You’d hope the Under-Secretary of State for Early Years would have more sense about whether nursery practitioners in England should be allowed to look after more children at once – seemingly not. According to the MP's blog, England's adult-to-child ratios for nurseries and childminders are ‘restrictive’. She also praised the French system, where children are taught in larger groups by supposedly better qualified and higher paid staff.
As someone who is responsible for running four nurseries – between them registered to look after over 290 children under the age of four – I can honestly say that plans to increase the amount of children that staff can look after gives me great concern.
The over-simplistic ‘less staff, higher wage = better quality’ equation is an insult to those who currently work with children. No matter how highly paid someone is, it doesn’t suddenly give them super-human powers to provide rich and developmentally-appropriate care and learning opportunities to eight highly-demanding two-year-olds – all at the same time.
As they stand, the ratios work perfectly well. Yes, in an ideal world, we’d all love to have an extra member of staff – and good nurseries do work flexibly with these ratios to regularly provide additional support. This enables staff to have time for planning, paperwork, working with others, and generally being the professional that they not only want to be, but one that the Government tells them that they should be.
While there are real and understandable concerns about the level of nursery fees – and the Government’s changes to the childcare benefits system and welfare reforms only crystallise these arguments – the answer should not be to slash quality. Parents need to be better supported financially to help pay for childcare that they feel completely comfortable with. I can tell you for nothing that mums returning to work after maternity leave will not feel happy about leaving their child with one adult and seven other toddlers.
What I would like to do is invite Ms Truss to The Village Nursery, in Trafford Park, to enable her to experience firsthand the demands of the job and test out her proposals on one member of staff looking after eight toddlers. In fact, I would challenge her to just take care of four toddlers. I have a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be too keen on adding another four to the group!