Nursery ratio plans criticised by government adviser

Pencils Ministers said they wanted childcare to be of higher quality

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One of the government's key advisers on childcare has issued a strongly worded attack on its plans to increase the number of children nursery staff can look after in England.

Prof Cathy Nutbrown, who reviewed childcare and qualifications for the government, said its plans "make no sense at all".

She said changing ratios would "dilute" the effects of raising staff quality.

The government said standards and safety were linked to staff quality.

And it has stressed that only those nursery settings that employ more highly qualified staff would be allowed to increase the number of children cared for by each of its workers.

'Watering down'

In a strongly worded response to the government's plans, More Great Childcare, Prof Nutbrown said the current proposals would "shake the foundations" of quality nursery provisions.

Start Quote

There is nothing relaxing about the proposal to 'relax' ratios. It will lead to stress - for children, for parents and for early years practitioners”

End Quote Prof Nutbrown Leader of government review of early years and childcare

"Watering down ratios regardless of the level of qualifications held by staff is likely to lead to worse, not 'great', childcare and will undermine intentions to provide quality early learning experiences," she said.

Prof Nutbrown said any of the positive effects that might have come about by enhancing qualifications would be "cancelled out" because children will simply have too few early years professionals working with them.

She added: "So, do I think changing the ratios will make a difference if people are better qualified?

"The difference will be too few adults with too many little children; too few moments in the day for a toddler to have uninterrupted time with their key person, and too few early years practitioners to talk and work with parents."

"Here is the nub, there is nothing relaxing about the proposal to 'relax' ratios. It will lead to stress - for children, for parents and for early years practitioners, whatever their title or qualification."

It was impossible to provide "good foundations for life and learning for the youngest children on the cheap", she added.

'More flexibility'

Prof Nutbrown has been at the heart of shaping government policy on childcare. The Sheffield University professor has been advising the government on early years education since 2010 and has been held up by the Department for Education as a leading expert in the field.

She led the government's review of early education and childcare qualifications and contributed to the Tickell review of the Early Years Foundation Stage, which looked at the previous government's guidance on how education should be organised for children up to the age of five.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Prof Nutbrown's review provided a valuable contribution to the development of our proposals for early education and childcare.

England's nursery ratios

  • Under one and one-year-olds - 1:3
  • Two-year-olds - 1:4
  • Three-year-olds and above - 1:8 or 1:13 (teacher-led)
  • Under one and one-year-olds 1:4
  • Two-year-olds - 1:6
  • Three-year-olds and above - 1:8 or 1:13 (teacher-led)

"We have taken forward several of her important recommendations, but we recognise that reforms and improvement need to go much further if we are to give parents a proper choice of high quality childcare and early education.

"All the evidence shows that quality and safety are linked to high quality staff. Our reforms mean that only high quality providers will be able to have this additional flexibility.

"Our preliminary work suggests providers will be able to attract quality staff - using the new ratios could enable nurseries to pay staff up to £3,000 more per year."

But shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson said: "The government's own expert adviser has echoed the concerns of parents and nursery staff that the quality of care for babies and toddlers is being undermined by this government - David Cameron and Michael Gove need to listen to Professor Nutbrown."

Prof Nutbrown's comments come as the National Children's Bureau (NCB) charity releases the findings of a snapshot survey suggesting an overwhelming rejection of the ratio-change plans from the early years sector.

Of the 341 early years staff who responded, 95% said they were concerned about increasing childcare ratios and that practitioners caring for children aged two or under should not be looking after any more.

'Missed opportunity'

Similarly, 80% felt the ratios for under-fives should remain as they are. Suggested changes would see both these ratios raised to four children for every staff member.

NCB chief executive Dr Hilary Emery said while there was agreement that the government needed to act in order to make childcare more affordable, "there are widely held fears that allowing providers to take on more children, in the same space with the same number of staff, could put children's welfare at risk and won't necessarily save parents any more money".

The DfE dismissed the survey as non-scientific and named several private nursery providers who it said supported its plans.

It added: "No childcare provider will be forced to use the new ratios as they are entirely optional. Only providers with well-qualified staff will be able to move to use them."

Catherine Farrell, joint chief executive of childcare association, Pacey, said whilst the government's plans included some positives, "it misses a number of important opportunities to improve the quality of childcare that children receive. Furthermore, its proposals to change ratios and introduce childminder agencies are likely to reduce quality for children."

She added that it would be raising its concerns with the DfE.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Typical of this government ( don't tell us what to do,we politicians know better) attitude, just like the ignored advice from independent economic advisers about changing course on Plan 'A'

    Highly regarded & respected expert on childcare Prof Cathy Nutbrown is also ignored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Yet again the government shows they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
    The number of staff may be irrelevant as a major limiting factor is floor space, ranging from 2.3m2 to 3.5m2 per child depending on the age.
    I would guess most nurseries have used up their allowable floor area to maximise income already...

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    195. inqa
    @190. Peter_Sym: You asked, "Whats the point of child care?"
    You deliberately twist my question. What I clearly stated is are child minders expected to simply look after children, care for them and keep them safe or are they expected to have a formal educational function.

    Neither the govt nor Prof Nutbrown seem entirely sure themselves. Its not a 'Tory' thing at all

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Einstein schmeinstein, inqa (153).

    Of course what constitutes common sense changes over time, just as everything around us is subject to change. (If only the massed ranks of reactionaries on the broad left and the hard right understood that, the world would be a happier place.)

    But the point about common sense is that it doesn't blow around in the wind, as expert theories can't fail to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    201. family guy

    'sorry... either you... or your partner should be looking after your own child at ''nappy rash'' age... sorry'

    Not every family can afford for one parent to stay at home. Don't criticise until you know the circumstances ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    If my grandmother were still alive she would be going ballistic at the thought of child care.
    She always said "a mother's work is caring for your children"
    Also if she were alive she would die of shock at the cost of living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    196 Trout.

    That is wrong. The Market has a interest in keeping the market supplied,or they have nothing to sell. which is why it is they who introduced FSC FCA a system which means for every tree cut down three have to be planted. Now contrast this with the Socialist who want everything now. and are willing to sell future generation, as long as they get the handouts now ! that is Socialist Greed

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    How much of that is paid to the staff, rent, insurance, resources for play, cleaning, food, staff training, electricity,gas, council tax, national insurance, tax, VAT, phone, Ofsted registration? Would your daughter prefer to pay less per hour than some people pay their cleaner or crossing warden or road sweeper?

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    127. TaxGuzzler

    'Now let's have a chorus of objections from people in state jobs who don't have to be productive to survive.'

    And you produce? Waiting with bated breath here.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    @195inqa and @190 Peter_Sym
    I think what Peter is saying lets create more childminders where people look after children with love and care in a small space with few children. Instead of institutionalise them in a growing profitable Nursery business- full of paper work. The research show caring for under 2 is about love and empathy - which will be another long discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.


    My poor little girl suffers very badly from chronic nappy rash... nursery where they are not always able to change her as frequently as she needs due to staff / child numbers... I dread to think what her poor little botty would be like under these proposals.

    sorry... either you... or your partner should be looking after your own child at ''nappy rash'' age... sorry

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    I remember something like this happening in the nursing home I used to work for. They decided to increase numbers of residents, but not staff (ie. increase ratio of resident to staff). We never recieved an increase in pay, care never got better (in fact it got worse) and the company never decreased care prices for families. In fact the company walked away with double profits that year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    There is no easy answer to staff ratios. But currently there are insufficient childcare places - so better off paretns can afford it (albeit expensive) while low income parents who work or want to work cannot.
    Keeping quality high is important but currently this continues the usual bias in favour of the better off at expense of those low income parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    4 Minutes ago

    some dreadful accident will happen because of staff shortages and the tories will claim its nothing to do with them

    No first they will say they inherited it from Labour if that doesn't work they will say Labour voted against it if that doesn't work they will blame the E.U. if that doesn't work they will say it's a few disaffected lib dems. Nothing is ever their fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Jaw dropping truth here are a few for you.Banker bonus, rich tax cuts, tax loop holes,make amazon etc pay tax,overseas aid till we can afford it,fast rail, Manson tax,tridant, west ham new ground £25 mill there,House of Commons wine cellar, MPs expenses,Quangos and government departments spent more than £13 million on hiring some of Britain's top public relations agencies god the list is endless

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    "Jaw dropping truth
    Thank God the markets will not let you use the last tree"

    Actually, it's the unfettered free marketeers who deny that collective action is necessary to avoid environmental catastrophe who are the modern day Easter Islanders. The market most certainly will let us all use that last drop of oil, whilst the sea engulfs those parts the desert has not already invaded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    @190. Peter_Sym: You asked, "Whats the point of child care?"

    Would you minded if I adapted that to, "What's the point of caring?" and proposed it as the new Tory Party slogan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    I remember that being discussed back in the 1980s: 30+ yrs later we still don't have an education system that works for all abilities or aspirations.

    We do still have many disaffected young people.

    We have a severe shortage of many of the trades to which you refer.

    These things are not disassociated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    My poor little girl suffers very badly from chronic nappy rash. It comes from her toddler diarrhea" and nursery where they are not always able to change her as frequently as she needs due to staff / child numbers. In spite of this, its an excellent nursery with a good staff / child ratio.
    I dread to think what her poor little botty would be like under these proposals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    179 BrendanMiller
    Agreed,point made!
    Don't hold your breath though,also don't bother going through the "system"to complain!
    I advise anyone to watch/listen to multiple countries news channels,organizations,to remain truly informed!


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