Countdown to our 1st June picnic – a plea to the weather God!

May 28th 2013

It has been described as a work of fiction by the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PSLA) but is this the best description of the Department for Education report published last week?  The Implications of Adult-Child Ratios for Childcare Providers is the suggested model which will be used to examine the implications of reducing adult-child ratios.

The report is very fixated with a cost model. It takes no account of the fundamental tenet of good quality childcare which is that the more time staff are able to spend with children, the higher the quality of care. Unfortunately, if utilised, the new ratios will significantly reduce the time available for staff to spend with each child. This is particularly important for the youngest children – our little babies and two-year-olds whose welfare and development are closely linked to social interaction and secure attachment relationships with adults. The newly constituted Family and Childcare Trust also issued a press release commenting on the premise of this report.

Here are the things that bother me and our colleagues at both aforementioned organisations and commentators on LinkedIn, Nursery World and Twitter:

  • Why have they made the assumption that nurseries are 100% occupied 52 weeks a year?  (For info,
    70 to 80% is more realistic and lower for those in poor neighbourhoods.)
  • The report ignores its own More Great Childcare report about the amount of time the new ratios would be operating. The model is based on full day sessions. (The MGC report recommends shorter periods of time.)
  • Apparently, we could increase our gross revenue by more than £200,000 a year by taking 52 per cent more children without increasing the number of trained staff to care for them. Really?
  • Another economic wonder is that we can increase salaries and still reduce childcare fees by 12 per cent, but only if we do not invest money on staff training or expansion. So more children, less training equals good value?!
  • The model assumes an increase by 50% of places but how will this happen with no costs for additional staff or expansion built into the model?
  • The model pushes for the majority of the savings to be gained from providers moving from a 1:8 to a 1:13 ratio for three- to four-year-old children.  As this option already exists under current law why is it that no-one in the sector has used the option?
  • The model fails to include what Herzberg would describe as ‘hygiene factors’, namely increased sickness, staff turnover and stress. More qualified staff paid lower than their statutory colleagues are unlikely to be enticed to into the sector. How then will we attract these mythical staff?

So, foot on the pedal and a prayer to the weather God on June 1st to celebrate International Children’s Day.

Neil Leitch CEO of the PSLA sums up the message we need the public to understand:

We have some of the best childcare in the world despite the fact that our Government gives less than half the support that other leading childcare countries do. When it comes to France, which the Minister has based her misleading calculations on, we are ranked better on childcare quality, affordability and flexibility. I am reluctant to criticise another country’s childcare because the cultural, social and economic environment plays a huge part in what is acceptable or possible, but I will tell you that having experienced both systems – without the red-carpet treatment – we far-outrank France.

Our job is to educate parents as to the consequence of such changes. A recent survey for the PSLA found that 84 per cent of parents do not want childcare ratios to change and would rather pay more than see their child get less individual care and attention. A paper petition through their Rewind Ratios campaign has been signed by 16,000 parents. More than 80,000 have signed up to the various campaigns, including Penny Webb’s. A Mumsnet survey found 95 per cent of respondents were opposed to the proposed ratios even if they could lead to lower childcare bills.  Certainly, LEYF parents have expressed dismay at the possibility of less staff and more children. The French parents threw out their Government and indeed they are currently marching in the streets against more unpopular changes to education. (I have in fact been invited to speak at the French national social enterprise conference about the LEYF childcare model later this week – a second visit to French nurseries, Vive le Eurostar! And for the French speakers among you, you can now learn all about LEYF by watching our video à la française..!)

This recent report does little to diminish the anxiety about relaxing ratios. The sector remains concerned and continues to believe that changing childcare ratios without really credible and robust evidence and a strong social and economic rationale will lower the overall quality of childcare in this country. Mr Cameron recently tried to pour oil on water by saying he would ‘find a way forward’ to resolve the issue.

My simple advice to Cameron? Start by listening to those who care and whose whole objection is based on the single fact that it will harm our small children.