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Day nurseries and pre-schools have expressed concern that they would not be able to provide the same high quality of care should the Government look to reduce childcare costs to parents by changing staff to child ratios, a survey by the Pre-school Learning Alliance has found.
The vast majority of respondents (94 per cent) told the Alliance they do not believe they would be able to maintain their current quality of service if their staffing levels were reduced. One respondent said: “Fewer staff would undoubtedly reduce the quality of provision”, while another said: “The children would not receive the same level of attention with fewer staff.”
The survey was commissioned to help inform the Alliance’s response to the Childcare Commission, which is looking at ways to make childcare more affordable for working families and reduce any unnecessary burdens on childcare providers.
The Alliance survey also found little desire to see any change to current early years and childcare registration and regulation. More than nine in 10 settings (91 per cent of respondents) believe that Ofsted’s role in sector regulation should be about the same and that current sector regulations are generally at the right level.
However, some respondents voiced concerns about the inconsistency of inspections, with many concerned about the consistency of Ofsted inspectors. One respondent said: “I feel that Ofsted inspectors are not always suitably experienced in the areas they are making judgements on.” Another said: “Ofsted has its part to play but the consistency of inspectors should be addressed.”
But despite this, there is no appetite to see Ofsted abandon its role.
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Only 10 per cent of day nurseries and pre-schools told the survey that they currently receive adequate funding to cover the cost of providing free childcare places under the Government’s free early years entitlement scheme.
The Alliance says this marks a significant decline from a previous survey conducted by the Alliance in May 2012, when 38 per cent of settings said they received sufficient funding. Very few settings have confidence that this will change when the Government extends the free entitlement to 260,000 disadvantaged two-year-old children by September 2014.
The respondents were also critical of the timing of the Childcare Commission consultation, which was carried out during the summer, from 19 July to 31 August, when many childcare staff and parents were on holiday. More than two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) believe the Childcare Commission did not consult sufficiently with early years providers.
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Alliance, said: “There is a glaring omission at the heart of the Childcare Commission consultation – the failure to consult on the level of funding of the free early years entitlement.
“By not addressing this fundamental issue, the Government continues to put the emphasis on making up the shortfall on parents and providers, even though earlier this year the National Audit Office highlighted that early years funding should be reviewed.
“The Government is looking at ways to reduce the cost of childcare to parents. Despite the fact that there is a direct cost benefit to providers in changing the staff to child ratios, given that approximately 70 per cent of costs are staff salaries, our survey finds little support for this action, with the vast majority stating that quality of care would be compromised.
“We do not believe that having fewer staff to care for more children would reduce the financial burden on parents and providers as very few respondents indicated that they would adjust their charges accordingly, arguing that the additional revenue would go part-way to addressing the historic inadequacy of funding.”
Leitch added: “The sector does not support deregulation either. Although concerns were voiced about the objectivity of Ofsted inspections, day nurseries and pre-schools still want and welcome Ofsted as their regulator and inspector.”
More information: www.pre-school.org.uk.