A new survey by the Early Years Alliance finds widespread opposition to changes in childcare ratios and that only 2% of childcare providers believe any change would result in lower fees for parents.
Around nine in 10 nurseries and pre-schools in England are opposed to government plans to relax childcare providers ratios, with just 2% of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders indicating that changes to ratio rules would result in them lowering fees for parents, according to a new survey.
Children and families minister Will Quince confirmed last week that the government will be consulting on changing current early years regulations so that settings can operate under a ratio of one adult per five two-year-olds, up from the current limit of four.
Early Years Alliance’s online survey of over 9,000 early years settings in England was carried out between 28 April and 4 May. While this was before the official announcement of the government’s plans to relax ratios for two year olds, the survey stated that “it has been suggested in media reports that the maximum number of two year olds per adult in nurseries and pre-schools could increase from four to five”.
The survey found that 87% of nurseries and pre-schools (which accounted for around three-quarters of survey respondents) are opposed to the principle of relaxing ratios, with 80% describing themselves as ‘strongly opposed’.
If the government does relax early years ratios, only 13% of nurseries and pre-schools said they would regularly or permanently use the new ratios, with the same small percentage predicting that they would enjoy moderate or significant financial benefits from ratios changes.
Childminder survey respondents, who accounted for the other quarter of responses, were less strongly opposed to potential changes overall (56% in opposition vs 31% support).
The survey also found that:
87% of nurseries and pre-school respondents and 54% of childminder respondents think that operating to looser ratios would have a negative impact on quality at their setting. 89% of nursery and pre-school respondents and 58% of childminder respondents think that operating to looser ratios would have a negative impact on staff and/or their own mental health wellbeing.
Of those respondents working in nursery and pre-schools settings who would not be responsible for any ratio change decisions, 75% said that they would be likely to leave their current setting if ratios were relaxed there.
A government e-petition against any changes to ratios has so far reached over 58,000 signatures.
Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: “Our survey results show that if the government does push ahead with any plans to relax ratios, most settings won’t change their ratios, even fewer would do it regularly, fewer still would save any money from it and hardly any would reduce parent fees as a result – so what exactly is the point of this policy?
“All it will mean is that at the minority of settings that might relax ratios, staff will be even more overworked and overstretched than they are already and children will receive less individual care and support at a time when they need it more than ever, without any difference being made to childcare costs.
He added: “For years, the government has been knowingly underfunding the early years sector, fully aware that this would result in higher costs for parents – and now it is asking those very same parents to accept childcare delivered on the cheap simply because ministers are not willing to invest in making quality care and early education affordable.
“It is simply not good enough: not for our children, not for parents and not for a sector for early years professionals who all deserve better. We urge the government to abandon this lame duck of a policy before any more time is wasted on it.”