NDNA’s response to ratios consultation

The previous Children and Families Minister Will Quince announced plans to look at ratios earlier this year. He visited other countries including Scotland to see how childcare and early education is delivered there.

On the back of these visits the Department for Education launched a consultation on childcare regulation with a key proposal that, for two-year olds in England, the adult:child ratio could change from 1:4 to 1:5. The consultation also covered wider questions about three and four-year-old ratios and the flexibilities that providers might need long-term.

The consultation closed on Friday 16 September.

NDNA members have been unanimous in their view that the ratios should not be viewed in isolation. Providers were clear that the government must also factor in funding rates, space requirements, staffing qualifications and children with SEND who needed higher levels of support.

There was also disagreement with the claims from the Department for Education about the savings that could be made for parents. This was because that not all providers would be able to work at the hypothetical ratios all the time as this would adversely affect children and wasn’t popular with parents.

In polls, 83% of NDNA members also disagreed with the plans change of increasing the number of twos an adult could look after from four children to five. The reasons given were largely due to the quality of early education which makes all the difference to children’s life chances, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Post-pandemic, Ofsted’s own research showed that very young children have greater needs around language, communication and personal, social and emotional development.

When asked about the practicalities, the plans would not reduce the cost to providers or parents and 74% of providers said they would not implement the move anyway. For others there was a strong focus on being able to meet the needs of the individual child and using professional judgement on any flexibility on the ratios.

On the question about flexibility for those looking after three and four-year-olds – for those attending for less than four hours, NDNA responded saying it was “practically unworkable” due to the fact that providers said that relatively few children were on those shorter sessions. Where children were in nurseries for shorter sessions, these groups tended to be mixed with children there for longer sessions, making a change in the ratios impractical.

Providers were potentially interested in having more flexibility regarding ratios for three and four-year-old children if they could use professional judgement in order to meet their children’s needs, while operating safely and sustainably. Another area explored was whether staff counting in ratios where they were working towards a qualification. Again, providers highlighted that this would depend on their assessment of individuals.

Any flexibilities would need to be supported with clear government guidance so providers could use this with confidence and not be penalised by Ofsted inspectors.

The vast majority of nurseries (90% of those asked) were concerned about the impact of proposals on those with protected characteristics, especially children with SEND and those from disadvantaged backgrounds who needed additional support.

  • England
  • Consultation
  • DfE
  • Ratios
  • SEND
  • Will Quince

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