Ratios: Safety or Savings?

As many of you know I am a mum of three young children (although sometimes the way Alex acts you would think she was a mother herself) and I struggle to keep them all entertained and happy. I am sure it is this way for many people who have young children and it has been this way for me ever since Benjamin was born – when I had three children under 4 years old.

I am telling you this because I have been watching the news today with growing concern.

The current ratios for childminders in England is currently as follows:

  • a maximum of six children under the age of 8;
  • of these six children, a maximum of three may be young children*, (a child is defined as a “young child” up until 1st September following his/her 5th birthday).
  • no more than one child may be under the age of 1.

In all circumstances the maximum number of children under 8 being cared for must not exceed six. *1

So, as things stand in the current state of play – up until Alex reached 5 I had maximum occupancy if I were a childminder.

Elizabeth Truss, the early Years Minister, is suggesting that childminders have this restriction lifted – to four children with an option for two under a year old. This is in an attempt to make childcare more affordable.

She is also proposing that nurseries be allowed to relax their ratios when qualified staff are present, so that instead of one staff member to four children aged two, the number would rise to one staff member to six children. In the case of one-year-olds, the permitted staff to child ratios would rise from the current one-to-three, to one-to-four. *2

Now, having been in the situation that many childminders are in I am really concerned about the implications this may have. It is bad enough trying to keep our eyes on the number currently in place but an extra one? That to me is the first ingredient in a recipe to disaster

I’m also not sure how it will save money? Is the proposal that, because the CM can look after more children they should do it for less money per hour? If so is she suggesting that they work harder for the same or just a slightly increased income?

And with regards to the proposed nursery and pre-school changes – are they expecting the same thing? That the people who work in them do so for less per hour for more work?

Her next sweeping statement was that she had “seen too many chaotic settings, where children are running around” and that “In an interview with the Daily Mail, she said many nurseries were filled with toddlers ‘running around with no sense of purpose’.” *2

Her proposal was to follow the French system more closely where graduate level teachers supervise children from as young as two.

So – please correct me if I am reading this incorrectly……

she wants to increase the number of children that CMs and EYFS carers can look after to cut costs yet she wants the EYFS carers to be post-graduates or fully qualified EYFS teachers. Now – if you have spent all that money going through university to become a post graduate are you really going to be happy trying to pay off your student loans on the rates of pay that nurseries and pre-schools pay? Isn’t that going to push the costs up again? Has she also forgotten that many of them are keyworkers and have to do paperwork outside of their hours that they are open as a pre-school?

Also, what happens in the meantime to all those people currently working in childcare? Do we just sweep them aside when the next batch of post-grads qualifies in the summer? Does experience working with children count for nothing?

As for her generalised sweeping comments about unruly behaviour I would love her to come and see the Pre-school that Benjamin is in. It is a fabulous establishment where they have some brilliant ideas and they have a lovely set of children who know what their routine is each day and the majority of the little people do it without too much complaint – and they have been like this ever since Jack went there 2 years ago. Yes, in September, there are a coupe of unruly weeks as the new (especially younger) members find their feet but many of these are just two years old – please show me a 2 year old who doesn’t have moments of random unruliness – but they do very quickly settle into the routine.

Please don’t get me wrong – I know that there are good and there are bad placements just as there is good and bad in everything – but clubbing everyone together in that huge sweeping statement makes me quite cross.

I don’t normally blog about politics as it is a kettle of worms that I delve into occasionally on Facebook but not here however this particular subject has me concerned that safety is being jeopardised in an effort to save money that I don’t understand how they can save in the proposed way. I sincerely hope that a child doesn’t suffer if these proposals go through.

If anyone can enlighten me then please feel free – nicely.

*1  – http://www.pacey.org.uk

*2 The Guardin newspaper

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