Claims online survey hints at new move to reduce childcare ratio

Ministers have been accused of attempting to reintroduce controversial plans to reduce staff-to-child ratios for childcare in England by quietly launching a survey of parents asking if they are happy with staffing levels. This is from the Guardian

Childcare pressure groups and Labour said that the online poll, promoted by the department for education on Facebook and Twitter, was a back-door manoeuvre which could be easily manipulated by civil servants.

They claim that the questions have been phrased in a way so that the findings could be manipulated to create an unrealistic interpretation of parents’ opinions.

It comes as education secretary Michael Gove prepares to debate the government’s decision to allow unqualified teachers to teach in free schools with his new opposite number, Tristram Hunt.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance said the survey was biased and unscientific. Its chief executive, Neil Leitch, said: “We are extremely concerned that once again the government appears to be using ratio changes as a money-saving measure – and, what’s more, that they have deemed it appropriate to collect evidence on this issue through such an unbalanced, biased survey.

“Anyone who has read the survey will have seen that the way the questions are phrased is likely to allow for a misleading interpretation of the findings.”

Lucy Powell, the shadow childcare minister, said: “It looks like David Cameron may be trying to pull a fast one on parents, resurrecting their worrying plan to increase the number of children childminders and nursery staff can look after. This issue was dead in the water after parents, providers and experts raised serious concerns that these changes risk child safety and will not reduce costs to parents.”

The survey, entitled “Ratios in nurseries and other childcare settings”, asks 10 questions of parents who have a three- or four-year-old at nursery, all of which relate to staffing levels and teaching qualifications.

Questions include “Do you know how many members of staff there should be for the number of children in your child’s nursery? If yes, what is the ratio? If no, what do you think it should be?”

It asks multiple choice questions including “Do you look to the nursery’s Ofsted report? Which aspects in particular concern you?” and offers six possible answers including “safety” “what the children learn” and “the ratio of staff to children”.

This summer, the government scrapped plans to reduce staff-to-child ratios in nursery settings after fierce criticism from the sector…

A DfE source said that the survey was part of a fact-finding exercise which hoped to be able to examine the attitude of private nursery users – but the source struggled to explain why the survey does not ask parents to say whether their children are cared for in private or public nurseries…

More at:  Online survey hints at new move to reduce childcare ratio

Do you think those against changes in ratios are right to be concerned by the appearance of this online poll or is it good practice for the DfE to seek feedback from parents this way? Please let us know what you make of it in the comments or on twitter… 

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