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Government report outlines potential benefits of controversial plans to change childcare ratios

Article By: Laura McCardle, News Editor

The Government has published a report outlining potential benefits of its controversial plans to change childcare ratios, including increased revenue of £200,000 a year for every nursery.

‘Implications of adult-child ratios for childcare providers’ was published in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request for more detail on the cost of the proposals, 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.

The report outlines a number of potential benefits of the plans, including “more relaxed ratios” and the opportunity for nurseries to take “advantage of the current 1:13 ratio for children aged over three” by employing a graduate leader.

It also suggests that childcare providers who implement the changes could see their gross revenue increase by more than £200,000 a year, which could be used to cut the cost of care for parents or to increase staff salaries.

The paper has come under fire from a number of organisations, including the Pre-School Learning Alliance. The organisation, which is leading the ‘Rewind on Ratios’ campaign against the proposals, has dismissed the report as “a work of fiction”.

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

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: “We are appalled by the cynicism of the Department for Education document. The model they have put forward is so far from reality, I’m surprised they saw fit to publish what reads like a work of fiction.

“Firstly, it relies on the assumption that day nurseries will remain open for 52 weeks of the year, with 100 per cent occupancy rate. This, quite frankly, is nonsense. The Department itself acknowledges in the small print of the economic model that ‘most settings do not operate at full child occupancy rates year round, and there are other constraints on offering places up to the capacity implied by legal maximum ratios’.

“The report also assumes that the higher ratios will not be used for short periods of time, but rather, on an all-day, full-time basis. And yet, the Government itself has said this is not the case.

“This report further suggests that parents could see a 28 per cent cut in childcare bills but only if, other than hiring a better paid graduate leader, settings keep all staff salaries at their current levels. Early Years minister Elizabeth Truss has repeatedly spoken of how she wants to raise the pay and status of the sector. Why then would the Department publish a model that assumes staff will not be paid more for caring for more children?”

Mr Leitch concluded: “The evidence is clear. Relaxing childcare ratios will lower the overall quality of childcare in this country and there is still no credible evidence that it would make it cheaper for parents. We call on the Government to stop its plans to implement this ill thought out initiative and consult properly with the sector and parents on how to raise the quality and status of childcare in this country.

“A bad principle is a bad principle and no amount of money can make it a good one.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), called for a realistic model from the Government rather than a “stylised example”. She said: “Economic models need to be used with care and we will be scrutinising these workings.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA

“The Department for Education itself says that the model is based on a ‘stylised example’ and the assumptions made to demonstrate savings do not reflect the realities of running a nursery that people on the front line in the sector would recognised. The model assumes full occupancy and full time use of places by children. In reality, nurseries currently have on average a fifth or more places vacant and a majority of places are used flexibly on a sessional basis by parents.

“Modelling of provision is a useful exercise. We need a model of early years provision that takes quality of provision as its starting point, focusing first on providing for the right numbers of staff with the right qualifications to meet the needs of children. Any model needs to reflect the real life scenario in nurseries.

"There has been an overwhelming message from NDNA members that relaxing the childcare ratios is a risk to the quality of care for children. NDNA has been asking Government to stop, rethink and listen to evidence from the sector and academics.”

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of PACEY

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), also expressed her doubts about the report and the proposals. She said: “For months, both parents and childcare professionals have 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, the less individual attention you can give them. To date, PACEY have not seen any evidence that the proposed changes to ratios will increase quality and continue to maintain that they will have a detrimental effect on the quality of care our youngest children receive.

“PACEY also recognise that across the sector, providers are already struggling to deliver Government initiatives due to a lack of adequate funding, therefore any assumption that increased revenues will automatically result in fee reductions is a risky one. The Government need to demonstrate more clearly how they intend to deliver a joined up strategy for quality improvement in childcare, while at the same time tackling childcare costs.”

The proposals have also received criticism from several high profile politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who told colleagues he “remains to be persuaded”. Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, has also expressed his doubts and recently revealed the party’s plans to call a vote in the House of Commons over the reforms.

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