Attempt to legally limit childcare ratios fails

By Laura McCardle

| 15 November 2013

The door has been left open for the government to increase staff-to-child ratios in early years settings after plans to put current limits into law were scrapped.

An amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would have protected current childcare ratios has been removed.

A Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would have put current childcare ratios into legislation has been withdrawn.

Members of the House of Lords decided to remove amendments 235 and 236 of the bill while it was being discussed during the Lords Committee stage on Wednesday.

The clauses would have ensured staff-to-child ratios of no less than one to three for children under two years old; of one to four for children between two and three years old; and of one to six for children under eight years old where only one child is under one-year-old and only three children are young children.

Earlier this year childcare minister Elizabeth Truss proposed to increase childcare ratios, claiming that they would cut childcare costs for parents.

However the proposal, part of More Great Childcare, was fiercely opposed by the early years sector and eventually quashed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who refused to support the government’s plans.

During the Lords' debate, Baroness Walmsley said: “There is more than one way of making childcare more affordable for parents; properly funding the free entitlement is one of them while increasing the ratios is not.

“I was also concerned about the proposal and I am very pleased that the government did not go ahead with it.

“It is not appropriate to put these ratios into the bill. But, having said that, if the government come up with another proposal to increase the ratios between now and 2015, I will be writing to Nick Clegg.”

The decision to remove the amendment has raised concern among early years professionals, who had hoped the government would do more to protect existing ratios after the controversy the proposals caused earlier in the year.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, questioned how much the government values the sector’s opinions.

He said: “When the plans to relax ratios were ditched a few months ago, we had hoped that the sector’s opinion on the matter had been heard and respected.

“However the rejection of this amendment demonstrates that the government’s preference to introduce money-saving principles ahead of the safety and wellbeing of the youngest children in our society.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and the Early Years (Pacey), has also expressed her disappointed at the decision to remove the amendments.

She said: “This is a missed opportunity for the government to show its commitment to high quality childcare and to demonstrate that it has recognised the legitimate concerns of the childcare professionals carrying out this important job every day.

“Our 35,000 members are clear that increasing ratios will be bad for children – the door now stands open for government to change ratios much more easily in the future.”

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