DfE relaxes ratios despite overwhelming opposition

The Department for Education (DfE) have published their response to the consultation on potential changes to staff:child ratios. The consultation received responses from nearly 10,000 parents, around 3,000 providers from across the sector, virtually all local authorities and many charities and sector organisations.

The document acknowledges that there was overwhelming opposition to the proposal to change the staff:child ratios for 2-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5, but have opted to go ahead anyway. Similarly, they have decided to go ahead with “clarifications” that provide childminders greater flexibility on ratios when caring for siblings or their own children, despite the majority of respondents opposing this.

The DfE states:

The proposed changes to ratios would continue to be a statutory minimum requirement
for settings, and there will be no obligation on providers to operate at the statutory
minimums – i.e. providers can continue to work to tighter ratios if they decide that is best
for the children and staff at their setting. The Government trusts that setting managers
know their children and their staff best, and fully supports the judgement of setting
managers and practitioners to work at the ratios that are right for the individual needs of
their staff and children.

This change to two-year old ratios will provide managers with the flexibility to utilise staff
in a more efficient and effective way, and setting managers will ultimately have the choice
to work to their preferred ratio (as long as this meets statutory minimum requirements).
Providers must continue to ensure that staffing arrangements must meet the needs of all
children and ensure the quality of care, safety and security of children is maintained.
Providers must ensure that children are adequately supervised, including whilst eating,
and decide how to deploy staff to ensure children’s needs are met.

Unfortunately while the entitlements remain significantly underfunded, settings will remain under pressure to implement these ratios to make the books balance. Our members already report concerns that financially they can only operate at minimum ratios, despite the impact this has on quality, particularly for children with additional needs. We deplore this decision which prioritises cost and “flexibility” over quality and children’s needs and disingenuously passes on the responsibility to providers to operate both safely and within available funding.

The proposal to amend the definition of “adequate supervision while eating” to a staff member being within sight and sound instead of sight or sound of children while eating received agreement from the majority of respondents, and will be implemented by government.

The government has also indicated that it will review other potential flexibilities such as including staff working towards a qualification within ratios. We argue that government must prioritise quality and address the pipeline of qualified practitioners and the recruitment and retention crisis, not further water down the requirements for workforce qualifications which can only further diminish the quality of provision. We know that low quality provision is a poor investment, and makes no economic sense for government. Our young children deserve and need the best possible start, with early education delivered by well-qualified, well-supported staff.

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