Current Quality Assurance and Inspection System Not Working for Childminders and Requires Major Reform

Current Quality Assurance and Inspection System Not Working for Childminders and Requires Major Reform
SCMA Survey Informs Response to Scottish Government Consultation on the Future of Inspection of ELC and School-Age Childcare Services. 

The results of our recent ‘#Tell SCMA – Childminding and You’ survey has shown that the current Care Inspectorate inspection system is not working for many Scottish childminders, has been very inconsistent, and that duplicative local and national self-evaluation systems, and a significant increase in paperwork, have become unsustainable and are contributing heavily to the continued decline of the childminding workforce. 

The survey of SCMA members received 1263 responses (45% response level) and 994 comments on the subject of the future of inspection, clearly demonstrating how urgent action on the future of inspection is to practicing childminders in Scotland.  The results have informed SCMA’s organisational response to the Scottish Government’s current Consultation on the Future of Inspection of ELC and School-Age Childcare Services in Scotland.   

The level of bureaucracy and paperwork associated with childminding practice has increased significantly because of the expansion of ELC. The delivery of 1140 hours is having a devastating effect on the childminding workforce, which has declined by 30% (with the loss of 1671 childminding businesses and over 10,000 childminding places for families)  in the last five years with an increasing range of evidence reporting that bureaucracy is the main cause. 

Worryingly - 53% of childminders who responded to SCMA’s survey believe it’s very unlikely, or unlikely, that they will still be delivering funded ELC in 2-3 years’ time if the level of paperwork is not reduced. A similar number have already had to or will need to reduce their practice by a half- to a full-day each week to enable them to keep up to date with this paperwork. This will reduce their income further.

Graeme McAlister, Chief Executive of SCMA, said: “Our survey provides one of the most in-depth critiques of inspection and quality assurance of childcare in Scotland to date and provides much-needed independent scrutiny of the scrutiny bodies and their activities.  SCMA has been leading nationally on raising awareness of the level of bureaucracy childminders have to cope with as a significant issue over the last few years.  We now need urgent, affirmative action. 

“Responses within our survey are both a plea from childminders in helping to make this stop - and also a stark warning to policymakers.  If they fail to act on this issue, childminders are clearly telling us they will no longer be able to help deliver funded ELC. This will impact on parental choice and the delivery of Programme for Government commitments. Failure to tackle this will also undermine ongoing and future recruitment of more childminders into the sector – something which is urgently needed.” 

In addition to being inspected by the Care Inspectorate, childminders delivering funded ELC are also required to undertake up to three different models of self-evaluation across three different organisations; the Care Inspectorate; Education Scotland and the childminder’s own local authority. While this may also be the case for other funded providers, childminders are sole workers so this has been affecting them disproportionately – with some reporting having to work up to seven additional hours per week to support this, unpaid, in their own time (in the evenings and at weekends). This is time they should be able to spend with their own families and is in direct contrast to practitioners in nurseries or other larger settings who have the support of colleagues such as managers, finance, other practitioners, administrative and quality and are paid to undertake paperwork and quality assurance during working hours. One childminder said: “Childminders are being compared exactly with nursery provision and are expected to do the same amount of paperwork but in our own time in the evenings and weekends - this is not sustainable.”

Key findings and areas of concern:  

  • the current system of Care Inspectorate inspection is not working for many childminders and can be very inconsistent between inspectors and inspections. Only around one in three childminders believe current inspection has a strong understanding of, focus on or relevancy to childminding, as it has been developed largely to support funded ELC for two to four year-olds, and what would be considered good practice in nurseries is not appropriate for inspecting wider childminding settings - which can accommodate children from 0-12 years (or 16 years in the case of children with additional support needs). Childminders said: “I find that it is not geared towards childminding at all. The system is really focused on nurseries”….“Different inspectors, different opinions”…“No two inspectors ask for the same thing. Some are looking for policies that others say are not required. Some want floor books, some don’t. Some look at funded paperwork, some don’t. It’s so unfair.”
  • the three separate systems of national and local self-evaluation, which have been developed separately during ELC expansion, also do not reflect a high understanding of wider childminding practice – this is due to the narrow focus on funded ELC for two to four year-olds and nursery good practice.  They are duplicative and have led to a significant increase in bureaucracy and paperwork which has affected childminders, as predominantly sole workers, disproportionately. 82% of partner provider childminders who responded reported that delivering funded ELC has resulted in a significant or very significant increase in paperwork and which will result in their stopping delivering funded ELC if this continues.  Childminders said: “It makes me ill thinking about all the paperwork… “The paperwork is excessive and getting more each year”… “The answer to everything seems to be to produce another ‘framework”… ’ “Constant duplication of e-mails, duplicate evidence of practice, duplicate contracts, duplication of everything that has already been inspected by Care Inspectorate… “There is far too much paperwork, it’s the only downside of the job.”
  • an industry of quality assurance activity has built up at a national and local level during ELC expansion which has led to a loss of focus on the child - in favour of a focus on documentation. One childminder said: “There’s more emphasis on paperwork than my actual caring for children.”
  • 27% of all childminders and 36% of partner provider childminders reported working an additional seven hours plus (equivalent of 1 working day or more) unpaid per week, to cope with paperwork.  43% of all childminders, and 53% of ELC partner provider childminders stated they have already had to - or believe they will have to - reduce their practice to enable them to support this.  This reduction in capacity would have significant implications for parental choice across Scotland when choosing how to access their funded ELC entitlement.  One childminder said: “I spend at least 1-2 days a week doing paperwork and am now reducing my working week to allow me to get all the paperwork done, as I can’t keep up.  I can’t offer full-time places anymore."
  • the majority of childminders who responded would support a national single/shared inspection complemented by a single/shared quality framework which would remove the need for duplicative quality assurance at a local level. For childminding this would need to be a more childminding-specific, much more consistent, simpler, shorter and higher-level quality-assurance framework based on a rationalisation and reduction of related frameworks (including the Quality Framework, How Good Is Our ELC, Realising the Ambition, Out to Play etc) and much-reduced outcomes requiring to be recorded.  Childminders said: “Childminding is completely different from a nursery setting and should be inspected that way.”
“Keep it relevant, focused on the unique aspects of childminding compared to other forms of childcare, and professionals having an understanding of our job and the value of our role in the care of children and support offered to families within our service. It’s not all about ticking boxes.”

In its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Future of Inspection, SCMA is calling on the Scottish Government to implement our recommendations in full and to go much further. In addition to planning for the development of a single/shared inspection and framework, the Scottish Government should convene an emergency national summit of all involved stakeholders to agree what duplicative aspects of quality assurance can be reduced or, indeed, removed quickly; and to plan how to reduce and rationalise the number of related frameworks and outcomes reporting, against an agreed timescale for change.

Read SCMA’s full response to the Scottish Government Consultation on the Future of Inspection of ELC and School-Age Childcare Services | DOWNLOAD HERE

Read our #TellSCMA Childminding & You Survey 2022: Survey Report No. 1: Future of Inspection | DOWNLOAD HERE

Read our SCMA Childminding Evidence Paper (August 2022) | DOWNLOAD HERE