Sector organisations, nursery owners, childcarers and experts have vowed to oppose any attempts from the Government to relax rules on the number of babies and toddlers nurseries and childminders can care for in early years settings.
The move comes in response to news that broke over the weekend, which said that ministers are planning to reduce staff: child ratios to cut the cost of childcare.
A front-page exclusive ran in The Telegraph on Saturday under the headline, ‘Childcare staff rules relaxed to lower costs.’
The newspaper reported that ‘allowing carers to watch larger groups of children could cut amount families pay, ministers believe, as they address the cost of living crisis’.
The article said, ‘Officials are looking at changing the rules so one staff member can supervise five children under two rather than the current limit of three. Education sources argued that allowing childcare workers to watch larger groups would force down the amount parents have to pay.’
Asked by Nursery World to comment on the report, the Department for Education would only say that any changes to ratios would be subject to consultation.
Sector organisations and others have been quick to oppose the plans.
In a reference to the Government’s previous attempt to change ratios, the Early Years Alliance said, ‘We are clear: we opposed this before and we will oppose it again.’
Chief executive Neil Leitch said he was ‘dismayed’ at the plans.
‘Let’s be clear: if the Government does attempt to relax ratios, it won’t because they want to help providers or parents. It will because ministers see doing so as a shortcut to fixing the childcare crisis that they created without having to actually invest in the early years sector.
‘Existing adult-child ratios in early years settings are there for a reason: they safeguard young children’s safety and wellbeing, and ensure that they get the best possible care and education. For the Government to even consider making such a change would speak volumes about how little they value quality early care and education.
‘When ministers tried to make this change eight years ago, parents and providers united to oppose it. We hope the Government isn’t planning to make the same mistake twice.’
Purnima Tanuku , chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘This is not the first time that relaxing ratios has been proposed when talking about the cost of providing high-quality childcare, however we have not seen anything official along these lines. We are talking about nurseries and childcare providers who are critical to starting children on their educational journeys. Policy decisions affecting children’s early learning and development have to be evidence based, not done by soundbites.
‘Cutting down on staff to child ratios is not the answer to reducing the cost of childcare at a time of staffing crisis and underinvestment from the Government. We can’t fix the challenges faced by the early years sector just by asking staff and nurseries to do more with less.
‘The Government’s funding of childcare places has never met the true costs for nurseries and 95% of our members say they are underfunded. This means more costs passed on to parents to meet the Government’s shortfalls. That is the area Ministers and officials should be focussing on.’
June O’Sullivan CEO of the London Early Years Foundation said, ‘In essence, the Government wants to “level up” by cutting its spend and find ways of reducing costs to voters.
‘If this means increasing the adult to child ratios then, without doubt, it will significantly reduce the time available for staff to spend with each child.
‘This is particularly important for the youngest children, our little babies and two-year-olds whose welfare and development are closely linked to social interaction and forming secure attachment relationships with adults.
‘I urge our new minister, Will Quince to get to grips with why thoughtful ratios are critical for the wellbeing of children and the ability of staff to really support their learning and development.’
Childcare providers, academics and experts also took to Twitter to share their views.
Dr Nikki Fairchild said, ‘This was one of my first thoughts having worked in a baby room. Then I thought about feeding, changing, sleeping, playing, going outside, safeguarding. Whatever the age increasing child to adult ratio is wrong on so many levels.’
It is not the first time that ministers have attempted to change the rules regarding staff: child ratios as a way of cutting the cost of childcare.
In 2013, the then coalition Government also attempted to cut ratios, but was forced to back down after thousands of parents joined the sector’s outcry against the plans.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stepped in to prevent the rule change.
What are the current staff: child ratios?
The number of children that early years and childcare providers can care for is regulated by the Government and is set out in the EYFS.
Childminders can look after up to six children under the age of eight, of which three can be under five and maximum of one child under one at any time.
For early years providers (other than childminders):
For children aged under two
• there must be at least one member of staff for every three children
For children aged two
- there must be at least one member of staff for every four children
For children aged three and over
- For children aged three and over in registered early years provision where a person with Qualified Teacher Status, Early Years Professional Status, Early Years Teacher Status or another approved level 6 qualification, is working directly with the children:
- there must be at least one member of staff for every 13 children
- at least one other member of staff must hold an approved level 3 qualification
- For children aged three and over at any time in registered early years provision when a person with Qualified Teacher Status, Early Years Professional Status, Early Years Teacher Status or another approved level 6 qualification is not working directly with the children:
- there must be at least one member of staff for every eight children
- at least one member of staff must hold an approved level 3 qualification
- at least half of all other staff must hold an approved level 2 qualification