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Proposed changes to childcare risk children’s futures
It’s those early years for babies and children that lay down the foundation for learning.
While there isn’t always agreement on how early years provision is structured, how best practice is shared or resources used, the evidence is conclusive – child to staff ratios are vitally important for creating high-quality interactions.
Where both research and practice agree is that having fewer children per staff member leads to better outcomes. This is because children receive a more tailored and child-centred learning experience that’s conducive to positive relationship building and wellbeing for all.
That’s why I’m disappointed to hear about the suggestion of lowering the legal limits on staff/child ratios for children in England, despite the evidence to the contrary and in conflict with the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements.
I feel that this kind of cost saving is taking too much of a short-term view, especially when there are no guarantees it would ultimately pass on the savings and reduce the price of childcare for parents.
It’s my concern that this could seriously undermine quality in early years provision when a positive start in life is something that every child in the country deserves. At NCFE, we believe that no learner should be left behind in life, and this would arguably increase the risk of children missing out on more targeted interventions.
There’s no doubt that we’re all being impacted by the cost of living crisis – none more so than the most vulnerable people in our communities. But early years education isn’t something to be sacrificed or compromised when we know that it plays such a hugely important role in improving lives and tackling social inequalities.
Childcare settings continue to go above and beyond to ensure children and families receive high quality and transformative experiences without financial gain. Many have been forced to close, and there are many more who don’t operate at a profit.
Driving this level of commitment is a highly professional sector and workforce who are frankly unwilling to compromise on children’s outcomes. Rather than clashing on this, I implore the Government to sit down with sector leaders to really understand the challenges and opportunities within early years education.
I took the time to get the views of one of our most prominent figures within the sector – Neil Leitch OBE, Chief Executive of the Early Years Alliance – who had the following to say on this issue:
"Any relaxation to early years ratios would be disastrous for practitioners and would place unnecessary pressure on an industry that is already being pushed to the brink due to years of underfunding.
“It’s clear that the Government has completely misunderstood both the sector and what is driving cost increases. Changes to ratios will not provide a solution to this, but instead, sacrifice the high quality of early years education."
In my opinion, a good place to start would be revisiting and revising pledges made five years ago in the Early Years Workforce Strategy, in order to ensure they’re now in line with research and current investment in early education.
Ultimately though, we need to listen to what the research is telling us. There’s a need to invest if we want to improve the lives of children and families – not look for cost savings.
If the Government truly wants to be seen as ‘levelling up’ our communities, early years education would be a significant and impactful place to start.
You can keep up to date with the latest news and opportunities from the early years sector by visiting our Early Years and Childcare homepage.
Janet King is our Sector Manager for Education and Childcare and plays a crucial role in developing new and existing qualifications in this area. Janet’s previous work has involved management in both Further and Higher Education across care provision and within social services and education.