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Relaxed ratios won’t lower early years costs, survey suggests

By Rachel Lawlerchildren playing at nursery

Just 2% of early years providers say that changes to early years ratios would result in lower fees for parents, according to a new survey by the Alliance.

Of the 9,000 respondents, 87% said that they were opposed to the principle of relaxing ratios, with 80% describing themselves as ‘strongly opposed’.

Staffing crisis
If the rules were changed, just 13% of respondents said they would ‘regularly’ or ‘permanently’ use the new ratios and just 2% said the changes would result in reduced fees for parents.

Of those respondents working in nursery and pre-schools settings who would not be responsible for any ratio change decisions, a huge 75% said that they would be likely to leave their current setting if ratios were relaxed there.

Expanding workload
Amanda Trafford, a former under-twos room leader in Farnborough, Hampshire, said: “I have recently just decided to leave the early years world, even though I've just done my degree. The workload for an early years practitioner now is overwhelming and very stressful physically and mentally, and you don't get the recognition for it, both in pay and acknowledgement.

“Increasing ratios is going to make this 10 times worse. This will increase safety and safeguarding issues all over the country. Practitioners are already leaving for being over worked and underpaid – this will see a big increase of people leaving and nurseries closing due to not having staff.      

Parent opposition
A poll of 17,000 parents conducted by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed on Instagram found that 85% of parents were opposed to plans to relax ratios even if it meant that childcare costs were lowered as a result.

The news comes shortly after children and families minister Will Quince confirmed that the government was considering relaxing ratios.

An e-petition against any changes has so far reached over 58,000 signatures so far.

Lewis Steeper, husband of Zoe Steeper who started the e-petition, and father of Oliver Steeper, who died after a medical emergency at a nursery in September, said: "After losing Oliver in an early years setting, we feel it's our duty now to protect other children from people who are trying to overhaul the sector. These are members of parliament who will never put their own children into a local nursery/childminder because of their wealth and privileges; who simply don't live in the real world the rest of us do and don't bat an eyelid at the cost of childcare.

"There would be no guarantee if for whatever reason the changes did go ahead that by losing/sacking staff members to save money, any savings would be passed along to parents anyway. Many early years staff are underpaid, overworked and anymore cuts would simply push them beyond breaking point.

Overstretched staff
Commenting, Neil Leitch, CEO of the 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 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.

“The Prime Minister himself has said that investment in the early years is absolutely crucial because the first few years of a child’s life are so vital – so how on earth can a policy that prioritises cost-cutting over children’s wellbeing and early development ever be justified?

“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.”

Have your say
Providers: ask your MP to reject plans to relax ratios