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MP Stephen Twigg says Government’s childcare ratio reforms are in ‘chaos’

Article By: Laura McCardle, News Editor

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, is the latest politician to criticise the Government’s plans to change childcare ratios.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary

This morning he told the House of Commons he thought the plans, which will see the limit on the number of children practitioners can look after rise from four to six and for the limit on caring for babies aged one and under increase from three to four, were in “chaos". His criticism of the reforms comes shortly after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told colleagues he “remains to be persuaded” about the plans.

Asking an urgent question to Elizabeth Truss, the education and childcare minister pushing the reforms, this morning, Mr Twigg said: “We were told that the Government was pushing ahead with its plans to weaken childcare rations despite widespread opposition. Late last night the ink wasn’t even dry on the gracious speech when we learned that the Government might in fact be U-turning on its policy. Isn’t this yet another example of chaos and incompetence at the heart of the Government policy making?

“When the minister came to the House in January and announced this policy we, on this side of the House, told her she was threatening the quality of childcare and doing nothing to address the sprawling costs of childcare and dismissing the advice of her own experts.

“Since that announcement the scale of public opposition to her plan has been overwhelming. The Government’s own advisor on childcare, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, has said that the ratio plans – and I quote – ‘make no sense at all’.

“Today the minister said that all of the evidence demonstrates that what she’s doing is right. Who supports the proposals that she is making? Isn’t this yet another episode of bad policy making by the education secretary?

Elizabeth Truss, education and childcare minister

“First of all we had the fiasco of shutting down school sports partnerships, then we had the disastrous attempt to bring back CSEs and O Levels and now we have a childcare policy rejected by parents, rejected by nursery providers and rejected by the Governments own experts.”

Ms Truss responded to Mr Twigg by stating that the Government is currently considering responses to the consultation. She also added that no childminder or nursery would be forced to look after more children

Mr Twigg’s and Mr Clegg’s criticisms of the proposals have been welcomed by a number of organisations, including the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years (PACEY).

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of PACEY, said: “It’s great to see that at long last some parts of Government are finally listening to the legitimate concerns of parents and childcare professionals.

“Members of PACEY – childminders, nannies and nursery workers – have continually voiced concerns that changing ratios will damage the quality of care children receive, regardless of the qualification level of staff. In simple terms the more children you have to look after, less individual attention you can give them.

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of PACEY

“PACEY has been lobbying for months to convince Liz Truss to rethink childcare proposals. In addition to the discussion about ratios, there are many more proposals that the Department for Education is planning that are causing concern for the sector. In particular the introduction of childminder agencies, an increasingly narrow definition of what it means for a child to be school ready, and the removal of local authority responsibility to provide training and information to registered providers.

“We believe all of these proposals will be to the detriment of quality care our youngest children receive.

“Despite months of discussion, the Department for Education seems unwilling to listen and has yet to present a clear rationale for why these changes are needed. PACEY is yet to see any evidence that they will improve the quality of care children receive or reduce costs for families.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, has also welcomed the politicians’ criticisms of the proposals. The group is spearheading the ‘Rewind on Ratios’ campaign, which has already received more than 16,000 signatures.

Speaking earlier today, he said: “We greatly welcome Nick Clegg’s comment that he ‘remains to be persuaded’ about childcare ratio changes as we have been campaigning against these ridiculous changes ever since they were proposed by the Government back in January.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance

“Thousands of parents and practitioners, as well as some of the country’s leading early years academics, are against these changes, which will lower the overall quality of childcare in this country.

“We trust the Deputy Prime Minister will listen to what parents and the sector have to say about these proposals, which we believe are a huge mistake.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, also welcomed the views of the politicians and urged the Government to “stop, rethink and listen to the sector”.

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