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Reducing nursery staff ratios will not reduce fees for parents, say nursery providers

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Childcare minister, Elizabeth Truss, wants to get rid of the “restrictive” staff to child ratios in nurseries in England in a bid to make childcare more affordable.

Elizabeth Truss, childcare minister

However childcare providers claim the move will not reduce childcare costs for parents, as the cost of employing early years staff with higher qualifications will cancel out the savings made by upping ratios.

Ms Truss writing on the Conservative Home website said: “There is clearly something wrong with a system where the costs both to government and to parents are high, yet the people employed to look after and educate children are poorly paid.”

She claims these issues are resolvable and points to strong examples over the Channel about what good systems look like that provide parents with flexibility and affordability and still give children excellent quality care.

“In France, 40 per cent of staff has to hold a diploma, typically awarded following a year of study after the age of 18, and they are paid over £16,000. Each staff member is responsible for up to eight toddlers. The figure in Ireland and Holland is up to six children. In England staff is typically paid £13,000 and can be responsible for no more than four toddlers,” she says.

Ms Truss would like to see England moving “to a simpler, clearer system that prioritises quality and safety over excessive bureaucracy. We also need to think about the balance between the number and quality of staff in our system.

“It is no coincidence that we have the most restrictive adult-child ratios for young children of comparable European countries as well as the lowest staff salaries. Our ratios put a cap on the salaries staff can be paid because of onerous requirements on numbers. If staff is being paid barely more than minimum wage, nurseries struggle to retain and recruit high quality people.”

Currently in nurseries and pre-schools, there has to be one adult to three children for under two-year-olds, one adult to four children for two to three-years-olds and one adult to eight children for three to seven-year-olds.

The ratio is increased on outings and trips according to a risk assessment.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, believes moves to cut adult to child ratios in nurseries will be bad news for the sector. He said: “The Children’s Minister now says they plan to cut the number of nursery staff – which experts say will threaten child safety and the quality of care for toddlers. She wants to copy France, where quality is lower than the UK, according to independent reports.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association is also concerned about the impact that upping ratios could have on the quality of care in nurseries and said: “Proposals to change ratios must be based on evidence that quality would not suffer. Quality must not be sacrificed simply to cut costs.”

She believes that “reducing ratios by using higher qualified staff to look after more children is unlikely to reduce fees for parents, as the cost of employing staff with higher qualifications will eclipse the savings made by allowing them to look after more children.”

John Woodward, chief executive of Busy Bees Day Nursery, the biggest nursery chain in the country, is glad that the Government is asking questions and making suggestions in an attempt to make childcare more affordable.

“I like it that we are having these discussions as I don’t want us to stand still and say we never want change. However I am against the idea of changing ratios if nothing else happens. We need to have a long term plan and if we are going to have these ratios, we need to train enough well qualified staff so we get better outcomes. We do need to have a five to ten year long term plan,” he said.

Ros Marshall, chief executive of kidsunlimited

Ros Marshall, chief executive of , a nursery chain with 64 nurseries, likes the idea of the Government offering providers more flexibility, but believes that “before changing the legislation on ratios, the sector does need to have in place the mechanisms to deliver better-qualified staff. I believe parents will accept changes in adult to child ratios providing they are reassured that their children will still be cared for to the highest standard.”

If you would like to vote on whether you think cutting staff ratios would reduce the quality of care in nurseries, please go to our debate page


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