The early years sector's reaction to the U-turn on ratios

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The early years sector has expressed its joy and relief over the Government's decision to ditch the proposed changes to staff-to-child ratios for nurseries and childminders.

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After months of campaigning by the sector and parenting organisations, Nick Clegg has confirmed that plans to relax childcare ratios for pre-school children have been scrapped.

The Deputy Prime Minister has acknowledged that the proposals were heavily criticised and that there is ‘no real evidence’ that the reforms would save parents money.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, which led a campaign against the ratio proposals, said, 'We are absolutely delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister has intervened and listened to the concerns and evidence gathered by the sector, parents and early years experts, which dismantled the arguments for taking forward this ill-advised plan.

'It is a real testimony to the strength of those practitioners and parents who campaigned so actively over the past few months to challenge these plans.'

While the sector welcomed the U-turn decision on relaxing ratios, many claimed the victory was only half the battle.

Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, said, ‘We hope that we can now renew our focus on continuing to explore how affordable and accessible childcare can be made available without compromising quality.

‘In our view, this would centre around finding ways to extend the offer of free care for those most in need, simplifying an overly complex funding system, maintaining the important role of local authorities in quality improvement, ensuring that support is flexible for all families and recognising that childcare needs do not stop at the age of five.

‘We think it is essential to put aside party politics to have a long-term plan for childcare. The uncertainty created around recent proposals have left parents and providers in a state of limbo in terms of planning for this September and beyond. We are still awaiting details of the Childcare Commission and how the proposals to offer parents tax-free childcare will work in practice.’

Liz Bayram, joint chief executive of the Professional Association for Early Years and Childcare (PACEY), echoed Mr Shukla’s comments, claiming that a ‘great deal’ of concern remains around other Government proposals.

‘Ratio change is just one aspect of what appears to be a number of conflicting Government proposals that have in recent weeks only served to confuse parents and professionals.

‘There are proposals to help improve the qualifications of nursery workers but no clear plan to improve the qualifications of childminders. The only option put forward is for childminders to join an agency if they wish. PACEY hopes Mr Clegg’s announcement indicates that the Government is now going to engage in a more open discussion on the way forward.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘The cost of childcare is a real issue for parents and there is now an opportunity for Government to look at this afresh.

‘We now need to work together to build on the progress already made towards a well-qualified, well-rewarded expert early years workforce.

‘NDNA wants to see the complex picture of Government funding streamlined. New tax relief has been announced, but it won’t help all parents and doesn’t come in until 2015. Consolidating funding and getting more money to the frontline in nurseries would make childcare cheaper for parents.’

The IPPR called for the Government to invest in graduate training for nursery staff.

Researcher Imogen Parker said, 'We welcome the news that Nick Clegg has considered the evidence, listened to the sector and blocked this reform. The hope that these proposals  would both cut costs for parents, and drive quality in the sector just didn’t stack up.
 
'But he shouldn’t stop there. If the Government is serious about developing evidence-led policy to boost childcare quality and support the sector’s development, the next step is addressing the qualifications and development of the workforce. IPPR research highlights how highly early years professionals value the quality of their care and the status of their profession, and the childcare literature shows that a highly qualified workforce is one of the most important factors for child development.

'The Government should reinstate the Graduate Leader Fund to boost the number of settings, which are graduate-led. This has the double advantage of supporting the development of the workforce, and giving providers more flexibility around ratios where they won’t be detrimental to children’s development.'

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