Family & Education

Teachers dismissive of plan to reduce nursery staffing levels

Government reported to be considering relaxing staff to children ratios


Suggestions that staff-to-children ratios could be eased to reduce high childcare costs in England were dismissed as “madness” by a representative of Jewish nursery staff.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported this week to be considering the move as one of the measures to help with the cost of living crisis.

But the idea of relaxing regulations on staffing were “proposed by people who have never taught in their lives,” said Helen Style, manager of Yeladenu pre-school at Muswell Hill Synagogue, who jointly runs the Jewish Early Years Forum.

Nurseries and childminders currently have to employ one adult for every three under-twos; one for every four under three years of age; and one for every eight or every 13 over three-years-old, depending on the teacher’s qualification.

“The ratios are in place to safeguard children,” said Ms Style, who called the idea of changing them “madness”. It would also affect the delivery of the early years curriculum, she added.

“It is the age-old problem of people thinking that early years aren’t important and valued as a profession, yet people are entrusting us with their most valued possession, their children,” she said.

Eight years ago, the Liberal Democrats, who were part of a coalition government, blocked a Conservative proposal to allow childminders to look after four children under the age of one and six over the age of two (rather than three under one and four over the age of two).

Last October, the Telegraph reported that officials were looking at increasing the ratio for under-twos from three to five children per adult.

Laura Kenny, manager of Apples and Honey Nursery in Wandsworth, said that would be “very difficult” to implement.

“Under-twos can have great days when it’s easy and you can feel you can cope with a couple more. But there are other days when even with one to three, the manager will need to step in with support. Babies have different needs and routines.”

Apples and Honeys has a roll of around 30 to 35 children with a third under two.

Ms Kenny suggested it could be “feasible” to change the ratio for children over 18 months from three per adult to four. But otherwise changing the requirements was “not something we would like or encourage to happen,” she said.

Jane Pescow, manager of Gan Alan Pre-school for three- and four-year-olds at New North London Synagogue, said: “The ratios have been in place for years and there is a reason why. The children are well looked after and the staff get the breaks they need. It is an incredibly stressful and physically taxing job.”

For children to be safe requires a lot of adults to be around them, she said. Reducing staffing would lead to “a slipping of standards” and affect the ability of settings to deliver the early years foundation curriculum.

While the government funds 15 hours a week tuition for three- and four-year-olds, nurseries say the grants fall well short of costs.

In the meantime, Ofsted announced this week it would be prioritising early years education in its new five-year plan.

“A good early education, particularly in reading, sets the foundation for later success,” the inspectorate said. “There is a strong statistical relationship between early childhood experiences and a range of life outcomes, from educational success to well-being and good health”. But it added, “While many children do well in the early years,over a quarter are still not reaching a good level.”

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