Barely a Word in Support of Ratio Changes During Commons Debate

Preschool nursery teacher with 3 children helping them with their drawings in classroom

Barely a Word in Support of Ratio Changes During Commons Debate

A petition, started by Lewis and Zoe Steeper, aimed at opposing the government’s proposed changes to childcare ratios in England reached more than 100,000 signatures. As a result, the subject was put before the House of Commons for a Parliamentary debate on 14th November. A large number of MPs from all sides of the House spoke, almost universally criticising or condemning the proposal. The speeches echoed concerns that have long since been raised by the childcare sector in opposition to the policy. They followed three main strands. 

Firstly, that changing ratios risked children’s welfare. Although the government has pointed out the proposals are only to match England to ratios already adopted in Scotland, MPs – many of whom had visited local settings ahead of the debate – pointed out that provision in England works on a different model. Secondly, MPs heavily critiqued the idea that changing ratios would result in lower childcare costs, the ostensible aim of the measure. They questioned where the government’s figure of a £44 a week reduction came from and noted that according to many in the sector, even if there were savings to be had, these would be unlikely to be passed on to parents, given childcare providers’ ongoing needs for funding. Finally, drawing together these points, MPs asked whether it was responsible to change individual childcare regulations without a wholesale review of the funding and regulatory regime.

Responding, the new Children’s Minister, Claire Coutinho MP said:

‘It is right that the Government should look at the issue of childcare ratios. Ratios were set out in the 1980s, and we are looking at how they work in practice. We are taking evidence. As hon. Members are aware, we have held a consultation, but we have also looked at the impact, and we will set out that evidence alongside the results of our consultation. Safety has to be paramount in what we try to do, but it is also important that we look at the affordability of childcare, and at giving providers flexibility, and making sure that staff feel that their judgment is trusted. In that context, it was right to carry out the consultation, and, of course, we will come forward with the results of that consultation, and the providers’ impact assessments, which we did alongside it.’

This response was criticised by the Steepers as being non-committal. However, given this policy was not originated by this government (or indeed the Truss government), if ministers are minded to listen to the critique, the consultation responses may provide a welcome excuse to drop the policy.