Children and families minister confirms consultation on plans to change childcare ratios

Kathy Oxtoby
Friday, May 13, 2022

The Department for Education will consult 'before the summer' on proposals to change the childcare ratios in early years settings in England, the children and families minister Will Quince has confirmed.

The Government will consult ‘before the summer’ on proposals to raise the number of two-year-olds that one member of staff can look after in early years settings in England from four to five.

In a series of tweets, Will Quince, minister for children and families, confirmed the plans, and seemed to indicate they had been inspired by regulations in Scotland.

Mr Quince said: ‘I’ve considered the childcare ratio carefully and put safety and quality first. We will be consulting in mirroring the Scottish model before the summer, which means a maximum ratio of 1 to 5 instead of 1 to 4 for two-year-olds.

‘Giving providers greater flexibility’

‘The proposal is about giving providers greater flexibility. Some were pushing me to go further on ratio reform but I’ve been clear from the start that I would not compromise on safety of quality.

‘This consultation is just the start of the journey. We have some of the best early years provision in the world, and I’ll continue exploring how we can be ambitious for working parents – improving flexibility and reducing the costs of childcare.’

Responding to news of the consultation, the Early Years Alliance, said plans to relax childcare ratios were ‘ludicrous, pointless and potentially dangerous’. In 2013, the Alliance founded and ran the Rewind on Ratios campaign, which successfully opposed previous government plans to relax ratios in England.

‘Hollow, empty rhetoric’

Chief executive Neil Leitch said: ‘How often have we heard ministers talk about the importance of quality early education? How often have they stressed how vital it is to close the gap between poorer children and their wealthier peers which already exists by the time they reach primary school? Today’s announcement has shown all that up for what it really is: hollow, empty rhetoric. 

‘We have a sector on its knees, with underpaid, overworked early years professionals doing their best to care for and educate children who, after spending most if not all of their lives under pandemic restrictions, need more individual care and education than ever before. The ignorance and short-sightedness that would lead anyone to suggest relaxing ratios as a solution to the problems our sector faces is frankly mind-boggling. 

‘We know that the vast majority of providers won’t change how they operate, regardless of any rule changes, so this policy won’t even deliver the savings to parents ministers are claiming it will. But even a tiny minority of providers who feel they have no choice but to relax ratios could put the safety and wellbeing of young children at those settings at unacceptable risk.’ 

‘Children must remain at the heart of this policy’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said: 'We welcome the fact that the Minister plans to consult with the sector about any proposals to change ratios within the early years sector. We’ve been clear that tinkering with ratios alone will not cut costs of providing high quality early education and care and there are many other factors including the impact of underfunding.

'We know some of our members are already delivering excellent care in Scotland within these adult to child ratios. However, the Government must acknowledge the different landscapes between the two nations in terms of qualifications, regulation of the workforce and early years funding.

'Early years providers are very well placed to know how best to educate and care for children in their individual settings. We will have to see the detail of what the Government will consult on but we welcome the ongoing commitment from the Minister not to undermine quality or safety for our children. Early years is such a crucial stage of learning and development, so children must remain at the heart of this policy.’

Responding to reports that the Government is considering extending funded childcare, Ms Tanuku said: 'Any suggestions of extending the funded childcare system must also be consulted on. The current system is pushing early years settings into debt or closure and forcing higher costs onto parents. The Government must fix chronic underfunding first before expanding any childcare offers.'

High quality and safe provision ‘central to any final proposals’

Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Child-care and Early Years (PACEY), said: ‘There were strong views against proposed changes the last time these were consulted on and we are keen to understand if members still feel the same.  

'Ultimately regulations are in place to protect children and ensure they receive the high quality and safe provision that they need. This must be central to any final proposals.

‘We hope that the consultation process will provide Government with the opportunity to engage in a more open discussion with the sector on sensible measures to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability for families who rely on early years and childcare as well as support the providers that deliver it. 

‘The Government also needs to look across the whole sector and consider what unintended consequences any changes in one type of provision may have on other forms of provision, including registered childminders. This includes reversing the illogical rule that prevents childminders from claiming entitlement funding for related children and easing the time limits on childminder assistants working alone with children.’

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