Majority of early years sector oppose reforms

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A survey by the National Children's Bureau reveals the extent to which the early years sector is opposed to the reforms in More Great Childcare, with the majority claiming they will have a detrimental effect on children, particularly disadvantaged two-year-olds.


The survey of more than 300 early years staff sought the views of staff from local authority early years teams, nursery managers and practitioners and staff from the children's voluntary sector that belong to the National Children's Bureau's early years networks, as well as individuals working in the early years and childcare sector.

It found that the majority of respondents (95 per cent) were against the relaxation of ratios as they felt it would not be in the best interests of the child. Early years staff said that increasing child:adult ratios would lead to a reduction in the quality of relationships between young children and their key person, less individual attention for children and staff focusing on perfunctory tasks such as nappy changing, rather than supporting children's development.

Respondents expressed fears that the proposals would lead to a two-tier system with good settings keeping ratios at current levels, while others increased them. Over a third said that improved workforce qualifications alone would not lead to practitioners being better equipped to look after a greater number of children.

Those who took part in the survey also reflected on the effect the relaxation of ratios could have on the specific needs of two-year-olds. They said that while two-year-olds have greater mobility than babies, they still require lots of personal care and need a supportive one-to-one relationship with their key person to develop secure attachments and language skills. Early years staff also said the proposals would have a detrimental effect on the disadvantaged two-year-olds receiving the free childcare places, especially those who require extra support.

Another key finding of the survey was that respondents wanted the local authority quality improvement role to be retained as they feel that early years development teams play a vital role in supporting settings to improve.

Respondents were keen to emphasise the misconception that local authorities duplicate Ofsted's role. Their opinion was that local authorities provide a vital role in continuously supporting nurseries and childminders to improve the quality of their practice.

The survey also showed that only 20 per cent are confident that their local authority will be able to secure sufficient childcare if their duty to carry out childcare sufficiency assessments every three years is removed.

Around 80 per cent of respondents noted that without the duty in place, local authority funding and posts would be cut and there would be a greater reliance on second-hand information to gauge sufficiency, such as Ofsted reports and Family Information Service data.

Other key findings included:

  • There was an equal split between respondents who welcomed the proposal to allow nurseries and childminders to pay Ofsted for a re-inspection, and those who did not.
  • Respondents want Early Years Teachers to be given Qualified Teacher Status to ensure parity with school teachers. Pay and conditions should also be considered alongside workforce reforms.
  • The majority of respondents perceived childminder agencies to be unnecessary as they felt they would add an additional later of bureaucracy, duplicate many services offered by local authorities and could lead to a decrease in the quality of childminder's practice.

The NCB recommends that the DfE looks to expand childminding networks, through focused and systematic support from central and local government as an alternative.

Sue Owen, the NCB's director of programmes (pictured left), said, 'The survey presented an opportunity for people to have more of a say about the proposals in 'More Great Childcare' and points out the dangers of implementing them.

'With the extension of free childcare places for disadvantaged two-year-olds, it is not a good time for the Government to suggest diluting ratios. There will be a temptation for early years settings to relax ratios because of margins. While childminders are less likely to change their ratios, there is a real danger to nursery workers, especially if they aren't as experienced, as they have to adhere to decisions made by their manager or the nursery owner.'

She added, 'There is a lot of fear surrounding the local authority role. Within our National Quality Improvement Networks, local authorities tell us that resources for their early years teams are diminishing.

'We hope the Department for Education will listen to the opinion of the sector and take on their suggestions. There are no surprises here; the survey reflects what others have said.'

A DfE spokesperson said, 'This is a self-selecting and unscientific survey from an organisation which has already opposed our reforms. Providers including Kidsunlimited, Busy Bees and My Family Care have all welcomed the emphasis on quality and flexibility.

'Our approach moves towards international best practice in countries like Denmark and France.'

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