Government plans to raise nursery numbers

Childminders and nursery workers will able to look after a greater number of children under new governments plans unveiled today.

Childcare Secretary Elizabeth Truss has announced that from this autumn, the current statutory ratio of childcare worker to children will rise from four to six for two year-olds, and from three to four children under two. In other words, nurseries will be able to look after more children – but only if they hire better qualified staff. New childcare workers will need at least a grade C in English and Maths.

Truss insisted that the changes will drive up standards and cut costs for parents by allowing nurseries to hire fewer staff. She said:

“It will make [childcare] higher quality, more available and more affordable..”

The Conservative MP believes an insistence on higher qualifications will encourage a greater emphasis on education in the nursery system:

“We want to see more of a continuum between childcare and the education system, we want to see more teachers in early years leading high quality group settings and also more people with English and maths GCSE going into early years. So this is about raising the quality and making sure our young children get the absolute best.”

Fewer staff per nursery should also mean higher salaries for nursery workers, believes Truss.

The announcement, fresh as it is, has already proved controversial, with childcare organisations worrying about effects on the quality of care. Anand Shukla from charity the Daycare Trust told the BBC:

“No matter how well qualified the members of staff, there are practical considerations when you increase the number of children that they have to look after. For one person to look after six two-year-olds, for one person to talk to six two-year-olds, to help their language development, we think is going to be very difficult.”

Shadow Education Secretary of State for Education Stephen Twigg is forthright:

“Saying that more children will be in each setting risks undermining quality and even risks undermining safety.”

But in defence of her claims, Truss can point out that even the new, more relaxed ratios will leave Britain’s childcare arrangements with stricter child-to-adult ratios than the much admired nursery system in France and Germany.

Personally I think we should welcome anything that helps ease the enormous financial burden that childcare costs place on so many parents in this country. Britain has some of the most expensive childcare provision in the world – UK parents spend on average almost 27 per cent of their income on childcare! Is that really sustainable in the long term? No wonder one parent told Sky News that

“The cost of childcare is a burden, it’s like a mortgage, in fact, it’s more than my mortgage – so yes it is expensive.”

If the government is serious about helping such parents, I can’t help but wonder whether some more direct form of assistance – such as tax rebates or subsidies – might have been a more sensible and beneficial choice. Parents who can afford to go out to work are bound to boost that sagging economy the government never tires of mentioning.

Photo by Manchester City Library via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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