Early years settings reject plans to relax childcare ratios


Nearly nine out of 10 nurseries and pre-schools in England oppose plans to relax childcare ratios, dismissing government claims it could result in lower fees being charged, a survey has found.

The poll of more than 9,000 early years settings in England, conducted by the Early Years Alliance (EYA) between 28 April and 4 May, revealed overwhelming opposition to the proposals which would bring ratios in line with those used in Scotland.

Under plans announced by children and families minister Will Quince, settings in England could operate under a ratio of one adult per five two-year-olds, up from the current limit of four.

While the alliance said its research was carried out ahead of the government’s official announcement about relaxing the ratios, its findings showed 87 per cent of respondents were opposed to the principle of operating with more children per adult.

Of those nurseries and pre-schools – which accounted for around three-quarters of survey respondents – 80 per cent said they were “strongly opposed” to any change to current childcare ratios.

The findings showed only 13 per cent of settings said they would regularly or permanently use the new ratios, with the same figure stating they would enjoy moderate or significant financial benefits from ratio changes.

Just two per cent of all nursery and pre-school respondents said that ratio rule changes would result in a reduction in childcare fees at their setting.

Similarly, childminders that responded to the survey said they did not expect such changes to mean that they could offer lower fees for parents, with only two per cent indicating this would be the case.

The survey also found most early years settings and more than half of childminders believed looser ratios would have a negative impact on quality of provision.

Almost 90 per cent of respondents from nurseries and pre-schools and nearly 60 per cent of childminders said ratio changes could also impact negatively on staff and their mental health and wellbeing.

Several family and parenting organisations and unions have voiced their opposition to the proposals which are due to be consulted on in the summer.

An online petition against any changes to ratio numbers has already received more than 60,000 signatures.

Neil Leitch, NYA chief executive, said its survey results showed that most settings would not relax their ratios even if the government were successful in its plans to implement the changes.

“All it will mean is that at the minority of settings that might relax ratios, staff will be even more overworked and overstretched than they are already and children will receive less individual care and support at a time when they need it more than ever, without any difference being made to childcare costs,” he said.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive officer of the London Early Years Foundation, which operates 39 social enterprise nurseries in London, agreed the move would put more pressure on early years settings.

“Meddling with the staff to child ratios is not practical nor will it reduce the cost of childcare for any family.

“Noone in government has thought this through or even considered how it will affect babies and two-year-olds whose welfare and development are closely linked to social interaction and forming secure attachments with adults all day long,” she said.

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said it wanted to remind the government of its pledge to work with the sector ahead of any changes to ratios being introduced.

“Any plans to alter childcare ratios must be done in consultation with early years providers, experts and practitioners,” said Purnima Tanuku, NDNA’s chief executive.

“The minister has reassured the public that he will work with the sector and won’t do anything to jeopardise quality or children’s safety and we want to see that commitment honoured,” she added.


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