Childcare minister Sam Gyimah’s comment at our Business Summit that providers should ‘stop using ratios as a convenient stick’ to beat Government with makes more sense now that the reviews of childcare costs have been published.
Although the DfE is keen to stress that there are no plans to change the legal minimum staff:child ratios, the message coming from the review on the scope for efficiencies in the staffing model will concern many. Apparently, a ‘typical’ provider could save 15 per cent on unit delivery costs by not using more staff than the legal minimum, as many nurseries choose to do.
Poor providers - often berated for being profit-driven at the expense of quality, now chastised for employing too many staff and not generating as much revenue per staff member as they could.
Parental demand is apparently not behind this use of more staff (although parents rose in mass protest when Liz Truss tried to mess with ratios).
Then there is the comment that savings could be made by changing the mix of staff. Well, yes, legally nurseries could employ 50 per cent level 2 and 50 per cent unqualified staff below supervisory level - that might save a lot of money and the recruitment crisis all in one, but who would want that!
And finally, the call to match staff more closely to occupancy levels could sound from staff’s point of view like a drive to zero hours contracts, for employees whose pay rates are already woefully low.
Nurseries, and indeed schools at early years level, don’t use more staff than the minimum just for fun, but because this ‘slack’ is needed not to run into trouble, or, most importantly, because that is what their children need.