Relaxing ratios won’t fix the early years sector’s crisis

The Spring Budget announced this week included a long overdue announcement on the expansion of childcare, and while they may sound good on paper, we are concerned that the funding behind it falls short of what’s needed.

The government must tackle the existing staffing challenges and shortage of places in early years, which will be exacerbated by increased demand.

There has been a significant reduction in early years settings, with 2,500 closing in 2021.

The ratios for 1 and 2 year olds are different, meaning even more staff will be needed in addition to the special facilities, including bottle sterilisation and sleeping spaces that 1 year olds require.

The recruitment crisis in the sector is driven fundamentally by poor pay— staff can get better paid jobs working for supermarkets for less stress and responsibility. The new policy announced in the Budget won’t resolve this challenge.

The gap between rates of funding and the cost of provision must be closed.

The same applies for wraparound care in schools.  If childcare is to expand in schools, they will also need the staff and the space to make this work.

Support staff numbers are falling due to budget cuts, and there are many schools that don’t even have adequate kitchens to provide breakfast clubs.

We are also concerned that this could set up divisions between schools and existing providers in the private, voluntary and independent sector. A co-ordinated approach is clearly needed.

Do we want early years education or childcare?

The government needs to decide if it wants properly resourced early years education to nurture the next generation and set them on the right path for lifelong learning, or somewhere to ‘mind kids’ while their parents work – because the latter is what the headlines and funding structures are about.

The ‘free’ entitlement is usually term-time only.  But the Chancellor didn’t say how much it would actually be. We know that in London the funding is around £6.66 per hour, but the cost is nearer £10, leaving at least £3 funding gap.

The government claims that reducing ratios is the answer, but the truth is that reducing ratios will only put our children’s safety at risk and harm staff wellbeing, resulting in even more workers leaving the profession and making recruitment even more difficult.

The government hasn’t listened to the sector, which overwhelming rejected the idea in the recent consultation, and parents are clear they don’t want to risk children’s safety in this way. In Scotland, where ratios are higher, these are backed up by requirements for highly qualified staff to support these ratios.

Whilst what has been announced in terms of expansion and funding is aimed at helping hard-working parents, we have to ask – is this the right thing for the sector, for parents and for the children?

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