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Childcare reforms aimed at cutting costs

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
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Editor's note - 6th June 2013 - Plans to change child-staff ratios have now been dropped.

29th January 2013 - Nurseries and childminders in England will be allowed to look after more children for each adult under plans announced by the government aimed at cutting the rising cost of childcare.

The National Day Nurseries Association is warning that the proposals could dilute the degree of one-to-one attention between young children and nursery staff. However, children's minister Liz Truss says the ratio of children to staff will only be increased if carers meet new qualification standards.

The government says the current system has led to a poorly paid and poorly qualified Early Years workforce and needs reform.

New qualifications

Liz Truss says that at the moment the government spends £5 billion but is failing to get availability and quality across the board. The Department for Education is planning to introduce Early Years Teachers who will have the same teaching standards as those working in schools. A new qualification for Early Years Educators will be established with the requirement of a GCSE in English and Maths before they can enter the course.

When nurseries hire people with these qualifications, they will be able to increase the ratios of children to carers.

The government says this will bring England in line with countries like Denmark and France who demand higher qualification levels but allow nurseries greater flexibility in numbers.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange, Liz Truss said she wanted to give similar flexibility to childminders: "At present the ratio of one child under the age of one per childminder means that twins are a no-no without special permission. The limit for under-fives is three children - which is fewer than many families have to cope with.

"This gives rise to the situation I saw where two qualified childminders are looking after six children between them, where if they need a pint of milk one of them has to drag three children to the shop to comply with the rules."

Present ratios for nurseries in England are:

  • Children aged one and under: 1:3
  • Two year olds: 1:4
  • Three year olds and over: 1:8 or 1:13 (when teacher-led)

Proposed ratios for nurseries with high quality staff are:

  • Children aged one and under: 1:4
  • Two year olds: 1:6
  • Three year olds and over: 1:8 or 1:13 (when teacher-led)

The government says increasing ratios where appropriate should make childcare more affordable to parents.

Ministers also plan to set up childminding agencies which will offer a one stop shop service for childminders - taking care of business practicalities and quality assurance for parents.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association warns that quality of childcare and early education must not be allowed to suffer. She says in a statement: "We are particularly concerned about suggestions to increase the number of children under three that nursery staff can look after, due to the degree of personal attention needed by very young children.

"Strong adult:child interactions are vital for good child development. Staff with higher qualifications will still find it difficult to give larger groups of under threes the level of practical care they need."

Reviewed on January 29, 2013

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