DfE parents' survey re-ignites fears over ratio changes

Katy Morton
Monday, October 28, 2013

A new Department for Education survey asking parents for their opinions on staff:child ratios has raised concern among the sector that there will be a renewed push for a relaxation.

Last week, the Department for Education put a message on Twitter and Facebook asking for parents of three- and four-year-olds who attend PVI settings for their views on qualifications of staff in their nursery and about the number of adults to children.

The survey of ten questions asks parents whether they know the qualification levels of staff at their child’s nursery and the ratio of staff to children, and what they think the ratio should be.

Other questions include: ‘Does the number of staff compared to the number of children concern you?’, ‘If staffing levels changed, would it influence you to change your child’s nursery?’, and ‘Do you think it’s important to have staff qualified to graduate level?’

The survey also asks parents whether they look at their nursery’s Ofsted report and which aspects -  facilities/building, ratios, safety, what the children learn - would concern them.

Laura Henry, managing director of the Childcare Consultancy, said she was worried that the Department for Education might be reconsidering relaxing ratios and looking again at the qualifications of the early years sector.

She said, ‘I am surprised that this survey for parents from the Department for Education appeared via Facebook and Twitter. Many parents do not use social media and few follow the Department on Twitter. What concerns me is that there is nothing on their website. How will the Department for Education know if parents of three- and four-year-olds have completed the survey?

‘More importantly, my question to the education and childcare minister is, what is the intention of this survey, and what will she do with the results?’

Andrew Clifford, managing director of First Class Childcare, and Twickenham childminder Simona McKenzie also expressed worries on Twitter.

The survey comes just less than six months after the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that planned changes to adult:child ratios for babies, two-year-olds and for three- and four-year-olds had been scrapped because of opinion overwhelmingly against such a move.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said that the survey was not asking the right questions.

'Yet again, there is little to no focus on what is best for the child. One of the survey questions asks whether parents base their nursery decisions on location, costs, number of staff or qualification levels – but what about quality of provision, the way staff interact with children, how happy and engaged the children are?  Until the government starts prioritising the needs of children above balancing their books, they will continue to come up against strong opposition from the sector, and rightly so.'

The announcement followed months of campaigning by the early years sector and parenting organisations against the proposals.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss has also called on nurseries to make greater use of the 1:13 ratio allowed for three- and four-year-olds in graduate-led sessions.

Mr Leitch added that the Government should respect the right of providers not to move to a 1:13 ratio for three- and four-year-olds if they don’t think it’s in the best interests of their children.

'Settings are well aware that graduate-led providers can move to a 1:13 ratios for three- and four-year-olds, and yet the vast majority choose not to do so, as they believe that this would result in poorer quality provision.'

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'PACEY already knows, from the hundreds of Netmum users and PACEY members who shared their concerns over ratios with us, that increasing child to carer ratios will have a negative impact on the quality and safety of care our youngest children receive.
'We also question how this crude approach to gaining parent feedback is going to provide the DfE with any meaningful information.
'Instead of trying to cut costs for providers by increasing ratios, Government should focus on ensuring existing childcare funding reaches frontline providers so that all childcare professionals - childminders, nannies and nursery workers - have enough funds to improve their professional expertise and deliver the best possible care for children.
'No matter how well qualified you are, there are only so many under fives one person can safely care for.'

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We are reforming childcare and increasing high quality provision so that all children get the best possible start in life. Good quality early years education has been shown to have a lasting, positive impact on children’s attainment and behaviour, especially those from low income backgrounds. This is why we are improving the quality of professionals working in the early years by introducing Early Years Teachers and Early Years Educators. The Department is working to identify good practice in employing graduates and any barriers to their wider use.'

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