Cameron says coalition will find 'a way forward' on childcare ratios

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Early years organisations have welcomed David Cameron's intervention in the on-going row over plans to increase the number of children nurseries and childminders can care for, but urged the Government to take decisive action.

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Last week, Nick Clegg waded into the debate, saying that he remained unconvinced that the changes would help to cut childcare costs and raised concerns about the impact of the plans on quality.

Now David Cameron has stepped in to say that he is hopeful of finding 'a way forward' over the childcare ratio proposals.

In New York, the Prime Minister told reporters, 'On the ratios, look, I think trying to get quality affordable childcare is a very important priority for the Government. I think that the proposals that we put forward about both qualifications and ratios had a lot of merit. Clearly there needs to be a discussion in the coalition about how best to go forward and respond to the consultation.

'But I'm confident, as with all these things, we will find a way forward. There's no point getting too frustrated about these things. We'll find a way forward that I hope will be good for people who want affordable childcare, which is a very, very major priority for people.'

Responding to the Prime Minister's comments, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, 'We are glad to hear that the substantial opposition to these ill-considered plans is being taken into consideration.

'However, we urge the Government to take decisive action on this matter and not to put forward a half-hearted compromise that does not address the issues at hand. 'Parents, practitioners and academics are united in their opposition to these plans and will accept nothing less than the Government scrapping the current proposal and consulting properly with the childcare sector about how to raise the quality and status of the sector while making childcare more affordable to parents.'

The Alliance's campaign against childcare ratio changes with its Rewind on Ratios petition on the Government's e-petition website now has more than 12,800 signatures, as well as a paper petition with 16,000 parent signatures.

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, 'While PACEY is pleased that the Prime Minister has said he will hold further discussions within Government on proposed changes to ratios, we remain concerned that the views of parents and childcare professionals on these and other proposals are not being heard.

'Ratio change is just one aspect of what appears to be a Government with no joined up strategy for quality improvement in childcare or for tackling childcare costs. Rather a random set of proposals that have in recent weeks only served to conflict and confuse parents and professionals.'

Ms Farrell highlighted as an example that while Ofsted was going to focus inspection on providers 'requiring improvement', the Government was proposing to remove local authority training and support.

She added, 'Government says it will only allow providers with higher qualifications to operate its proposed higher ratios. But, for childminders, it is not proposing any qualification requirement, only the option of joining a childminder agency, which childminders themselves have rejected as a bad idea. All these changes come despite the sector time and time again saying higher ratios will reduce quality and make no savings to pass on to parents. Finally, in the same week that one part of Government announces new start-up grants to help childcare providers set up in business, another part increases the financial burden on providers, by removing their current subsidy for DBS checks.'

Ms Farrell called for 'a full and open discussion', starting with the Government 'finally publishing its response to the evidence it gathered via it's Childcare Commission last year. The Commission's goal was to consider how best to improve access to affordable quality childcare, including after-school care. PACEY hopes Mr Cameron will start his discussions, by returning to the wealth of evidence and ideas many organisations offered the Commission last year.'

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