Letters - what the sector has to say about Elizabeth Truss' announcement on ratios and more

Friday, February 8, 2013

The recent launch of the Government's 'More Great Childcare' report provoked a huge reaction, with letters flooding into Nursery World and unprecedented activity on social media. The heated debate shows no signs of abating...


Who can argue with the Government's intentions of improving the quality of childcare while at the same time making it more affordable? However, it seems to have ignored the importance of attachment theory. Research has shown that the quality of relationships is the single most important aspect of a successful childcare setting. Carers need time with their children to develop strong, stable relationships, which will influence a child's emotional, physical and conceptual development. Allowing carers to look after more children may reduce costs, but it will be at the expense of the amount of time they can spend building relationships with each individual child. Capability is not just about a childcarer's level of knowledge and skills.

Nobody likes being regulated, but by allowing childcare providers to set their own standards, the Government is allowing market forces to override years of sound research into how children develop into confident and competent adults. The Government is putting a whole generation of children at risk.

Dr Richard C Dorrance, chief executive, CACHE


'More Great Childcare' but at what cost...? While there is an understandable concern about the level of childcare fees that parents pay, if the children's minister, Elizabeth Truss, thinks she will hit the target by increasing child ratios through dangling the proverbial carrot, she will sadly miss the point.

My major concern is the confusion over what she thinks childcare is about. Yes it's about giving parents choice and flexibility, but the most important factor that Ms Truss doesn't appear to get is that it's more than pure economics.

Early childhood in its own right is a crucial period.

Parents I chatted to recently were dumbfounded and shocked at the suggestion. They have come to expect and value the close relationships that we have all worked so hard to develop and maintain that are now at risk of being damaged.

I agree wholeheartedly with the professionalisation of our sector and as a nursery owner believe that continued learning and development opportunities for all staff are a crucial factor in maintaining quality. However, comparing qualifications and childcare in the UK with Europe is misleading and neglects to highlight the fact that colleagues, such as those we work with in Sweden, who are all qualified EY teachers, are not expected to complete detailed child assessments, excessive paperwork or inspected to the same levels.

Government funding is also channelled directly to each provider in Sweden regardless of whether it is state or private provision and is calculated based on the number of children they look after.

Costs can't be reduced by simply paring down and removing what the Government now perceives we no longer need, in this case - staff. We can't also classify staff simply based on their level of qualification; a degree does not create super powers in individuals that enables them to look after double the numbers of children!

I am dismayed that this is all the Government think-tank could come up with in searching for ways to achieve the 20 per cent reduction in childcare fees. Obvious alternatives that avoid damaging the quality and growth of the sector would be to focus the Government's energies on reducing the massive external overheads that we pay to the hugely profitable utilities companies and to disentangle the complex funding streams that rarely reach the intended source.

And, in the words of Elizabeth Truss, this would give providers the incentives and the flexibility they need to deliver the best for children.

Linda Baston-Pitt, The Old School House Nursery, Stetchworth, Suffolk


As a headteacher of a maintained nursery school with daycare for children from birth to five years, I have to ask - what on earth are ministers thinking of?

On the one hand they are investing a huge amount of money in nursery provision to support vulnerable two-year-olds and on the other they are suggesting an increase in the number of twos staff can look after, from a ratio of 1:4 to 1:6.

They clearly do not understand that, no matter how qualified staff are, two-year-olds, especially those who are vulnerable, need more, not less, adult intervention to support their all-round progress and especially to enhance their social skills and language development.

Staff also need to give support to parents in matters such as toilet training, nutrition and behaviour management, and often have to attend multi-agency meetings for safeguarding and SEN to meet the needs of these vulnerable families. All of these extra duties take them away from face-to -face work with the children.

Yes, childcare in this country is expensive but is it being made more affordable for some to the detriment of others who are the most disadvantaged?

Anne Gunning, Millfield Community Nursery School, Sunderland


I have been listening to the howls of protest about the new proposals from a sector whose members sometimes seem to want not only to have their cake and eat it, but for the taxpayer to buy it for them as well.

Before we write off these proposals as wicked and dangerous, let's apply some of the numeracy skills which our staff will have to demonstrate in future.

The UK Government has statutory control of both staffing ratios and the minimum wage, both of which the sector is keen to preserve. With staff costs representing such a high proportion of a nursery's cost base, the state thus effectively determines the minimum level of nursery fees. And fees, as we all know, are too high.

So if we can't reduce staff costs, and we can't increase fees, the only other place to go is the profit margin. Very few settings today can squeeze these any further -as I know as well as any, having recently acquired a loss-making nursery which we are working hard to turn round.

But the sector rightly wants to raise the status of its staff too. This will inevitably mean higher salaries to attract better entrants into the profession.

Nobody wants to see children packed in to crowded, understaffed nurseries. But there is nothing magic about the present ratios as distinct from any others. They weren't handed down to us by Pythagoras, nor based on detailed quantitative research.

They began life as guidance, and were the result of a political compromise. If a modest, controlled relaxation allows us to pay better money for better staff, it may just be worth a try.

I don't see any other solutions that add up.

Of course, there will always be settings that take advantage of the changes to increase profits without giving anything back. But the market, and Ofsted, will find them out.

Ross Midgley, Blois Meadow Day Nursery, Steeple Bumpstead, Essex


Nursery providers are complaining that the funding level is eroding their profits. Settings are finding it harder to recruit qualified staff prepared to meet the ever-increasing workload and stress, while practitioners can't get the funding to gain further qualifications.

And with twoyear-old funding coming out - there will be more pressure on parents to find places.

What's the Government's answer? Higher ratios.

Less costs for providers.

Less staff needed.

More places.

Job well done!

The Government's job is done! And it won't cost it a penny! How do we do ours with so many more children to care for?

Jenny Hazel, Peterborough


Sir Martin Narey Rigid worker-child ratios have closed nurseries. Issue deserves serious analysis

Andrew Clifford, First Class Childcare

Wonder what impact ratios will have on inclusion of disabled children?

Penny Webb
Please pass on the petition... (over 20,000 signatures)


Sarah O'Brien
Does someone want to explain to the dear lady that EYFS is learning through play?

Jan Thorp
Liz Truss should be named Liz Dross as that is what she is speaking!

Lisa M Fricker - Here we go, remove the space requirements and squash them in like sardines. I will not be increasing the number of children I have

Rachel Jones
Fit N Fun Kids believe in quality care and supporting our staff, our ratios will remain 1:3 and 1:4. Feedback from parents shows support


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174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP
020 8267 8401

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