The state of childminding in Britain today
Civitas, 22 January 2024
George Cook and Ellen Pasternack
The Department for Education’s (DfE) annual Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers (SCEYP) was released on 14th December 2023. Alarmingly, but unsurprisingly, the data reveal a further fall in the number of childminders, continuing the almost unbroken trend of the last decade and a half.
The DfE once again revealed that number of childminders had shrunk over the reporting year to 27,877, down from 31,373 the previous year. There was a 5 per cent fall in the total number of childcare places, largely due to decreasing numbers of childminders.
Childminders are a type of childcare provider who look after up to six children, usually in their own home. They have the option to register with and be inspected by Ofsted or an independent childminder agency.
Many parents choose to use childminders because they are small-scale, local, and usually slightly cheaper than nursery-based childcare. The continued trend of decline in the number of childminders in Britain therefore makes it harder for parents to access flexible and convenient childcare, often with individuals they feel they can trust, operating in their local area at more affordable rates.
In addition, because childminders can look after their own children at the same time as other people’s, it can also be a convenient form of flexible work that allows parents to earn money while staying with their children. Data from the SCEYP shows one in ten childminders are also caring for one or more of their own children; the same proportion said that they did another job, in addition to childminding, to supplement their income.
All in all, it is an ideal arrangement for many; parents and providers alike. The fact that childminder numbers have more than halved since 2008 should therefore be seen as a problem.
This is of particular concern because childminders are one of the only small-scale childcare options on which parents can spend their childcare entitlement (“free hours” and tax-free childcare). These entitlements can only be spent on officially registered childcare providers, and not on informal options such as care by a grandparent, neighbour, or babysitter, or used to fund care by a stay-at-home parent. This means that if there is a local unavailability of childminders, parents who rely on these subsidies may be left with even fewer options which are suitable for their family’s circumstances.
An unreasonable regulatory burden
The decline in childminder numbers should have set alarm bells ringing years ago, as a sign that the overregulated childcare system is not working for small-scale providers.
The statutory obligations which childcare providers now face are expensive and difficult for large-scale formal providers to navigate, let alone individuals. This means that childminding is a less attractive – or even unfeasible – option for many of those who would otherwise like to do it.
Firstly, meeting the requirements to register as a childminder with Ofsted involves considerable administrative hurdles, and has an upfront cost of at minimum £338, at a conservative estimate. The following list shows a breakdown of administrative costs for aspiring childminders:
Costs of registering as a childminder 
Caring for only children aged 5 or under – £35
Caring for only children aged 5 or over – £103
Caring for children of all ages – £35
DBS checks and health checks
DBS check – £38
Checks for other adults in the home – £38 each
Criminal DBS update service (recommended) – £13/year
Health declaration booklet filled in and signed by GP – £90 (approximately)
First aid course (age specific) – £60 to £200 (approximately)
Childcare training on the type of care to be provided (council dependent) – £50 to £200 (approximately)
Public liability insurance – £25 to £100 (approximately)
Register with Information Commissioners Office to keep digital records of children – £40
Secondly, childminders must adhere to the ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ (EYFS), which is similar to a national curriculum for children from birth to the age of five. The EYFS sets standards for learning and development goals expected of children of different ages – some of which can be extremely ‘involved’. To illustrate with just one of many examples: the EYFS’ ‘Early Learning Goals’ for childminders state children in their care at an ‘expected level of development’ at age four or five ought to be able to know ‘some similarities and differences between different religious and cultural communities in this country’, and ‘explain some similarities and differences between life in this country and life in other countries’. Childminders are expected not only to ensure that these learning goals are being met, but to provide documentation to show that they are doing so – a requirement that can be both confusing and time-consuming.
This is neither a helpful nor necessary requirement to place on individuals looking after a small number of children in their own home. A basic sanity check suggests that it ought to be possible to provide a good, safe standard of basic childcare without needing to educate pre-schoolers about religious diversity; these regulations, however, make this effectively illegal.
The EYFS is not the only set of regulations childminders have to comply with. As they are classed as businesses, they also need, for instance, to comply with food safety and GDPR data security regulations – and to be able to demonstrate that they are doing so (in the case of food safety, this can mean completing ‘food safety action sheets’ and ‘three-monthly reviews’ of actions taken to ensure children’s meals and snacks are stored safely). Prospective childminders may also need planning permission from their council and written permission from their landlords (either private or council) to run a business from their home.
Fewer than one in five childminders employ an assistant or assistants, a proportion which has remained consistent over the last few years. Whilst formal providers may have the staffing capacity to meet the administrative demands of the EYFS, the regulatory burden in place seems less feasible for those looking after a small number of children in domestic settings. Devising abstract learning tasks and completing administrative duties, alongside meeting the needs of children under supervision, becomes impossible within reasonable hours, even for those with additional staff.
Light at the end of the tunnel or false hope?
Childminder Agencies (CMAs)
Despite the overall fall in childminder numbers, the growth of childminder agencies (CMAs) may have made a difference – according to them, at least. Brett Wigdortz, the founder of TeachFirst and now co-founder and CEO of the childminder agency tiney, has stated that alarming headlines about a decline in childminders have been ‘misleading’. tiney promises to take care of Ofsted registration and training on behalf of childminders (navigating the regulatory framework) in return for a joining fee and 12% of their first £50k of earnings. Wigdortz claims that tiney recruited ‘530 new childminders in 2023, with over 1,000 more in training.’ In total, this amounted to ‘5,400 childcare spaces’ that year. Yet further inspection produces a degree of scepticism over how much of a difference CMAs make.
CMAs were first proposed in 2013, and created in 2014, under the coalition’s ‘More affordable childcare’ plan. According to the DfE’s initial consultation they were to encourage more childminders to enter the profession, offer childminders greater support, and improve the quality of childminding overall. The DfE hoped that this would ‘give parents more choice’, stating the agencies ‘are not intended to replace existing independently registered childminders’ but ‘build on and complement existing childcare provision’. Some policymakers have called for CMAs to register all new childminders, and for Ofsted to gradually withdraw from its role registering and inspecting childminders.
Almost a decade since their introduction, agencies have not taken off. DfE data shows there were only 7 childminder agencies registered as at 31 August 2023 which accounted for a meagre 1,645 childminders being registered between them in total (just 6 per cent of all childminders). If CMAs are to make a tangible difference, there is a long way to go.
The perceived need for CMAs to help was a recognition from officials over a decade ago – that the EYFS is too difficult to navigate and is impractical for day-to-day childminding, only being workable for large-scale formalised providers. This defeats the purpose of childminding, which by definition is small-scale and personal. CMAs have become another case of poor government outsourcing; symptomatic of burdensome overregulation, which continues to kill off informal and flexible solutions to childcare that could be provided at more affordable rates.
Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage
On 8th December 2023, the DfE published changes to the EYFS statutory framework for childminders which sets the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five – coming into effect on 4th January this year.
The aim of these changes is to walk back some of the regulations on childminders and childcare providers which are suspected to be unnecessarily burdensome. Among other changes, childminders are no longer required to: support children whose first language is not English to use their home language in play and learning; nor collect ‘physical evidence’ of children’s progression towards development goals; nor to physically display a certificate of paediatric first aid training on their premises rather than having it available to view on request.
These regulatory changes have been introduced after consultation with childcare providers last year, launched after the 2023 Spring Budget announcement that the age groups eligible for free childcare hours were to be expanded from 2024. It was recognised that due to the anticipated increase in demand, something would have to change in order to ‘address the challenges [providers] are facing recruiting and retaining the right staff’. The DfE’s consultation was intended to ‘ensure regulation is proportionate and appropriately flexible’.
These changes are likely a step in the right direction – each of them is one fewer hoop that childminders will have to jump through, and each makes it that bit easier to become a childminder and to stay in the profession. Perhaps more importantly, they represent a concession on the part of the DfE that regulation should be ‘proportionate and appropriately flexible’, and that disproportionate regulation is a burden on the sector, and demonstrates a willingness in principle to consult with providers to pare back regulation where it impinges on their ability to work effectively.
The steady decline in childminder numbers over the last decade and a half will be a difficult trend to reverse. So far, childminder agencies have not been the answer. They represent an ill-thought-through form of state outsourcing, and have recruited only a relatively small number of childminders – not enough to stem the continued flow of individuals from the profession since they were introduced. The need for CMAs should in itself have been seen as an alarm bell: the regulatory framework for childminders is far too complicated and burdensome to reasonably be placed on childcare providers working as individuals from their own homes.
Recent changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage are a promising step but they don’t go far enough. The DfE has recognised that the regulation of childminders must be ‘proportionate and appropriately flexible’ in order to improve recruitment and retention. It should commit to further review of regulation in the sector. If we want parents to be able to access convenient and affordable childcare, we will need to trust childminders and others to provide that care without the state placing obstacles in their path every step of the way.
 ‘Early years foundation stage statutory framework for childminders’, Department for Education (8 December 2023), p.13. Source: <Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (publishing.service.gov.uk)> [accessed 15.01.24]
 ‘Early years foundation stage statutory framework for childminders’, Department for Education (8 December 2023), p.41. Source: <Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (publishing.service.gov.uk)> [accessed 15.01.24]
 Nursery World
 Connor MacDonald and Ruth Kelly, ‘Better Childcare: Putting Families First’, Policy Exchange (August 2022).