Laurel Tree House childcare centre

At one point the government proposed to allow childminders to look after two babies under one, instead of one. They also wanted to increase the number of children between 1 and 5 years old that childminders could look after from three to four.

The plans would also have allowed nursery staff to look after four babies instead of three and six 2-year-olds instead of four. The government argued that it would not lower standards of childcare because staff would have to have higher level qualifications to care for children but it would drive down the costs of childcare. However, there is no evidence that relaxing childcare ratios would lower childcare costs as nursery staff may demand higher wages for looking after more children and childminders may charge parents the same amount.

So why do I think that low child-to-staff ratios are so important?

Young children need to form a secure emotional bond with the adults caring for them. This is why nurseries and pre-schools have a key worker who is responsible for each child and the first person to attend a child when they are upset. Higher child-to-staff ratios mean that staff would find it harder to deal with each child’s individual needs. If one member of staff is the keyworker for six children rather than the current four, the chances of them having to deal with two distressed children at once is higher. It also means that they have less time to share happy moments with each child and to give them individual attention and stimulation.

Childminders have to walk children to and from schools and pre-schools every day. Higher child-to-staff ratios means greater safety issues on these walks. It would be very difficult for a childminder to manage two babies, two under-fives and up to four other children under eight at road crossings and in unenclosed playgrounds but this is what Truss suggests. This is not to mention the fact that childminders would have less time to pay attention to each child if they have more to deal with.

Good carers enable babies and young children to feel confident in themselves, encourage them to communicate and talk, to think and have ideas, and to learn and discover. All this becomes more difficult with higher child-to-staff ratios.

For all these reasons I am glad that childcare ratios are not going to be relaxed.

Related articles:

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Choosing a nursery

Childcare ratios a French perspective