Growing together in partnership

Clare is Director of Early Years for Northumberland Church of England School which is an academy of five primary schools across five seperate sites. Here she describes how working in partnership with childminders to offer 30 funded hours has brought huge benefits for children and families in the area.

When 30 hours funded childcare was announced we knew it would be a popular option for parents. The trouble was, two of our school nurseries don’t offer afternoon provision.  Partnerships with childminders seemed the obvious solution so I decided to set up the Northumberland Church of England Academy Childminder Agency.

Our challenge was – in two of the villages there were no childminders, so my first task was to recruit some! I identified two mums who were already volunteering in schools and spoke to them about becoming a childminder. They completed their level 3 training at a local college and are now offering funded places to children who also use the school nursery.

It’s been fantastic to see both childminders grow and develop into their new role. One of them was visited by the Ofsted inspector recently who was really impressed by her setting. The inspector told me afterwards that at the end of the inspection the childminder burst into tears, saying “No one had ever believed in me before – this has been an amazing opportunity for me to start a professional career and to give something back to the community.”

We now have five childminders in the agency and they all offer something different. One offers respite and weekend care for children with disabilities and one is well on the way to building a larger childcare on domestic setting. Our childminders are self employed and we don’t charge the childminders a fee. We provide training and support, as well as flag any development opportunities that the local authority offers. The childminders are very much regarded as ‘our childminders’ -  the academy logo appears on their literature and we provide parents with details of our childminders, and feature them on our website.

Key to our success I think has been to have everything mapped out before we started - a partnership agreement (link to document- Foundation years) between the school and the childminder helps to clarify and formalise how they work together. We have also liaised with the local authority to set up a payment system that ensures prompt payment for the childminders.

Lara Briggs (left) and Kim Anderson (right)

We are so proud of our childminders and their input has helped transformed the experience of early education for children in the area. Our childminders use the school’s curriculum and learning planning tools which really helps them to plan activities for the children in their setting. Childminders and teachers work together to discuss learning goals for the children they look after and childminders are invited to the training opportunities the school provides. As a school we have to be really mindful of when we schedule training – in our rural community no one will come out during lambing season ! We try to schedule training so that childminders can attend, but also offer bespoke training if they can’t make it.

Teachers have really seen the benefit of the partnership working and have noticed enhanced engagement and communication with parents through the childminder.  We’ve found the strong relationships that are being built up between childminders and teaching staff are really helping to build the confidence and emotional wellbeing of the children, and I can already see that this is going to pave the way for easy transition into full-time school.

Top tips for effective partnership working

  • Being really clear from the outset by setting up a partnership agreement will help set the foundations for positive working relationships
  • Involving childminders in every aspect of the school – from training, to curriculum planning helps extend the school ‘family’ and helps build a strong brand
  • A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work when it comes to training. Scheduling training flexibly and providing bespoke options will help childminders to stay involved and continue their development as part of an extended school team
  • Utilising the unique skills and strengths that each setting brings huge benefits – for example, incorporating childminders observations of the children at home builds a more rounded picture of the children’s achievements and understanding of their next steps.