Childcare leaders criticise ratios consultation

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 26 February 2013

Early years leaders are warning that responses to the government consultation on changes to the childcare system could be "unviable", because of the piecemeal release of details relating to the reforms.

Announcements about childcare funding are expected in March. Image: NCMA

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of the union Voice, warned that professionals are having difficulty commenting on the Department for Education’s plans to alter staff-to-child ratios in early years settings, because full details of government funding for the changes are yet to be announced.

The early education and childcare staff deployment consultation was launched in January on the same day as the DfE published its More Great Childcare report, in response to Cathy Nutbrown’s independent early years review. But the government is yet to publish its response to the Childcare Commission, which it said would be released in autumn 2012.

The DfE has indicated that further details on the reforms, including information on funding and a potential tax break to help working families with childcare costs, will coincide with 2013 budget announcements in March.

Lawson warned that the gap between the announcements is preventing professionals from being able to fully understand the government's plans.

“Things are coming out in insolation and we are possibly having to respond to More Great Childcare before we’ve got to see what the commission is saying about childcare. It would be good to see these things in context,” she said.

“Our members are starting to come back to us with thoughts and ideas. Some of their responses to the suggestions in the document may not be viable or even reasonable, depending on what the Childcare Commission is saying.

“We don’t know anything about the funding. Will there be a realisation by the government that the sector cannot take on the cost of this? They’re trying to make it cheaper for parents, but where’s the government going to put the investment?”

Lawson suggested that the government was taking a piecemeal approach to disseminating the announcements for political gain.

“There seems to be some disjointedness about it,” she said. “We’re highly suspicious that all of this is being done on a political agenda and not for those who should be benefiting from any changes.”

Her concerns were echoed by Sue Robb, head of early years at 4Children, who questioned how early years professionals could respond to proposals on improving staff qualifications and increasing ratios, without full details of what the qualifications will involve.

More Great Childcare announced the creation of two new early years qualifications, Early Years Teachers and Early Years Educators, but the Teaching Agency is not expected to publish criteria for these until the summer.

“It’s fairly difficult to isolate ratios when we do not know what the new qualifications will be for the staff,” said Robb. “We’d like to see more information about what they will involve. That’s obviously fairly important to the ratios.”

But Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of the National Childminding Association (NCMA), said it was possible to respond without having the full details.

NCMA is opposing proposals for childminding agencies, and is providing funding to the Institute of Public Policy Research to investigate the impact of the DfE’s More Great Childcare plans.

“We will absolutely encourage our members to respond to the consultation,” said Farrell. “There’s a lot happening – there might be more to come – but our position on what’s out there in the public domain is pretty clear. We’ll continue to make the case against the agency model and feedback accordingly on ratios.”

The consultation on the proposals closes on 25 March.

The DfE has been contacted for a response.

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