The Observer reports a new alliance of parents and nursery chains – complete with e-petition (see below) – to fight against proposed changes to childcare ratios…
Parents are joining forces with Britain’s top nursery chains in a revolt against plans to reduce the number of carers required to look after babies and toddlers – amid stark warnings the safety of children would be compromised.
The two leading internet forums for mothers – Mumsnet and Netmums – unite this weekend with top private and voluntary sector nurseries to demand the reforms be abandoned.
Under the government’s plans, announced in January by the childcare minister, Liz Truss, ratios for two-year-olds will rise from four children per adult to six, and for one-year-olds and under from three children per adult to four. Ratios for three-year-olds and over will remain at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate is present.
Truss says the plans will improve care as the higher ratios can only apply where better qualified staff are present. She believes that, as standards rise, operating costs will fall, meaning lower fees for parents. However, the proposals have led to a wave of protests, with experts and nursery operators saying they will create a two-tier service, with nurseries in more deprived areas raising the ratios while those in more affluent areas, where parents can afford to pay more, will keep them the same.
In a serious escalation of the row, the largest membership organisation for nursery schools, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, which is also the biggest voluntary operator of nurseries in deprived areas, accused Truss of conducting a “sham” consultation that has led to a “ridiculous” and dangerous policy.
Writing on the Observer website, Neil Leitch, the alliance’s chief executive, who speaks for 14,000 nursery school operators, says: “At some point the consequences of her [Truss’s] actions will come back to haunt us.
“Children will suffer physically and emotionally, and I hope she is as keen to defend her policies then as she is to implement them now – but I doubt it. She says that the government has consulted on these proposals. Rubbish.”
The alliance has launched a government e-petition, www.rewindonratios.com, which, if it gains 100,000 signatures, could force ministers to grant a Commons debate. Backing the petition, Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, said: “When we asked our members about the cost of childcare, only 5% of parents backed ratio relaxation, even if it meant lower costs. We think the government needs to rethink its plans.”
A separate survey of parents for the alliance found that 84% of mothers were against childcare ratio changes, even though they might lead to a cut in their childcare bills.