Out-of-school reforms spark divide

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Government reforms of out-of-school care have received a mixed reaction from the sector.

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Under the reforms, staffing and qualification requirements for out-of-hours care for children in Reception, and for five- to seven-year-olds, will be aligned with those governing the school day, which could mean a ratio of one staff member to 30 children. The reforms will come into force in September.

Currently, the minimum ratio for four- to seven-year-olds is one adult to eight children, while managers working in out-of-school clubs must hold NVQ Level 3 or equivalent and 50 per cent of the rest of staff must be qualified to at least Level 2. Under the new reforms, out- of-school providers will no longer have to meet the learning and development requirements of the EYFS for Reception class children.

KOOSA Kids, a holiday, breakfast and after-school club provider, the Pre-School Learning Alliance and the National Day Nurseries Association have raised concerns that the reforms will have a detrimental impact on the quality of out-of-school provision.

Lee Partner, director of KOOSA Kids, said, 'The Government seems to have set its course regardless. They consulted with the sector, yet failed to listen. It is very clear that changing the adult:child ratio from 1:8 to "sufficient staff for a class of 30", combined with the removal of staff qualification requirements, will lead to a lowering of standards. While there was an argument for some flexibility in this area, it is implausible for the Government to insist on one hand that they want to improve quality standards in childcare yet, on the other, open up the possibility of a 1:15 or 1:30 ratio and clubs run by unqualified staff. As a sector we have worked so hard over the past ten years to improve standards, yet overnight this could all be undone.

'Another big concern is the apparent "schoolification" of out-of-school clubs. Under the proposed reforms, head teachers will be able to set ratios, with teachers encouraged to run provision, paving the way for schools to open from 8am to 6pm. You have to question whether teaching staff really are the most appropriate people to be supervising a play environment.

'Also, if it is the Government's intention for schools to provide out-of-school childcare directly, where does this leave the thousands of private or committee-run out-of-school clubs already operating on school premises?'

Double standards

Partner added, 'This could very well lead to a two-tier model of delivery, with those providers who aim to maintain quality by keeping in place qualified staff and existing ratios going up against those that are able to charge far less by opting for unqualified staff and the new ratio. It is hard to see in the long term how quality will be able to compete with price.'

However, out-of-school club provider Kids City welcomed the reforms. Chief executive Jackie Nunns said, 'The proposed Government reforms are good news for play and childcare, particularly the removal of the EYFS requirements in out-of-school settings which unnecessarily take up time and resources.

'The cost of running out-of-school childcare has priced out many families and become affordable only for working parents. Other parents want childcare too, and children want places to play and friends to play with. Children should of course have great care and healthy environments, but they don't need constant attention, any more than they do during lunchtime play at school.

'The staffing ratios and qualifications couldn't get any tougher. Yes, we will be relaxing them if we get the chance, although not even close to 1:30, which would be quite unrealistic for most scenarios. Pre-Ofsted, we ran wonderful, low-cost services with ratios of 1:12, which hundreds of children joined in with weekly. It's barmy that ratios are currently 1:8 for all children under eight regardless of the activity or their age.

'It's nonsense that a teaching assistant qualification is currently not suitable for childcare, or that sporting certificates plus years of experience working with children do not make you a qualified member of staff.'

But Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, echoed Partner's views. He said, 'The Government may try and paint these proposals as a removal of "red tape" and "unnecessary bureaucracy", but these regulations are in place for good reason.'

Quality v cost

Both the Out of School Alliance (OOSA) and the National Day Nurseries Association have raised their concerns about the regulation of out-of-school clubs under the reforms.

Meanwhile, childcare insurer Morton Michel warned that premiums could rise. Director Jerry Beere said, 'If ratios and standards slip, this could lead to more accidents, more claims and higher premiums.'

Catherine Wrench, director of OOSA, said, 'Our concern is that poor-quality childcare will become the norm with little if any external quality control. It is unclear how the Ofsted inspection process will work under the new system. After-school warehousing of children is not the same as quality childcare.'

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We make no apologies for wanting to introduce a system that gives parents real flexibility. We want more schools to offer on-site childcare both before and after the school day, which is why we are simplifying the rules to make it easier for them to do so.

'Ultimately, it is down to providers to decide whether they want to make use of this flexibility. All providers will still have to follow health and safety rules, such as determining how many staff are required to supervise particular activities.'