falling rapidly.
Yet instead of contributing to a constructive conversation around the driving factors behind the declining numbers, the recent survey and insights from the Early Years Alliance misdirect the focus.
There are major challenges facing independently-registered childminders. There were 75,600 in 2000. By March 2022, this was down to just 31,400 - a decline of 58 per cent. Data from Ofsted indicates that an additional net-drop of 4,000 was recorded between March and September. These numbers represent a heart-breaking loss of talent.
It’s therefore deeply disheartening to see the EYA amplify negative sentiment around Childminder Agencies (CMAs). They are a crucial route towards turning the tide and getting childminder numbers growing again.
Because the number of childminders registering with CMAs is doing just that - growing. At tiney, our community of childminders has increased tenfold since 2021; with hundreds and hundreds of childminders opening tiney home nurseries over the last two years. In addition, we currently have over 500 people completing their training, with more joining every day. Crucially, we also have a very low ‘churn rate’ (i.e. those leaving) of less than 0.5 per cent. And a number of other CMAs have grown at similar rates over the past few years.
We therefore strongly believe that CMAs are a crucial part of a sustainable future for childminding and that there is no value in turning our industry on itself as we look for solutions. Instead, we must collaborate and support each other to find the route towards a stronger future for early years.
Each childminder is an individual, with different needs and priorities. But we believe that a key reason why CMA childminder numbers are increasing whilst Ofsted-registered numbers are declining is because of the important support a CMA can provide. This stretches from business, admin and EYFS support, through to quality assurance and connections to a wider community of peers. This is the value of the model; we can give a childminder everything they need to thrive, so they don’t have to face challenges alone.
The growth in CMA numbers has occurred without any government fiscal support or subsidy. This contrasts to Ofsted, who receive over £1,000 a year in government support per childminder, despite inspections only happening once every six years, on average. Should the mooted Government plans to level the playing field in this respect come to fruition, it would simply enable CMAs to do even more to support their communities.
The EYA report also alludes to a ‘conflict of interest’ that childminding agencies have between quality and their fiscal business model. This is a highly misleading take on the current regulatory setup. CMAs are inspected by Ofsted at least every two years (you can see tiney’s most recent inspection report here) in an intense process that takes the better part of a week. CMAs are therefore strongly incentivised to maintain high standards throughout their communities - we are judged on the strength of the whole, meaning each link must be as strong as the next.
We are proud that all CMA-registered childminders are treated as proper professionals and get a quality assurance visit at least once a year in addition to the CMA’s Ofsted inspection every two years. We think this is something to champion, not question.
We’re sure that everyone (from parents through to practitioners) would agree that childminders should have regular quality assurance visits to ensure high levels of safeguarding, professional quality and delivery of the Early Years Foundation Stage learning. The key focus, therefore, should be on how Ofsted-registered childminders can access more frequent visits and support from regulators.
The report also cites comments including that the ‘cost implications’ of joining an agency are ‘enough reason not to join them’. This is a disheartening misunderstanding of what agencies can offer. It’s true that agencies need self-sustaining business models, but the way they do this is by creating maximum value for their members. This support unlocks earning potential and business growth for the childminder. For the individual, joining an agency is an investment, not a cost.
At tiney we enable our childminders to maximise their earnings and minimise their administrative burden through reduced paperwork, EYFS support, marketing infrastructure, and an enhanced community. Comparing tiney registered childminders average earnings with Coram’s Childcare Survey rates survey we can see that whilst the cost of tiney childcare remains around 15 per cent more affordable than equivalent nursery care for parents, our childminders are earning 17 per cent more on average than their equivalent Ofsted-registered counterparts in all geographic regions. Average annual net take home pay for our childminders (after paying tiney’s fees) is over £30,000.
No two CMAs are the same, just as no two childminders are. The point is offering choice, options and the right package of support to an individual; enabling them to thrive. No agency benefits from reducing the independence of an individual childminder, or delivering anything other than a satisfying, positive experience. Few of the respondents in the survey will ever have experienced life with a CMA, but those that do are happy with their experiences - tiney childminders have a very high Net Promoter Score; with 89 per cent of our childminders rating us 10 out of 10.
We cannot build a stronger sector by attacking it from the inside. We must centre our discussions around positive change that will benefit the whole community; not stir division built on misguided narratives. Perhaps the future of childminding does look a little different to the past and perhaps, yes, CMAs will play a bigger role. But we must explore that possibility and other potential changes with an open mind and generosity of spirit. We must hope and plan for a stronger future, together.