So the General Election that no-one wanted but that was supposed to give the Prime Minister a stronger mandate to negotiate a Brexit she only recently came round to, has been and gone, and the world seems like it is still spinning with a slight wobble. What we know for now is that we still work under a Conservative government – although that could change, of course – and that, at the time of writing, the childcare minister is still Caroline Dinenage and the education secretary is still Justine Greening. You may have heard the rumour doing the rounds prior to the election that the PM was considering placing Liz Truss into the top education role – I know what you are thinking… Now, whether this was true or not, perhaps we should, in some ways, be thankful for what we have got.
So what does the result mean for childminders? At the time of writing, it is difficult to tell what changes will be made to the Conservative manifesto, if any. Will there be more money for the 30-hours offer? Will the government move further towards setting up early years in schools at the expense of the PVI sector and, if so, will childminders be asked to play a pivotal role in providing wraparound care – and will anyone actually want to do so. No mention has been made of agencies, but there is nothing new there.
PACEY has made clear that it wants the new government to focus solely on making the 30-hours offer work before looking at new policy areas, and I think this is something we can all agree on. Childminders will be vital to the offer but little seems to have been done to make this a priority. It would be wonderful if the childcare minister, or the education secretary, would address childminders directly, to enter a dialogue, to show how valued the profession is.
I know there are groups of childminders and individual ones also who meet ministers to discuss policy and the challenge of delivering it, but there needs to be greater understanding and a willingness to connect from the education department because, without childminders the childcare sector will be a very different landscape, one that parents are not going to want to be part of. And numbers are still falling, with the latest Ofsted figures showing 500 fewer childminders than the last quarter, a 24% drop since August 2012.