The government’s proposed changes to staff:child ratios and supervison requirements in nurseries in England risk children’s safety, could harm their development, and would increase staff stress and workload. Community, which has highlighted its concerns in its response to the consultation, believes that the current ratios and supervision arrangements should be strengthened, not reduced.
Early years lead Letitia McCalla said:
“Community objects in the strongest possible way to the government’s proposals.
“It is funding that’s the problem, not the ratios.
“Government funding doesn’t cover the actual cost of childcare and with increased costs such as energy, the problem is only likely to get worse. Staff are already working with limited resources, often for less than the living wage.
“The current ratios are there to allow staff to closely work with the children, building relationships, developing learning and maintaining safety and wellbeing.
“We surveyed our members, and they were very clear that workload is already very high, with 90% reporting feeling stressed some or all of the time.
“Changing the ratios risks harming staff wellbeing and having a negative impact on their mental health, driving workers out of the profession and making recruitment and retention issues worse.”
The need for children aged two to be closely supervised was a key concern for members, who noted that it was impossible to clean and change children safely within the current ratios if there were no other staff available to support.
Since COVID-19, settings have seen an increase in the number of children with particular learning needs and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Some settings already require external support to meet the individual needs of their children, and there are significant fears that children with SEND will not have their needs effectively met if the ratios are changed.
Community members commented that:
“Even at current levels, education often takes a back seat so that we can prioritise safety.”
“This is such an important time developmentally and I really do not think that we can subject these children to a lower level of care and education. Early years is too important for that – the children deserve and need better.”
“There will be more accidents and standards will have to be lowered.”
The government’s proposals borrow from a model of childcare currently deployed in Scotland. Early years and childcare staff in Scotland are required to have higher level qualifications than their English counterparts. It is therefore, unfair to compare the two without recognising the key differences.
Community believes that the government should borrow other aspects of the Scottish model instead – secure employment for highly-trained staff with minimum qualification requirements that demand higher rates of pay.
Community welcomed the proposal to make it explicit that adequate supervision whilst eating means that children must be within sight and hearing of a member of staff, but raised concerns about how this can be implemented if staff will have to look after more children.
Letitia McCalla said:
“Community is concerned that the current ratio allows staff to be included as long as they are present on site. This can leave staff vulnerable and working alone, especially when changing children, because a manager, or suitable staff in another room can be considered to be ‘supervising’ without being within sight or hearing of the children. This becomes even more of an issue during mealtimes.”
Community’s consultation response states:
“Even when eating a packed lunch children may try to share food which prompts fears of allergies, or choking hazards, there are hazards associated with the correct use of cutlery and there are packages that will need to be opened, furthermore there is the ever-present risk of spillage.
“Without close supervision some of these concerns could result in serious emergencies, and even with close supervision some issues cannot be completely ruled out therefore it is essential that, when eating, providers ensure that children are properly supervised and within sight of a member of staff at all times.”
Community also raised equality issues, citing concerns that the proposals would disproportionately affect women, who make up the majority of staff in early years settings, including nurseries, pre-schools and schools.
The Government’s proposals in its consultation Childcare: Regulatory changes (Department for Education) include:
- changing the current statutory minimum staff:child ratios in England for 2-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5, which would align with Scottish ratio requirements for 2-year-olds; and
- changing the early years foundation stage statutory framework (the EYFS) to be explicit that “adequate supervision” while children are eating means that children must be in sight and hearing of an adult.