Government plans to increase the number of children that staff in early years settings can care for have been branded “appalling” by leaders in the sector.
The government's childcare announcements include plans to relax ratio regulations. Image: Peter Crane
The government has announced plans to require all new nursery staff to have at least a grade C in GCSE English and Maths, as part of the Early Years Educator (Eye) qualification to be introduced from 2014.
Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said that more rigorous training will mean adult staff will be able to care for increased numbers of children. In settings where early years educators are working with children, one nursery worker will be able to look after four babies or one-year-olds rather than three.
But Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, warned that Truss had ignored the advice of many early years experts by pursuing her desire to change staff-to-child ratios.
“Many parents do not want an increase in the number of children nursery staff are allowed look after; they are worried it will have a negative impact on the individual attention and care their child receives,” she said.
“We are particularly concerned about suggestions to increase the number of children under three that nursery staff can look after, due to the degree of personal attention needed by very young children.”
Tanuku said the move was unlikely to result in lower costs for parents – a view that was echoed by Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family Parenting Institute and Daycare Trust.
“The evidence is that changes to ratios would not in practice significantly reduce costs to parents but might have a negative effect on the quality of care children receive,” he said.
“There is no simple trade off where better qualified staff are necessarily able to care for more children. It is vital that ratios are not increased to the point that safety is put at risk.”
A Pre-School Learning Alliance survey last year showed that 94 per cent of early years professionals were against the proposals to change ratios.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the alliance, accused the government of ignoring the sector’s advice and said the plans were “a recipe for disaster”.
“The government constantly speaks of consulting and working with the sector,” he said. “However, when it comes to listening and acting on recommendations that go against its agenda, the government chooses to ignore the expertise of thousands of childcare practitioners and parents.”
The government has also announced plans to set up childminding agencies to help childminders with the administration relating to offering home-based childcare.
These agencies will be regulated by Ofsted, which means that individual childminders who choose to register with them will no longer be regulated by the inspectorate.
Liz Bayram, joint chief executive of the National Childminding Association, said agencies would confuse parents and potentially increase childcare costs.
“The business model for an agency is based on recruiting lots of childminders willing to pay them a fee and, potentially a commission, for placing parents with them,” she said.
“It underestimates how to sustain quality improvement and how to support parents in choosing childcare.”
The government’s decision to change staff ratios is based on practice in other European countries, such as France, where nursery staff can look after eight two-year-olds each in comparison to England, where the limit is four.
Truss launched the More Great Childcare report at an event organised by the think-tank Policy Exchange, where she responded to Professor Cathy Nutbrown’s review into early education.
“It is right that the government does everything it can to ensure the provision delivering early education is of the highest quality, staff are paid better, and childcare is affordable to parents,” she said.
Truss added that the government would publish its response to the Childcare Commission shortly.
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