Truss reaffirms plan to change childcare ratios

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 23 January 2013

Plans to relax ratios in childcare settings look set to remain on the government's agenda, despite forthcoming research that is expected to challenge the validity of the idea.

Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said countries with more relaxed ratios had better quality childcare systems. Image: Arlen Connelly

Responding to parliamentary questions about delays to the government’s response to the Childcare Commission, childcare minister Elizabeth Truss reiterated her desire to introduce policies that are based on European models of care.

Truss argued that in countries where the number of children that early years providers can care for is higher, staff are more qualified and better paid.

She said reforms in these areas would provide better value for money, and bring down childcare costs for parents who “pay more than those in virtually any other OECD country”.

But research commissioned by the Department for Education, due to be published shortly, is expected to suggest that altering ratios will do little to reduce childcare costs

Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for children and families, who said she had seen his report, said its findings suggest that Truss should “go back to the drawing board”.

“Parents and providers will be extremely concerned at Liz Truss’s refusal to admit that the expert advice commissioned by her department flies in the face of her dogmatic approach,” said Hodgson.

“So much of a child’s educational and social development is determined before they start school, so it is crucial that any reforms to childcare provision in the UK – while needing to address affordability for parents – don’t compromise the quality of provision.”

Helen Penn, one of the report’s co-authors and professor of early childhood at the University of East London, declined to comment on the content of the report, as it is yet to be published.

“In general, there is no evidence that our ratios are out of line with those in many other OECD countries, or indeed Europe,” she said.

“There is no evidence that ratios are primarily responsible for high childcare costs or that relaxing ratios would drive those costs down.

“But the evidence of which we are aware, but do not discuss in the report, does suggest that there may be risks to early childhood service quality in lowering ratios.”

The government was due to respond to the Childcare Commission in autumn last year. The response was delayed and widely tipped to be in the government's midterm review earlier this month. It has still not been published.

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