Education & Family

Viewpoints: Childcare changes

Image caption Children learn through play in the early years

Nursery and childcare costs are one of the biggest demands on family income and one of the biggest concerns for working parents.

The government is announcing that nurseries and childminders in England are to be allowed to look after more children per adult to help cut costs.

But what will this mean for the quality of care and how could childcare be improved without making it even less affordable? The BBC News website has gathered a range of viewpoints.

Geri Cox, mother and part-time nursery assistant

No mother is happy when their child first goes to nursery. And the more adults that there are, the more they feel secure that about leaving them so they will get the one-to-one attention that they would want to be giving them.

I know a lot of people think it is a good idea to cut the ratio of staff to children, but I don't agree. As nursery workers, we are developing young children whose learning needs to be scaffolded and to do that we really need to know the child and know their interests.

Children are so individual and their needs are so different. The more children we have to look after, the less time we have with each individual child.

This is the time they are learning to socialise and learning to become part of a group. This stage in a child's development is the most crucial one they will go through.

By the time they are three years old, children are ready to learn all about the world and build up their own internal working model for the rest of their life. We are there to guide them on their little way and the more we put in, the more easy it is going to be for them to earn a good level of education.

Ros Marshall, chief executive of nursery group Kidsunlimited

As a leading nursery operator in the UK, Kidsunlimited broadly welcomes the focus and changes that the government is proposing in relation to nursery care provision.

Early years learning is a crucial stage of a child's development and the increased recognition of its importance will benefit children and families, while the focus on qualifications will help staff in the sector gain the status and recognition that their hard work deserves.

Relaxing staff ratios will ultimately offer nurseries a degree of flexibility to focus on the best qualified staff and highest standards of care for children and the introduction of childminder agencies will help those sole practitioners who operate to a high standard get the support network they need to thrive and reduce costly registration practices.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, National Day Nurseries Association chief executive

The mix of tax credits, free nursery hours and childcare vouchers is too complicated for parents to juggle and wastes money - all the money government puts in should be put in one pot and paid direct to the nursery of the parent's choice via a virtual voucher system.

Government investment needs to work harder so that more of the money that goes into childcare gets to nurseries to pay for well qualified, caring and committed staff.

A national campaign to promote early years as the fantastically rewarding career that it is would encourage more of our brightest young people to put their talents to work in nurseries.

Devoting your career to work with our youngest children should be properly supported, recognised and rewarded with the right training and better pay.

Mother of five, Michelle Davies

My view is that there's a real safety issue there. I have quite a few friends who are childminders and they are already struggling with the number that they have now. If they raise it it will be even harder.

As a mum of five I have a saying which is that more than one child is too many and that is because every child that you have, your attention is divided. If you have one, they're getting 100%, if you have two there are only getting 50% and so on.

If they want to get more mothers to work then the government could give more assistance for childcare.

You get the 15 hour free child care which is really great for preparing them for the full time provision but it's not something that enables parents to work.

Hearing about the intention to raise the childcare ratio makes me sceptical about going back to work.

I want to be able to work, but I don't want to put my children at risk.

Christine Merrell, Durham University Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring director of research and development

We know from monitoring children's development for almost a decade that despite lots of money being spent in the early years, standards of early reading and mathematics development haven't increased.

It is very difficult to make a positive impact to educational standards both in the early years and later in school. There is a wealth of research showing promising strategies and schemes but time and time again, they have failed to deliver.

If we are to improve early childhood educational provision, we need to evaluate the impact of promising methods in a systematic way. This systematic evaluation is a crucial element of improvement and should not be either an afterthought or an inconvenience. When we are working with limited budgets, we need to have systems in place to find out what works.

In addition to evaluating promising methods, we know that good teachers make a huge impact on children in the early years. Attracting skilled, high-calibre teachers into the early years has been shown to have a lasting impact. In particular, the impact of a good reception teacher can still be seen at the end of primary school.

The systematic evaluation of promising methods and attracting skilled teachers into the early years could save billions of pounds and enhance the outcomes of children in future years.

Richard House, Early Childhood Action Campaign founder

The first five to six years are crucial in determining children's subsequent life chances. So why is the government proposing changes that will worsen many children's life chances, increase inequality, and set back social mobility?

Research evidence is overwhelming that the quality of early attachment relationships is the key to effective early development - and these proposed changes in adult-child ratios will inevitably reduce the quality of those relationships.

Research also overwhelmingly indicates that introducing young children to quasi-formal academic learning too young has lifelong negative consequences - and at worst a reduced life-span - yet England already has a toxically over-early school starting age.

These proposals are wilfully ignoring all the research evidence; and with campaigning organisations (like Early Childhood Action) likely to be outraged by these proposals, the "paradigm war" in England's nurseries looks destined to reach previously unheard-of levels.

The strength of feeling throughout the sector is such that we could even see a mass movement of "principled non-compliance" from early-years professionals, threatening to reduce the sector to anarchy and chaos - a legacy that any ambitious party-politician will surely bequeath the sector at her peril.

Anand Shukla, Daycare Trust chief executive

We welcome the government's commitment to improving the quality of childcare and making it affordable for parents, although we need to be honest about delivering these two aims as good quality childcare inevitably costs money.

We believe that increasing the number of children for whom child carers may look after risks compromising quality and safety. Research shows that parents don't support changes to staff ratios.

There is no simple trade-off between ratios and staff qualifications, as there are limits to the numbers of young children any individual - however well qualified - can look after.

We need long-term solutions to the quality-versus-affordability problem and to learn from best practice overseas. We could look at a simpler and more efficient subsidy that targets providers such as nurseries, rather than today's expensive, complicated and inefficient financial support system.

Ben Black, director of My Family Care, which offers childcare support to employers, and co-founder of nanny agency Tinies

Childcare in the UK is very heavily subsidised, ultimately by us tax payers, in various over-complicated ways. And yet it remains expensive or unaffordable for many.

We all know that nursery staff, given the responsibilities they have and jobs they do, are under-paid. Looking at ratios, and in some cases daring to suggest that they be relaxed, isn't only sensible; it's essential.

The quality of nursery workers is the most important consideration for parents by a distance and there's an obvious link between ratios, how much nursery owners can afford to pay and how many good child carers are lost to the industry every year to marginally better paying jobs. It's a tragedy.

From my position, as a parent and a provider, giving nurseries a bit more leeway on ratios is absolutely the right approach. Ultimately that will lead to better paid jobs, better quality and more affordable childcare.

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