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The Pre-School Learning Alliance has questioned the motivations behind a survey published by the Department for Education which asks for parents’ views on the ratio limits and qualification levels of settings providing childcare for three- and four-year-olds.
The Government earlier this year proposed changing the ratios at nurseries as a way of bringing down costs, but deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the plans were ‘dead in the water’. The PLA says the government has been canvassing parents’ opinion on ratios via social media this week.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “We are extremely concerned that once again the government appears to be using ratio changes as a money-saving measure – and, what’s more, that they have deemed it appropriate to collect evidence on this issue through such an unbalanced, biased survey.
“Anyone who has read the survey will have seen that the way the questions are phrased is likely to allow for a misleading interpretation of the findings. Add to this the limited reach of the survey, which was only published via Facebook and Twitter and not on the DfE website, and you are left with an extremely unscientific and non-representative survey.”
Leitch also highlighted the need for the government to respect the right of providers not to move to a 1:13 ratio for three- and four-year-olds if they don’t think it’s in the best interests of their children. “During the debate on childcare ratios over the summer, the early years minister argued that early years providers should be able to ‘make decisions for themselves and to exercise professional judgment’. Settings are well aware that graduate-led providers can move to a 1:13 ratio for three- and four-year-olds, and yet the vast majority choose not to do so, as they believe that this would result in poorer quality provision – so why is the Minister not respecting their professional judgment on this?
“I would suggest that the government is well aware that most practitioners do not, and will not, support a move towards 1:13 ratios, and so has decided to dismiss their views altogether. Instead, they have cobbled together a biased, leading survey that will allow them to falsely claim that they have the support of parents on this matter. My concern is that the DfE will use this to put pressure on settings to move to the 1:13 ratios – or even make such a move compulsory – even though both providers and parents have made it clear that they do not support such change.
“The government has made a lot of promises around improving the pay and status of the early years workforce, but yet again are unwilling to make the kinds of investments needed to make this happen. Instead, they are asking children to pay. Yet again, there is little to no focus on what is best for the child. One of the survey questions asks whether parents base their nursery decisions on location, costs, number of staff or qualification levels – but what about quality of provision, the way staff interact with children, how happy and engaged the children are? Until the government starts prioritising the needs of children above balancing their books, they will continue to come up against strong opposition from the sector, and rightly so.”