U-turning on childcare ratios

It’s not very often that I, or in fact anyone gets to say it, but thank goodness for a smidgen of common sense from an MP – namely, deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

His decision to perform a u-turn on the contentious issue of increasing childcare ratios – which would have been to the absolute detriment of children and the profession – comes as a massive sigh of relief. It clearly demonstrates that a more positive and constructive way forward is to consult with the sector, before coming up with outlandish plans based on nothing but a wish and a prayer.

As a nursery owner, I was completely against the government’s opinion that practitioners in England should be allowed to look after more children at once. But, I do recognise that what it has done is kick-start a great debate about professionalising the childcare sector – something that should continue with the same passion and drive.

Nobody has ever argued that those working in early years shouldn’t have sound literacy and numeracy skills as well as relevant and broad and training. However, what those responsible for operating nurseries know is that there is a huge gap not only in the knowledge base of a so-called “fully qualified Level 3 practitioner” but also in the provision of on-going training and development. Good providers source, provide and pay for this themselves and there is no question in my mind that this makes a huge difference to children’s day to day experiences at nursery. The government have a good understanding of this problem following the review they commissioned from Professor Cathy Nutbrown, published in June last year. How we moved from the recommendations in this report to slashing ratios remains a mystery to me and most professionals who work in childcare.

On the hotly debated subject of childcare costs: it’s crystal clear that we’re nowhere near finding a solution. In my opinion, we need to throw out the idea of achieving better childcare ‘on the cheap’ and start focusing on what can be done to support well-run and professional providers to reduce fees in a more constructive way, not whilst gambling with quality.

Unfortunately, standards in childcare are far too inconsistent – the time has come to weed out those that are not meeting the educational, developmental and emotional needs of children and focus on raising the bar for those that are actually committed to the Government’s phrase: ‘More Great Childcare’.

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