More `Great Childcare’ but at what cost…

Dear Parents,

You may have read in the tabloids or heard the recent news announced by Government minister Elizabeth Truss the under secretary of State for Early Years to increase the number of children to each member of nursery staff.  The Governments plan is to allow Nurseries and childminders in England to look after more children, in a package ministers say will improve quality and cut costs. The ratio of children to carers can be raised, but only if carers’ qualifications meet new standards.

More Great Childcare launched by Elizabeth Truss MP
Proposed changes which will affect nurseries include:

  • Relaxing staff:child ratios in nurseries from 1:3 to 1:4 for under twos and from 1:4 to 1:6 for two year olds. Ratios for three to five year olds will remain the same. The changes will only be applicable to nurseries where staff meet certain qualification requirements
  • Introduction of Early Years Teachers and Early Years Educators, with a requirement of a GCSE grade C or above in English or maths to enter the profession
  • Changes to regulation, including reducing the role of local authorities so Ofsted is the sole test of whether providers can offer funded early education
  • Encouraging schools to offer places to children under three
  • Establishing childminder agencies.

The report can be downloaded from the Department of Education website by clicking here. The changes are expected to be introduced from September 2013 and will include revisions to the EYFS. You can watch a video of Elizabeth Truss explaining the changes by clicking here.

Colleagues and I have been shocked by the announcement and feel that the Quality of childcare and early education must not be sacrificed. Many parents do not want to see an increase in the number of children nursery staff are allowed look after; they are naturally worried it will have a negative impact on the individual attention and care their child receives. We strongly believe and will continue to maintain high staff child ratios.

I have expressed my thoughts and concerns below and we would love hear yours!

More `Great Childcare’ but at what cost…Whilst there is an understandable concern about the level of childcare fees that parents pay,  if the children’s minister Elizabeth Truss thinks she will hit the target by increasing child ratios through dangling the proverbial carrot, she will sadly miss the point.  My major concern is the confusion about what she thinks childcare is about. Yes it’s about giving parent’s choice and flexibility, but the most important factor that Mrs Truss doesn’t appear to get is that it’s more than purely economics.  Early childhood in its own right is a crucial period and as Colin Gibb so aptly states ` Teaching and learning are not just about achievement or quality-assured products. They are about care, compassion, love, hope. Joy, passion, grace, relationship, and more … They are about people and how we nurture and are nurtured on our learning journeys.’ Parents I chatted to recently were dumbfounded and shocked at the suggestion. They have come to expect and value the close relationships that we have all worked so hard to develop and maintain that are now at risk of being damaged.  

I agree wholeheartedly with the professionalization of our sector and as a nursery owner believe that continued learning and development opportunities for all staff are a crucial factor in maintaining quality.  However comparing qualifications and childcare in the UK with Europe is misleading and neglects to highlight the fact that colleagues for example we work with in Sweden who are all qualified EY teachers, are not expected to complete detailed child assessments, excessive paperwork or are inspected to the same levels. Government funding is also channelled directly to each provider in Sweden regardless of whether it is state or private provision and is calculated based on the number of children they look after.

Costs can’t be reduced by simply paring down and removing what the government now perceives `we no longer need, ` in this case staff. We can’t also classify staff simply based on their level of qualification; a degree does not create super powers in individuals. I am dismayed that this is all the Government think-tank could come up with in searching for ways to achieve the 20% reduction in childcare fees. Obvious alternatives that avoid damaging the quality and growth of the sector would be to focus the Governments energies on reducing the massive external overheads that we pay to the hugely profitable utilities companies and to disentangle the complex funding streams that rarely reach the intended source and in the words of Elizabeth Truss would give providers the incentives and the flexibility they need to deliver the best for children.

Linda Baston-Pitt