What Is a Childminding Agency?
9th November 2022
Guest Blog Post From Tiney
A Childminder’s Choice: Agency or Ofsted?
From the moment someone decides to train as a childminder, they’ll be faced with a pressing follow-up decision: what kind of childminder will I be? This is a practical question as well as a philosophical one; all childminders can choose to register directly with Ofsted or register with an agency. Government data from March 2022 shows 1,100 childminders in England had opted for the latter, while our own data suggests this figure has been steadily increasing over recent months.
It’s important to remember that childminders are self-employed and run their own small businesses, so for their own peace of mind they need to feel confident in their decision. They’ll also need to make a judgment about the level of support they want – both when starting out and in the day-to-day operations of their business. For some, embarking on a career in childminding can feel overwhelming, and a knowledgeable support system is essential, while others might prefer to go it alone. But in order to make this very personal decision, every prospective (and current) childminder should know what benefits are on offer.
So what is a childminding agency?
Childminding agencies (CMAs) were first introduced in England in 2014 as part of a government initiative to boost the number of childminders entering the sector and improve the quality of early years care. Currently, childminders have the choice to join one of several active CMAs – you can read more about them here. Some operate nationally, while others are more localised. Each CMA offers varying levels of involvement and support in daily life, but broadly they all recruit, train, and regulate their childminders.
And what are the benefits of being agency-registered?
Beyond ensuring childminders stay compliant with regulation, CMAs also champion childminders and offer both practical and moral support. They often solve the biggest problems cited by those who have left the childminding profession over the years by offering services beyond Ofsted’s remit.
This support ranges from a light-touch approach – offering assistance as and when you have questions – all the way up to services you might use daily, like a dedicated app. Adopting new technology in the childcare sector can massively streamline the admin involved, like sending invoices, which saves people huge amounts of time, increases their earning potential and means they can focus on delivering high-quality care.
Some agencies also offer access to marketing support and advice on how to scale a business. This support enables these independent childcare business owners to maximise their financial success – a pressing issue in the early years sector. Some agency-registered childminders earn between 20-30% more than their Ofsted-registered peers.
Another huge advantage of joining a CMA is the ready-made network of like-minded peers childminders can join. Many presume that childminding is a lonely profession, lacking in adult contact. But the community atmosphere built into these agencies provides a new depth to the support on offer.
Alongside the social benefits that come with this, there’s also a lot to be gained professionally – with childminders able to swap suggestions for engaging activities or business tips with one another. Likewise, agencies often share new and interesting ideas with the wider community, devised by education leads and informed by best practice.
No two agencies are the same. But the one commonality between them is their desire to see childminders thrive.
So how exactly are agency-registered childminders regulated?
CMAs are inspected and approved by Ofsted directly which gives these agencies the power to inspect their own childminders. So instead of a visit from Ofsted, agency-registered childminders are regulated by their respective agencies. CMAs perform the same role as Ofsted, following the same rigorous safeguarding standards, but at a much faster rate.
While it can take new childminders between 6-12 months to register with Ofsted directly, childminders who go down the agency route are usually registered within 12 weeks. Agencies are also required to inspect their childminders every 12 months, while Ofsted only inspects those on the Early Years Register once in the first 30 months and then a minimum of once every six years. Agencies then also provide the tailored support a childminder might need during the registration process and following each inspection. CMAs will also deal with all the burdensome Ofsted-related admin, freeing their childminders up to focus on high-quality caregiving. In return for their support, CMAs charge a standard fee each month (excluding registration fees) or take a set percentage of a childminder’s earnings.
And importantly, all registered childminders must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework – the early years curriculum which standardises the teaching under-5s receive in approved settings.
So how do I know what’s right for me?
Ultimately, it’s a personal decision. Think about what you’d most value – whether it’s support on the business side of things, a guiding hand when it comes to administrative burdens, or access to a supportive community. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the decision to join (or not to join) an agency isn’t irreversible. Childminders who registered with Ofsted directly can decide later down the line to join a CMA, while agency-registered childminders can always choose to leave an agency (or join a different one) if they’re not happy with how things are working out.
If you’re unsure which is the best route for you, start a conversation with an agency that appeals to you. They’ll provide you with expert advice, and can put you in touch with one of their childminders for a peer-to-peer chat.
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