Wednesday, September 30, 2009

.... Is it just State-sanctioned prying?

Two female police officers are at the centre of a row this week over the legality of their childcare arrangements. Mums Leanne Shepherd and Lucy Jarrett had a reciprocal arrangement by which they would look after each other's child while the other was working in their posts as detective constables with Thames Valley Police. When pregnant they had agreed to go back to work part time under a jobshare scheme - an arrangement that suited them and their employer.

However, an Ofsted inspector visited DC Shepherd to explain that the plan constituted illegal childminding, as it constituted a "reward" of free childcare for looking after each other's children.

The alleged offence arises from the Childcare act of 2006, apparently and now the mothers are told they have to register as if they were professional child minders. Clearly this is very onerous and makes the whole plan unworkable and both mothers have had to find full time childcare and return to full time work.

The main story in the media focused on the lunacy of this law, the fact that it restricts mums from finding work in flat contrast to statements made by the Government about helping mums back to work, and the jobsworth culture of most Agencies and Government departments.

Although I share these concerns I was even more worried by one aspect of the story. How did anyone know about this arrangement? How did the Ofsted inspectors find out about it and why did they decide to call - when they could have simply written a letter?

The whole episode was deeply unnerving, the thought that a schools inspectorate had the manpower and the will to spy on a private arrangement by two women and then to send an inspector to call sums up how far the surveillance powers granted by this Government are being abused.

It also highlights overmanning on a grand scale. You would have thought the inspectors might have been more efficiently employed, er, inspecting schools.

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