Nick Clegg 'to block childcare ratio reforms'

 

Newsnight's Allegra Stratton explains why childcare reform is a key issue for the coalition

Nick Clegg has told Conservatives he will block government reforms to adult-child ratio limits for childcarers, BBC Newsnight has learned.

In meetings over recent days he said he could no longer back the plan to increase the number of children nursery staff and child-minders can look after.

The deputy prime minister's veto could have funding consequences for the government's entire childcare package.

The ratio changes are set to be implemented in England in September.

Whitehall is now waiting for Prime Minister David Cameron to begin "horse-trading", in the words of one source, with the Liberal Democrats over the policy, or let it sink.

Insiders indicated they were hopeful they could persuade the deputy prime minister to change his position.

But Mr Clegg's spokesman said he "remains to be persuaded" that changing the ratios, as originally envisaged by Tory education minister Liz Truss, was a good idea.

England's nursery ratios

  • CURRENT
  • 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)
  • PROPOSED
  • 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)

The reform, a high-profile element of the government's drive to reduce childcare costs, has run into fierce opposition.

In one survey, conducted by the National Children's Bureau, out of 341 early years staff interviewed, 95% said they were concerned about the policy.

The government's own adviser on childcare, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, has said the ratio plans "make no sense at all". In February, a coalition formed against the changes called Rewind on Ratios, run by the pre-school learning alliance and supported by - among others - Mumsnet and Netmums.

Statutory ratios for carers per child vary depending on age and setting. Those for children aged one-and-under are set to rise from three children per adult to four children per adult. Those for two-year-olds are set to rise from four to six children per adult.

Ratios for three-year-olds and over would remain at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate was present.

Ms Truss has championed the reforms, saying they will bring Britain into line with other European countries including France and Sweden.

Nick Clegg: "When the last [Labour] government changed the so-called ratios... it had almost no effect in reducing cost"

She says that allowing minders to care for more children - providing those minders have higher qualifications, a parallel reform she has proposed - would lower the cost of childcare and improve quality, by enabling the profession to attract those with higher salary demands.

Sources told BBC Newsnight that if the deputy prime minister does block the plan there will be funding consequences for the entire childcare package, which also includes £1,200 tax breaks on childcare for working parents - a central offer of the coalition government as they try to bring down the cost of living.

Britain has some of the highest childcare costs in the world, with many mothers with two or more children saying it does not make financial sense to work.

Mr Clegg's spokesman told Newsnight: "The delivery of good quality, affordable childcare is one of Nick Clegg's biggest priorities in government.

"He has looked very closely at proposals to increase the number of children each adult can look after - and at the very serious concerns raised by parents and childcare providers in the recent government consultation.

"Nick remains to be persuaded that this is the right thing to do for very young children. Or, crucially, to be persuaded that this would actually help families with high childcare costs. This continues to be discussed in government."

 
Allegra Stratton Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 445.

    Nurserys used to be the norm when the government needed women to work in the 40`s and 50`s and on . factories used to have their own nurserys and very well run they were , why not bring that sort of thing back in , the amount of cash needed for 1 child is sometimes prohibitive for a single mum on a lowish wage , those who use nurserys are well off or use a nanny . it needs some thought .

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 413.

    When I was a child, my father was a humple insurance clerk and my mother stayed at home. Housing was affordable because there was plenty of it, both in the private and social sectors. If there was a need for "childcare", then grandparents invariably lived nearby. No one needed a car, there was no delinquency, and the high street was busy.

    Affordable housing avoids the need for mass "childcare".

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 392.

    Why does this need legislation. One of the things private schools sell themselves on this the number of pupils per class. Nurseries are basically the same set up, let them decide what their ratio is and parents can decide whats best for their own kids. Of course theres the argument that those with money will get better ratio's but that already exists in the current and school system.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 365.

    Why not let nurseries and their teachers, alongside the local authorities decide this, with health and safety in mind, as well as considerations for age etc. I'm pretty certain no one would deliberately endanger children and they staff know how much they can handle.

    But no, nanny state, with it's teddy bear politics is dictating the agenda.
    Shouldn't you be looking at Syria instead?

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 269.

    So, when nurseries are allowed to have a larger child / adult ratio, why does anyone assume the nurseries will pass any saving on? They are much more likely to pocket the additional profit.

 

Comments 5 of 9

 

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