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First off, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who responded to my request for views and opinions on this very important matter. I only knew a little about my own child care situation when I found out about this opportunity and in a very short time I have been given a crash course in all aspects of child care from some very experienced child care professionals, parents and childminders.

As the meeting wasn't just for me and Liz to get to know each other and then for me to grill her, I tabled and summarised all the views and opinions received and the minister agreed to come back with a response, I will publish this as soon as available. If you would like a copy of the table provided to the minister, please contact me.

Following the meeting, many people emailed me to ask how it went and the honest answer is I don't know. Obviously the minister wasn't going to rip up the reforms in front of us, grab a flip chart and ask us to re-write and, to be clear, I do not feel qualified to do that anyway but I did feel she wanted to listen to our views and concerns and I am grateful to be afforded this opportunity. At work, I gauge the success of a meeting on its outcomes and I am unsure of how we, as representatives of the parent blogging community, will influence the childcare policy decisions of the coalition government but we definitely expressed a united opinion that the current childcare situation was inflexible, too expensive and not conducive to parental choice and that the reforms had some way to go to rectifying these complaints.

Relaxation on ratios

From the responses I received on the reforms it was clear to me that it is the relaxation on ratios that people were most concerned with.  

It was the minister's view and the view of Ros Marshall (CEO of Kids Unlimited Nurseries who chaired the meeting) that only the highest quality childcare providers measured on qualifications of staff and Ofsted reports should be afforded the option and flexibility to decide how the reformed ratios could be applied. It was confirmed that no nursery or childminder, even with the requisite qualifications, would be obliged to adhere to the new ratios.  

Personally, and I raised this directly with the minister, I wholeheartedly disagree (along with a petition of over 25,000 people) that the ratios currently in place should be relaxed. Baby and child attention, quality of care and safety should be the foundations for child care provision. To me it is obvious that even the highest qualified child carer would not be able to look after 4 babies as well as it could 3.  Experts in pre-school child care have confirmed to me that it is adult interaction that affects the outcomes and development of pre-school children and of course those adults should be highly qualified, motivated and able to earn a decent wage but that should be in addition to the current ratio guidelines rather than instead of.   

The minister went on to say that she would like to see a culture shift in how we view pre-school child care with it being thought of as an early years education rather than just early years care and this is where she sees the benefits in the French and Danish child care systems.  When comparisons are made between the child care system here and the systems in France or Denmark I can only see the differences rather than the similarities.   If we are going to look to these countries for inspiration maybe we could take the obvious benefits these systems have like: Denmark’s enhanced maternity policy meaning that less babies are in the child care system; the fact that both of these country's governments subsidise the cost of child care; and that both countries invest a significantly higher percentage of public funds into the system than our government plans to, rather than following their example on ratios? 

As my daughter is in the under 2 category I do not fully understand whether the relaxation on ratios to allow for a more group teaching setting would be beneficial to the 3-4 age group as suggested by the minister in the meeting but again my instinct and common sense tells me that maintaining ratios and developing child carer's skills and insisting on an entry level of qualification would better the outcomes of children in this age bracket.  As for allowing under 3s (in other words, 2 year olds) into school settings without the need for additional Ofsted registration, I cannot begin to understand how that could increase the quality of child care and the outcomes of toddlers.  

One thing to come out of the meeting is that I totally misunderstood the driver for the ratio changes.  I thought that it was the coalition's plan to decrease the cost of childcare by relaxing the ratios so that less, but more qualified, staff would be employed which could decrease overheads or, alternatively, free up more child places, with the objective of passing on the savings or additional revenue as reduced child care costs for parents. The economics of this never made any sense to me so I raised this with the minister and she confirmed that the change in ratios was not the main driver to reduce childcare costs and that a supplemental set of reforms entitled ‘More Affordable Childcare’ will be published shortly setting out the coalition’s plans to make child care more affordable.  Goodness knows why the two sets of reforms were not brought out simultaneously but from the minister’s enthusiasm for these economic reforms, I have to remain optimistic that these reforms can only improve the current financial barrier child care costs has created for parents wanting to work. 

I took away from the meeting a definite belief that the minister wants the quality of child care in this country to be improved.  She would like the money the government currently spends in the child care sector to be utilised by the front line care providers and not lost in the bureaucracy of local authorities.  I completely support these objectives.  I want my daughter's nursery to be run by motivated, literate, numerate, inspired professionals who earn a decent wage and bound out of bed every morning to greet my child. I want those professionals to be respected and in turn to respect my daughter’s needs and wants. I want all of this at a cost I can realistically afford. BUT I am not willing to compromise my daughter’s attention requirements and safety to achieve all of this.  I don’t think I should have to.










 


Comments

Kerry
21/02/2013 14:22

You write so well Mars. Thank you for representing. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your optimism. Let's hope we see ame positive changes

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25/02/2013 16:05

Thank you so much Kerry. If you don't try to change stuff you will never know so hopefully I will add some value.

Guilty Mum x

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21/02/2013 14:42

Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with Ms. Truss and to write about your experiences on your blog. I found it very useful to read about your views as a parent of a little one, and look forward to reading the response from Ms. Truss in due course to your table of questions

Penny - Petition lead on the original petition against increased ratios

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25/02/2013 16:06

Thanks for your comment Penny! I hope to receive a response from DfE this week, I will keep you posted.

I see the petition is doing very well!

Guilty Mum

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21/02/2013 15:24

Like Sally, you've done a great job of being fair and balanced whilst maintaining your own viewpoint and integrity - hats off! As an inspector of early years I am facinated to see what the impact on quality as we at Ofsted measure it; the best settings I see are always defined, at least in part, by high ratios throughout the age group. Thanks for representing our views so well.

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25/02/2013 16:11

Hi Leoarna,

Thank you so much for your comments and support throughout this process.

Interesting to understand that Ofsted may rate a child care provider higher with a tighter ratio. It's hard therefore to see the logic in relaxing the ratios for those providers? That must reduce the quality of the provision of child care in that setting - seems backwards?

Guilty Mum

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21/02/2013 17:04

I am eagerly anticipating the "more affordable childcare" reforms!!!! Lets hope they will make an actual difference.

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25/02/2013 16:14

Hi Charlie!

Let's hope we don't have to wait too long and we can personally reap any benefits they may have!

Guilty Mum x

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21/02/2013 18:45

Really interesting. Thanks for writing this! I made a similar point about the way the government have represented European childcare and how they pick and choose elements of it without putting it into content on a recent post I wrote. Good to hear that you got the feeling Liz Truss was actually enthusiastic and keen to hear ideas and opinions.

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25/02/2013 16:46

Hi Laura,

Thank you for your comments and your support. Please can you send me the link to your blog? I am really interested in other people's take on this topic - is it your work/life balance post?

I will post the response from Truss as soon as available.

Guilty Mum



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Jane
21/02/2013 20:45

Well done Mars xx

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25/02/2013 16:46

Thanks for your comment and support Jane x

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Lyndis Stolc
22/02/2013 21:29

Forgive me for picking up your final comments from ms Truss. I found your blog interesting and thoughtful, but this quote concerns me greatly. "She would like the money the government currently spends in the child care sector to be utilised by the front line care providers and not lost in the bureaucracy of local authorities." I work for a local authority supporting front line care workers. I am an Early Years Specialist Teacher with over thirty years experience in schools and LA with children from birth to five. I love my job and am passionate about supporting improvements and quality in Early Years. I am disturbed that my role and work, valued by the nurseries, pre schools, Children's centres, child minders, parents and schools I support is not recognised by Ms Truss and valued.
Over 84% of our Early Years settings are graded good or above by Ofsted, we helped them to achieve that. If the money which pays my wages is effectively going to be removed, then I, and many many colleagues across the country, will be made redundant? Or absorbed by Ofsted. I chose not to work for Ofsted and I do not see how my role could be reproduced better or cheaper than it is. Or how spreading my salary thinly to front line workers could improve quality. I do not consider myself to be part of the bureaucracy, rather part of the team!

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25/02/2013 16:51

Hi Lyndis,

Thank you for taking the time to put forward your opinion. I can understand why you feel aggrieved as you obviously work to improve the quality of child care in your area and such a statement would be offensive.

Liz Truss did say that some local authorities are doing better than others at utilising the funds available and I should have made this more clear. I am sure this is the case in all aspects of public service.

I think that your point should be explained to Liz Truss - has your team or LA been consulted about the reforms? For what it is worth, would you like me to add it to the table of responses and ask for a reply?

Kind regards,

Guilty Mum

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Katie
27/02/2013 22:09

As another LA early years adviser, I agree totally with Lyndis. Our work has a great impact on childcare providers in our area and we are greatly appreciated by them. I think that Liz Truss is completely unaware of the support, guidance, training, mentoring that we provide as well as timely support to individual children with SEN and work to improve inclusive practice for ALL children. With regards to your question, Guilty Mum, are LA staff being consulted on the proposed changes/removal of our roles? - no we are not being consulted in any fair way. The Coalition Government have set up a separate consultation on regulation which invites nurseries/providers of childcare to comment on their experiences but the questions are loaded, in my opinion, against local authority support. You can see for yourself here: http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/focusonenforcement/your-experiences-of-dealing-with-regulators/#chi
I am very concerned about the fairness (or lack of any fairness) about the whole process and am very worried about any of these changes being sole as ways of improving quality

Great blog post, thanks for posting this.

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12/10/2013 20:15

I stumbled on this from Google and wanted to say thanks for posting

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