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The Deputy Prime Minister has blocked the Government’s controversial plans to change childcare ratios.
Conservative MP Elizabeth Truss, the child and education minister, has been pushing the reforms, which would 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, since January, claiming the move would cut the cost of childcare for families.
However, Nick Clegg revealed last night that he will not be supporting the changes, which he believes will cost parents more rather than save them money.
His decision to block the reforms has been welcomed by a number of organisations, including the Pre-School Learning Alliance, which has been rigorously campaigning against the proposals since they were announced earlier in the year.
Neil Leitch, chief executive, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister has intervened and listened to the concerns and evidence gathered by the sector, parents and early years experts which dismantled the arguments for taking forward this ill-advised plan. “It is a real testimony to the strength of those practitioners and parents who campaigned so actively over the past few months to challenge these plans.
“The sector is supportive of the Government’s aims to raise the status and quality of the childcare workforce but this proposal was not the way to achieve this. There is no doubt that relaxing ratios would have lowered the overall quality of childcare in this country. Not only would children have received less one-to-one support from childcare workers, but their wellbeing would also have been put at serious risk.
“After months of petition, surveys, Freedom of Information requests and emails to Government officials, we are grateful that the Deputy Prime Minister’s intervention has prevented the implementation of a policy that would have had such a detrimental impact on thousands of children in childcare settings across the country.”
Liz Bayram, joint chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), is “relieved” by Mr Clegg’s decision to block the reforms.
She said: “PACEY is relieved to hear today that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced he will not go ahead with proposals to change current childcare ratios. PACEY, with the support of our members, childminders, nannies and nursery workers, has continually lobbied the Government to ensure it understands the quality and safety concerns of both childcare professionals and parents around increasing ratios.
“Whilst today’s announcement is good news for children and families, there remains a great deal of sector concern around other Government childcare proposals. We share the same ambition as Government – to provide children and families with high quality affordable childcare – but believe there needs to be a full and open discussion with the sector and parents around how to make this a reality.”
The announcement has also been welcomed by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA). Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the group, said: “This decision will be met with huge relief by parents and childcarers. It is absolutely vital that any reform to childcare puts the needs of children first. There has been a real worry in the childcare sector that relaxing the ratios would let down children by allowing provision that couldn’t properly provide the individual care and attention that young children need to thrive.
“Childcare providers want to invest in a more highly qualified workforce, but the idea that his can be achieved by cutting the number of staff to children needed a rethink – we need well-qualified, committed staff in the right numbers. We are pleased that Government has listened to the sector on the ratios issue; we now need to work together to build on the progress already made towards a well-qualified, well-rewarded expert in early years workforce.”
Claire McCarthy, director of public affairs at 4Children, supports Mr Clegg’s decision and is looking forward to the future of the childcare sector. She said: “The Government’s ambition on this issue was a good one, to reform childcare and attempt to deal with the escalating costs which parents are finding increasingly hard to meet. Unfortunately its proposals to meet these challenges were not the right ones and so it is highly positive that they will not go ahead as planned.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Government and others with an interest in these matters to find alternative ways in which Government can help families meet the costs of childcare, building on the welcome £1,200 per year tax free allowance that has already been announced.”