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Controversial plan to cut childcare ratios faces scrutiny next month

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The government’s controversial proposals to relax staff ratios in early year settings to save parents money will be debated in Parliament in November.

More than 106,000 people have signed an official petition objecting to the government’s childcare plans to increase the number of children a single staff member can look after in early years settings in England.

The petition was created by Zoe and Lewis Steeper after their son Oliver died following an incident at nursery on 29 September 2021.

“We feel it’s our duty now to protect other children from people who are trying to overhaul the sector”, the grieving father said as they launched the petition in May.

As it has now breached the 100,000 mark triggering a debate, the government confirmed this will be held on Monday 14 November.

Childcare ratio proposals

Earlier this year, the government launched a consultation where it proposed to move to the Scottish ratio system of children per adult for two-year-olds, from the current 1:4, to 1:5.

It said childcare for those aged 0-2 is the most expensive for providers to deliver because of the higher supervision levels.

A 50 hour per week nursery place for a two-year-old costs an average of £265 per week. But, the government suggested this relaxation of ratios would help reduce the current childcare crisis, where parents pay some of the highest fees in the world for childcare yet providers are struggling with everyday costs.

It predicted this change could save parents £40 a week, if childcare settings adopt the change and pass savings on.

However, the Steepers said: “There would be no guarantee if for whatever reason the changes did go ahead that by losing/sacking staff members to save money, any savings would be passed along to parents anyway. Many early years staff are underpaid, overworked and anymore cuts would simply push them beyond breaking point.”

‘Vital topic, close to the hearts of families and early years sector’

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “We welcome the news that the proposed ratio changes will be debated in parliament on 14 November.

“It’s clear that the relaxation of ratios is a vital topic, close to the hearts of families and the early years sector alike. It is high time that it is given an opportunity to be discussed and debated in full.

“Our own research clearly shows it will not lower the cost of early years care and education and will instead sacrifice the quality and safety of the care and education children receive, but it seems this message is yet to filter through to government.

“As such, we hope that the time given to the debate will wake MPs and policymakers up to the reality that any relaxation of ratios will be a damaging, backwards and devastating step for England’s early years sector.”

‘Greater autonomy to settings’

The government previously said: “The safety and quality of early years provision is of utmost importance to the government. All early years providers are legally required to keep children safe and promote their welfare.”

It added that while the proposed changes to ratios would amend the existing statutory minimum requirements, providers would continue to be able to staff above these minimum requirements “if that is their preference”.

“These changes would hand greater autonomy to settings to exercise professional judgement in the way in which they staff their settings, according to the needs of their children, and help as many families as possible benefit from affordable, flexible, quality childcare,” it said.

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