Recently, I chaired the panel debate at the launch of Christie & Co’s first report on global workforce trends, a very lively and stimulating event for senior sector leaders.
One of the themes in the report was staff:child ratios, a very emotive subject. There is a feeling that ratios will be back on the agenda soon as the early years sector continues to struggle with recruitment and retention of practitioners.
It is interesting to look at international comparisons of ratios in early childhood care and education settings – and also differences within the UK – but it is not a straightforward matter.
Some countries have no regulation on ratios, but nevertheless have plenty of highly professional, highly trained teachers in their nurseries, who work in a system with much higher government funding and subsidy. They are trusted to provide for children’s needs, using ratios in a flexible way.
England, meanwhile, has one of the lowest rates of funding per child, with qualification levels dropping. Increasing the number of young children looked after by one member of staff is not a solution to our recruitment crisis and static funding.
One issue that could be looked at now is the myth that settings have no flexibility in their use of ratios. Ofsted’s Gill Jones confirmed that ratios apply across the nursery, not in every room or group at all times. So there is scope to be more creative and use staff more effectively.
In terms of the wider picture, however, it continues to be true that an early childhood degree or even a PhD doesn’t equip practitioners to care for a greater number of babies and toddlers. A high-level of qualification doesn’t endow you with more than one pair of arms!
Christie & Co will be running a Big Debate on workforce at our Business Summit on 13 November. Come and have your say.