5. Perspectives on expansion of funded ELC hours
This chapter examines the perceived impact of funded ELC hours in Scotland on childminding workforce trends. The Improvement Service reports that in August 2021, 1,249 childminders were working in partnership with local authorities in Scotland to deliver funded hours. However, Audit Scotland's 2020 report on ELC expansion argued that the expansion of funded hours "poses risks to the sustainability of childminding", with childminders who were not offering funded hours reporting losing families and income to other settings.
The SCMA's 2020 survey of childminders found that 38% said competition with local authority nursery expansion was contributing to their considering leaving the profession. It remains the case that only a very low proportion of childminders are actually delivering funded ELC – five years since they started auditing local authorities' progress in involving childminders in funded ELC delivery (on behalf of the Scottish Government), the SCMA's 2021 Audit found that just 4% of childminders are delivering funded ELC to eligible two year-olds. The figure for three- and four-year-olds was somewhat higher, at 17%, but still only a minority.
There is a dearth of existing evidence on the specific experiences of childminders who are delivering funded hours in Scotland. In an earlier qualitative study for the Scottish Government, Glencross et al (2021) found mixed views on the financial impacts, depending on whether childminders reported councils paying them more or less than their full costs or usual charges. The same study also showed that opinions were also mixed regarding the impact that childminders providing funded hours would have on child outcomes. Some participants felt children would benefit from childminder requirements to meet the National Standard, whereas others felt they were already meeting the National Standard without being a funded provider. 
A 2017 study of childminders' views of funded hours in England found that the funding rate received was generally reported to be less than their standard fee. This meant a loss of income or having to increase fees in other areas. The report concluded that childminders need clear information and advice on funded hours and how they could deliver hours in their area, as well as business advice and IT support. The SCMA's 2021 ELC Audit found that while 67% of childminders involved in delivering ELC believed delivering funded hours was important to business sustainability, only 30% believed there was a strong match between local authority ELC offers to parents and childminders' business sustainability. The Audit also found that 86% of childminders involved in delivering funded ELC reported a significant increase in paperwork, while 93% of those not currently involved in delivering funded hours believed it would result in a significant increase in paperwork.
Participants interviewed for this report discussed their perceptions on the impact of the ELC expansion on childminding businesses. While views on the impact varied, a number of key themes arose, around: the impact on their client base and the number of hours required from childminders by parents; council payments and rates for funded hours; and regulatory and administrative requirements, including training and registration.
Perceived impact on client base and demand
Among those childminders who had experience of delivering funded hours or had just become a funded provider, a key motivation was concern about losing families who might choose to use their funded hours at another setting rather than continue to pay a childminder:
"Why would they pay to have them with me once they turn three if they could get free childcare? So, that was one of the reasons I wanted to be able to do it" (Group 2, new childminders)
Participants were asked how funded hours had impacted their business in practice. Some who were not funded providers felt they had not seen much of an impact yet, either because they were already "oversubscribed" or because the delay in the full rollout of the ELC expansion meant the impacts were uncertain:
"So, it hasn't yet, because there was a bit of delay of them coming out, but I am expecting it to. I am thinking that I won't have as many people, because I used to get quite a lot of pickups…so now that they can have a full day in nursery funded, I am expecting to miss out that way" (Interviewee ES2/05, new childminder)
However, others commented that they had already lost work because families were using their funded hours with a nursery and only using childminders for evening hours or for drop off and pick-ups. There was a belief that parents are not fully informed about the different options for using funded hours, including the option to use them with a childminder. There was also some concern about the impact of potential future policy changes, including the possibility of extending funded hours to more children in younger age groups, and the impact this might have for childminders:
"(They) are also trying to pass a bill to increase the funded childcare to all two-year-olds and some eligible one-year olds…which means we are going to have even less work to keep us going. So, it's all these little things I just feel are shoving us away" (Interviewee ES3/01, childminder considering leaving the profession)
In addition to the expansion of funded ELC, local authority hubs for babies and breakfast clubs were also mentioned as reducing parental demand for childminders.
On the other hand, there were examples where collaboration between childminders and other providers were reported to have had a positive impact on childminders' businesses. For example, one childminder who was a funded provider recounted that a local nursery asks them if they have space for funded places when the nursery is oversubscribed:
"I've got a good relationship with the Head of the nursery who did contact me and say, did I have spaces to be able to help take the kids on. They were oversubscribed as well, so we kind of worked together that way which then went in my benefit" (Group 2, new childminders)
Views on ELC payment rates
As in previous research, mixed views were expressed on the hourly rate paid for funded hours: some childminders said they were better off, while others said they were worse off and received less than they would normally charge:
"I found I was worse off doing the funded hours because the hourly rate was lower than what I was charging… So, there isn't much benefit for me to look for funded hours children, which is definitely not the way the council would like it to be"
"It is different here; I get more money for doing funded childcare" (Both Group 2, new childminders)
In addition to concerns about the amounts some local authorities were offering childminders for funded hours, frustration was also expressed about late payments and/or inconvenient payment schedules, particularly where payments were made in arrears on a termly basis:
"That just does not suit childminders who are on a small budget. Some people charge weekly, bill weekly or monthly is common as well, but never termly" (Group 4, former childminders)
Perceptions of administrative and qualification requirements
Participants raised a number of issues relating to the processes for registering as a funded provider for delivering funded hours, some of which echo concerns about the general process for registering to be a childminder, discussed in chapter 3. There was a perception that the steps needed to register were not very clear which gave the impression of a drawn-out process. The application forms were also described as "an eyesore" which puts people off applying. In common with views on the general childminder registration form, there was a perception that many of the questions were only applicable to nurseries, adding to impressions that childminders were an after-thought in the process.
It was suggested that the application form could be simplified so that childminders are only presented with the sections relevant to them, and that childminders could be provided with clear examples of how to complete the registration form. Another suggestion was that childminders could be asked to sign up to deliver funded hours at the same time as registering.
Participants who were not delivering funded hours also commented on other aspects of the regulatory and administrative requirements associated with becoming a funded provider that had deterred them from applying, including: perceived additional paperwork and local authority scrutiny; the requirement to provide meals; curriculum requirements; and, in particular, training and qualification requirements.
Both the content and costs of training requirements were seen as deterring childminders from registering to be a funded provider. One childminder described the training and qualifications needed to deliver funded hours as "a bit of a shock" and commented that the learning process was quite different to what they were used to, although their local authority had been very supportive. There was a perception that training courses did not take account of practical experience. As mentioned at the start of this section, Glencross et al (2021) showed that there were childminders that felt they were already meeting the National Standard and that did not feel gaining the qualification would result in better outcomes for children in their care.
In terms of accessibility and costs, one view was that council training courses had been more accessible for childminders before the introduction of funded hours, and that access to in-house council courses now appeared to be restricted to those delivering funded hours in large settings. It was suggested that, if local authorities want more childminders to register as funded providers, they may need to cover their training costs. However, even if costs were covered, there was a perception that barriers would remain:
"I know so many people that are just, 'I'm just not doing it', for various reasons 'I can't, I don't do computers, I don't do distance learning, I don't have the time, I'm running a family, I've got a home at night, I just don't want to, I don't see why I should'." (Interviewee ES3/04, childminder considering leaving the profession).
Impact on decisions to leave the childminding workforce
Where participants cited funded hours as a reason for leaving, or considering leaving the childminding profession, the main issues raised tended to echo those cited above: stress caused by additional workload (particularly for those who had become a funded provider) and worries about business viability (particularly for those who had not). There was also a perception among some who had become funded providers that they had not felt valued by their local authority in the same way that they felt a nursery setting would be:
"Under no circumstances at any point in time do we ever feel that we are truly in partnership with the council...We were issued with what they lovingly call, service level agreements…We then said, well could we have some sort of service level agreement with you, whereby you promised us certain things within your service level agreement…"No, no, we don't sign partnership agreements, you sign them." That sort of sums it up really." (Interviewee ES3/04, childminder considering leaving the profession)
Another factor was a perception that some of the expectations placed on childminders as funded providers were unnecessary and detracted from the 'home from home' experience of a childminding setting:
"I got upset when the people came round. They were wanting me to change lots of things. I had been a childminder for a long time, I knew that my families were happy and just what they were expecting. For me it was the reason that I gave up" (Group 4, former childminder)
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