Members of the campaign group ‘Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding’ (CNLF) have made a formal complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (formerly known as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission) about the Government’s abuse of the childcare market.
The complaint outlines how the Government has abused its legislative powers by regulating the childcare market, stating that “[the] price fixing of both the purchase and sales price is an abuse of market control”.
In September 2017, the Government will roll out its 30-hour offer to eligible 3 and 4-year-old children of working parents in England. However, due to the shortfall between the true cost of providing the ‘free’ hours and the deficit in funding from the Government, many childcare providers believe they will be unable to deliver childcare in a sustainable manner and will be forced to close.
This effect is in direct opposition to the Government’s aim of providing more childcare for the estimated 400,000 families who will become eligible for the additional 15 hours in September.
The complaint by CNLF, which has almost 7,000 members, states that the childcare sector is already in jeopardy due to factors such as the introduction of workplace pensions, consistent increases in the National Minimum and Living Wages and Business Rates revaluations.
It goes on to state that the Government has “ploughed on with its political agenda based on non-representative data” in reference to a survey commissioned by the Department for Education to establish the true cost of childcare, which only received 284 responses.
CNLF’s action comes in the wake of a recent survey of councils in England by the Family and Childcare Trust which found that over half (54%) said they did not know if they would have enough childcare available for eligible pre-schoolers using the 30 hours.
A spokesperson for the CNLF campaign group, said:
“We looked at various ways to challenge the Government on the issue of underfunding in Early Years. This route is a direct way of getting the legislation around funding investigated.
“As private businesses, PVI’s (private, voluntary and independent childcare providers) have been absorbing and trying to manage the costs associated with delivering the ‘free’ Early Years Education since its introduction. The extension to 30 hours for working families brings with it the real threat of closure for some settings who simply can’t absorb or manage further losses.
“As providers, we fully support the Government helping families with childcare costs, however, the policies around funding mean that we have no choice but to cross-subsidise by charging inflated fees for hours outside of funded hours and charging for additional services for things that the Government say should not be provided within the funding.
“This is not something we want to do and not something we feel parents should be faced with. It is a consequence of a policy which the Government has not funded properly and which childcare providers cannot afford to subsidise but know that they run the risk of being forced out of the market if they do not offer the funded hours.
“Research showed that only 51% of nurseries in England were expecting to make a profit in 2016, with the average nursery losing an astonishing £957 per child, per year on the 15 hour offer.
“This level of loss on 15 hours of funding means that the increase to 30 hours is simply untenable for the whole sector at the current funding rates, the only way to ensure the ongoing viability of the whole sector is to remove the word free and allow the funding to be used as a subsidy.
“We are confident that the CMA will carry out a thorough investigation and we await their response.”
June O’Sullivan states in her blog that she believes Ofsted are ready to listen and has written a letter that any childcare provider can use to engage with them.
June states, “The following is a summary of the key “asks” for Ofsted. These are broad brush changes to the process of inspection. These were the basis of the #OfstedBigConversation, quite separate from the personal stories, grievances and appeals with which many individuals are currently engaged and will continue to do so with support from colleagues, network members and their membership organisations.
Ofsted have indicated a willingness to have a meeting. I would suggest we ask for a meeting in each region with the Ofsted Regional Lead. This way Ofsted gets to meet quite a few people who can provide them with data from each area and support the central request for the outlined changes to the inspection process. If these meetings are held, I think they should be led by the Chairs with members of the network and each region has to provide data and general case studies to highlight the issue and support the reason for change. As ever we need to maintain a calm, rational and professional approach. Negotiation is more likely to work when both people have something to offer. Just imagine we are going to marriage guidance! So in preparation here is a letter to begin the mediation process.”
On the #OfstedBigConversation website, editor Catriona Nason defines, ‘What happens next?’
“We give Ofsted two weeks from today to respond to our concerns with a real action and also to deliver the outcome of the FOI. If nothing happens by the two weeks deadline, then we draft an open letter and send it to the press via the national press wire which reaches all members of the press in UK. If we are still not satisfied, then radical action comes next…”
Do you agree with the plans? Will you get involved?
An extract from June O’Sullivan’s letter. The full copy is available here on her blog.
I am very pleased to hear you might want to meet us. We have been moved to action since the process of inspection has become quite antagonistic and unfriendly. We want to resolve the situation so we can develop a collaborative and constructive learning community where we can have a mutual respectful relationship that allows us all to share a vision of high quality practice for all children within a spirit of inquiry and improvement.
To achieve this we want to be inspected by knowledgeable inspectors with …
June O’Sullivan, the driving force behind last weekend’s #OfstedBigConversation has published the feedback from the meeting she chaired at the London Early Years Foundation. She hosted over 50 industry professionals who formulated responses to the 6 key issues being discussed.
Question 1: Ofsted dual role of regulator and agent for improvement.
There is anxiety about Ofsted’s ability to be both regulator and agent of improvement. There is a trust issue and the sector is uncertain as to how Ofsted can improve standards when it’s not operating securely as a regulator. We need to have a lead person in Ofsted with robust and credible experience, qualifications and strong knowledge of Early Years. There need to be a practitioner forum / advisory group to advise, improve and innovate with Ofsted as a collaborative process. This needs to be broad and reflect different settings and approaches and be regularly changed. Ofsted needs to find ways to link with the local authority so that improvement is continual and constructive. Better to have a partnership approach especially for those served with notice to improve. Finally, we need accessible communication such as a central search engine. Information and guidance is impossible to find and inhibits good relationship building.
Question 2: Why have inspections responding to complaints over ten years old while all those inspections currently due remain incomplete?
Stop the complaints that are over ten years old now. Separate complaint initiated inspections from full inspections. Revert to model of past when complaint were investigated separately. Complaints that have been dealt with satisfactorily should not influence the inspections unless significant. Tribal and Prospects should change inspectors if requested by settings especially when there is an obvious conflict of interest. (ex staff member returning as inspector and settings down the road inspecting yours). Follow your own published guidelines.
Question 3: Quality Assurance
Make the process clear and open. Guarantee that the QA is led by qualified and skilled people. QA should only be used to cover statutory issues. Be quicker it’s taking too long. Feedback to judgements should be in writing. A QA that overturns an inspection judgement should make the inspection null and void. Ensure there are no perverse incentives to inspections providers.
Question 4: Ofsted Inspectors Training and Support
Ofsted need to articulate and reflect a clear consistent pedagogical approach in all their activities. This will mean the sector understands what Ofsted believe is good practice. This needs to be applied in all communication and guidance and so limit the frequencies of inspector’s idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Where possible nurseries would prefer inspections led by two inspectors. Tribal and Prospects are contracted by Ofsted and therefore Ofsted needs to take full responsibility for this and not blame their contractors or demand knee jerk responses when things go awry.
Question 5: Inspection Decision and Feedback
Ofsted must address a QA process that is preventing inspectors of giving a confident outcome because QA may overturn it. Either employ inspectors trusted to collect evidence and apply their experience and common sense or abandon the inspections. The sector has little faith when inspectors are so insecure they cannot support their judgements with conviction. All providers should be given 7 days a cooling off period to look at the report especially when managers have been away during the inspection. They then need another 7 days when receive the final report. Verbal feedback should be given at an appropriate time to childminders.
Question 6 Complaints and Appeals
Ofsted needs to keep providers in the loop during the complaint/ appeals period. Introduce a traffic light system. The report should not be published while the appeal is in progress. Always interview the manager as part of the process. Automatically get inspectors notes. Put on the appeals panel someone who represents the sector. Insist there is a three month return after an inadequate judgement or else explain it could be a different level of concern. Ensure we can pay to improve a satisfactory grade. Ofsted needs to examine the legal framework of malicious complaints if they are anonymous what comeback there is for providers especially when the consequences could lead to the provider going out of business.
This weekend will see childcare providers from all over the country coming together as part of the #OfstedBigConversation. The initiative has been driven by June O’Sullivan MBE, and provides an opportunity for any provider to discuss core issues and how things could change for the better. The goal is to create an Early Years Proposal which will be presented back to Ofsted.
The two new venues are:
Weston-Super-Mare: Friday 13 September 6.30pm – 8.30pm. The Campus, Highlands Lane, North Somerset BS24 7DX.
A weekend of conversation has been been planned for the 13th and 14th of September, with seven regional meetings across England to which all providers are invited. The event, know by its social media name of #OfstedBigConversation, has been initiated by June O’Sullivan MBE as a result of her concerns about the new Ofsted approach to regulation and their aggressive tone.
Interest has been growing steadily over the past few weeks, with Twitter users tagging their experiences with #OfstedBigConversation and a dedicated website has now been built to keep all interested parties informed of the latest developments (click here).
The focus of the meetings are 10 key agenda items:
What do we understand by Ofsted’s dual roles of regulation and improvement? Sir Michael Wilshaw said Ofsted is not an improvement agency but an agent of improvement please can we all agree what this should look like?
Can Ofsted please explain and clarify its rationale for so many outdated complaint initiated inspections so we can actually better address the issues? What do we suggest as an alternative?
Can Ofsted consider the role of an independent Early Years provider advising on the Quality Assurance process which has been given as the reason for so many downgraded judgments?
Can Ofsted ask one of the new Regional leads to attend some of our meetings?
Can Ofsted agree a sector advisory group to help shape their thinking and strategy? This is good practice in many other sectors and is considered to add great value?
If the new model of inspection is to work, and by and large we like it, then can Ofsted seriously think about how inspectors are trained and supported to allow the whole inspection process to be a “grown up” and mutually respectful process?
Can inspectors be allowed to make judgements that are likely to not be changed by an unaccountable Quality Assurance team which draws on evidence that has never been discussed during the inspection?
Can we all agree Ofsted role in the identification and management of significant incidents as surely these are managerial judgement?
Can we work with Ofsted to reconsider the heavy weighting given to “Leadership and Management” which will lead to a satisfactory or inadequate judgement irrespective of the quality of teaching and learning?
Can Ofsted work with the sector to help parents receive a very clear and unambiguous understanding of what Ofsted dos that ensures their children get a really good experience?
Locations for the regional meetings are detailed below, along with contact details for the hosts.
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