The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed to PACEY that childminders delivering wraparound care for a three- or four-year-old taking up their 30-hour place at a maintained school, academy or independent school, may be able to invoke the exception to the usual staff to adult ratio of 1:3 for under-fives, as stated in the EYFS.
According to the DfE, childminders may be able to care for more than three children under the age of five if:
- they are able to demonstrate to parents and/or carers and Ofsted (or their childminder agency) that the individual needs of all children are being met:
- they only care for the child before or after the normal two session school day or in the holidays;
- the total number of children under the age of eight does not exceed six at any time for each childminder;
- any care provided for older children must not adversely affect the care of children receiving early years provision.
Findings from a survey of 1,365 childminders by PACEY last month showed that 61 per cent had been asked to deliver a 30-hour place this term. Of those, 42 per cent had been asked to deliver a place in full, and 58 per cent an extended place in partnership with another provider.
Childcare providers on the Champagne Nurseries, Lemonade Funding Facebook page have raised concern that the move to relax ratios for childminders will lower standards of care. It has also led to speculation that adult: child ratios will be altered for nurseries.
Susanna Kalitowski, PACEY's policy and research manager, said, ‘We are pleased the DfE has provided clarity on this matter as there has been confusion among childminders, who are being told different things.
‘From a business sustainability point of view, making ratios more flexible means childminders can provide wraparound care without having to keep a place open for a full day or charge for a full-time place.
‘However, it is down to the individual childminder to use their judgement and expertise to decide how many children they can take on, while continuing to provide high-quality childcare.'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'We have long warned that there has been a worrying lack of focus on the impact of the 30 hours on quality, and the suggestion that ratio rules for childminders offering wraparound care for three-year-olds may be relaxed has only served to only heighten our concerns.
'Existing ratios are in place for a reason, and the sector has made its views on relaxing ratios very clear. To start tinkering around with the rules and making ratios changes through the backdoor as a shortcut to tackling concerns that there won’t be enough 30 hours places simply isn’t acceptable.
'What’s more, such a move risks reinforcing the view that the main role of childminders is simply to cover the hours that schools, nurseries and pre-schools are unable to deliver. Childminders are a vital source of quality, flexible care and education in their own right, and if the Government wants to encourage them to play a larger role in the 30-hours policy, it should a) pay them – along with all early years settings – a fair and sustainable funding rate and b) focus on better promoting them to parents as a quality, professional source of childcare and early education, offering a service equal to that of group settings.'
A DfE spokesperson said, 'Policy on childminding ratios remains unchanged. Exceptions to the usual childminding ratios may be possible, where childminders can demonstrate that the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained and the individual needs of all the children are being met.'
According to the DfE, since publication of the first EYFS in 2008, there have been exceptions to ratios for childminders, but until 2012 they had to seek permission from Ofsted to 'vary' the number and/or ages of the children they could care for provided the total number never exceeded six. From 2012 onwards, the EYFS allowed childminders to apply, within limits, exceptions themselves without seeking approval from Ofsted.
The Department went on to confirm that while the Treasury has recently been exploring ways to reform the childcare market and the relaxation of ratios was one area they were interested in, the Secretary of State has agreed that no changes to the childminder ratios should be made.