Commenting on the temporary relaxation of ratios in early years settings in England, Letitia McCalla, Professional Officer and early years lead for Voice Community, said:
“Settings always need to have some flexibility.
“The EYFS statutory framework sets out that settings can be flexible in exceptional circumstances and nobody would deny that COVID has had an exceptional impact on early years provision.
“This flexibility has really helped to keep settings open over the past two years, however, we must be careful not to dilute the education provision for the children, and flexibility must not contribute to staff stress and burnout.
“Ultimately, this flexibility should only be used when there are no other alternatives. Ratios exist to protect children and the staff, and we would want to see a return to normal ratios wherever possible for the benefit of everyone.”
There is already provision in the EYFS (paragraph 3.31) for exceptions to ratios to be made in exceptional circumstances:
“Exceptionally, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained, changes to the ratios may be made.”
The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that COVID-19 is considered to be an exceptional circumstance:
“It remains a priority to continue providing face to face education and childcare, but we know that COVID-19 continues to put early years settings under significant pressure, particularly in relation to workforce absence.
“Government considers COVID-19 to be an exceptional circumstance in which the staff-to-child ratios set out in the EYFS can temporarily be changed if necessary, for example to respond to COVID-related workforce absences. This relates to paragraph 3.31 in the EYFS.
“In some cases, providers may choose to respond to staff and child absences by temporarily mixing age groups of children who would otherwise be educated or cared for separately. Ratios should be guided by all relevant requirements and by the needs of individual children within the group. For the purposes of meeting EYFS ratio and qualification requirements, all staff educating or caring for a mixed age group of children can be considered ‘available to work directly with’ all the children who have been grouped together.
“In all circumstances, settings remain responsible for maintaining the quality of care, safety and security of children.”
The DfE has said that relevant guidance will be amended shortly to reflect this.