RESPONSES FROM LIZ TRUSS:
1. Will the quality of care be diminished?
On the contrary our proposals will help ensure more high quality childcare is available. High quality childcare promotes children’s development in the early years and is crucial to their future success at school and in life.
Our proposals will allow high quality nurseries to exercise their own professional judgement giving them the freedom to deploy their staff to best meet the needs of the children and parents. These flexibilities will only be available to nurseries employing highly trained staff. For example, if a member of staff is off sick or needs to leave the premises for a short period of time, then high quality nurseries will be able to put in place the cover which they Judge to be safe and appropriate.
These changes will give providers the incentives and flexibility they need to deliver the best for children and by doing so provide parents with more choice.
The current ratio requirements for childminders are needlessly complicated and burdensome. For example, childminders caring for twins, or for their own babies are allowed to look after two babies, but other childminders are not given this flexibility. Under our proposals, childminders will be able to use their own professional judgement about what works best for them and the children in their care.
There are superb childminders right across the country, but we need to attract more talented people to the profession. Nothing is more important in early education than the quality of the staff delivering it – this is what makes the difference to children’s development. That’s why we are introducing childminder agencies, which will offer a far simpler route into the job. Agencies will free up professionals to focus on their actual job – looking after children.
2. Will the objective of freeing up more places be met?
Yes, the proposed changes mean it will be easier for high quality nurseries to take on an extra child or children where they judge it appropriate – which will lead to more high-quality childcare places being available, at the time when parents need them.
We want childminders, like the one in the rural area that you mention, to have more flexibility and to be able to decide how many children of different ages they can care for. Within the existing overall limit of six, we are proposing that childminders can look after one additional child under the age of five. They will be able to use their own professional judgement about what works best for them and the children in their care.
3. Will the objective of decreasing the cost of childcare be met?
Being able to pay staff more will help attract more bright and talented people to the profession – and will help bring pay in line with some of our European counterparts. Currently the important staff who work in our nurseries have average annual earnings of £13,300 – well below the£16,000 in France, £20,000 in Denmark and £22,000 in Sweden. This is despite the fact that the UK Government spends the same on childcare as the French. Of course if nurseries are already employing highly qualified staff fees might be reduced.
Currently not enough money is going to the frontline. We outlined steps in More Great Childcare to remove the duplication of quality assessment that local authorities carry out in addition to Ofsted, which should mean more money can go to the frontline and are looking at further steps to make sure as much money as possible goes direct to nurseries.
Further announcements around what we are doing to make childcare more affordable will follow shortly.
We want to increase the number of childminders. Their numbers have halved in the last 20 years. New childminder agencies will provide a new route into the profession, helping them with registration, training and practice. This will create more choice for parents.
4. Will the safety of children be put at risk?
The safety of children is paramount. High quality staff working in well organised settings is what creates a safe environment. Only providers who employ highly qualified staff will be able to operate with the proposed new ratios.
We hope nurseries will be able to use the new ratios and most crucially their own professional judgement to better manage situations, such as a member of staff dealing with a problem. In practical terms, if a member of staff is off sick or needs to leave the premises for a short period of time, then high quality nurseries will be able to put in place the cover which they judge to be safe and appropriate.
Our proposals are intended to give providers the flexibility to exercise their own professional judgement about what works best for the children in their care and parents who use their services particularly in terms of the number of children they feel they can take on. This will bring us in line with some other European countries which have a more flexible approach to
The number of children a childminder can look after is staying the same. We are simply giving them more flexibility to decide the ages of those they care for. It will be up to individuals to decide how to manage their business.
5. Won’t staff in nurseries be demotivated, overworked and unhappy in their roles under the new proposals?
We want to make sure hard working and high quality staff are properly rewarded for this challenging job. It is wrong that nursery workers earn an average of £6.60 barely above the minimum wage. We want to make it easier for nurseries to attract quality and talented staff. We calculate that the new ratios create the headroom for many nurseries to pay staff an extra £3000, closing the gap between the average childcare worker in England (£13,300) and France (£16,300), with even larger increases in pay for highly-qualified staff.
The changes we are introducing will make sure that the contribution nursery staff make to young children’s development is recognised and valued and ensure that as many children as possible get the benefits of a high-quality early education, which is what we and early years professionals both want.
6. Are comparisons with other countries persuasive enough to warrant the
The truth is that we have one of the most stringent set of ratio requirements for children aged two and under of any European country. Our restrictive ratios contribute to the low pay of childcare workers and high costs for parents and mean it is harder to attract bright and talented people to join the profession.
Childcare in this country must be world-class, we want a system which is looked upon with envy by other countries. We feel there is real value in looking abroad to see what works particularly countries like France where high quality childcare places are widely available and hugely popular with parents.
Childminder agencies already operate successfully in many countries like France and Canada, and we know that many nurseries in this country are already drawing upon best practice by, for example, introducing family rooms, similar to a model which is popular in Scandinavia where children of mixed ages from 2-5 years learn and play together.
7. Will childcarers get a say on whether the ratio reforms are
Yes. We are currently running a consultation on our ratio proposals and I encourage
anyone with an interest in the issue to make their views known.