Policy Watch Special: Reducing Ratios Would be Dangerous
Even in the most well-run setting, accidents can happen. This is why it is a requirement that regulated childcare providers obtain insurance. Very often it is no-one’s fault, and could have been a lot worse if the staff of the setting had not acted quickly. Why then is the government proposing to reduce the staff:child ratio; allowing more children to be looked after by fewer staff?
The reason is to address the perennial problem facing childcare ministers. How to reduce the cost of childcare without increasing funding? It has been proposed before, back in 2013 when Liz Truss, now the Foreign Secretary was Childcare Minister, she made a serious attempt at having the ratios changed. However, without the support of the childcare sector, and little interest from the cabinet, the proposal stalled.
This time may be different however. The government is desperate to do something about the cost of living crisis, and if press reports are to be believed, the Prime Minister is backing the current Childcare Minister Will Quince in his proposal to reduce ratios.
Along with the vast majority of the childcare sector, Morton Michel opposes this idea. Childcare ratios have been carefully set based on expert knowledge of the sector. They are very similar across the devolved administrations as well, further demonstrating there’s method behind them. Decreased supervision inevitably puts children at risk, both in terms of incidence of injury, and in the ability of staff to react quickly, reducing the harm. Even a small change to the ratios could mean severe incidents becoming more common.
Furthermore, reducing the compulsory ratios could put conscientious childcare providers in an invidious position. If they decide to stick to their existing ratios they will be competing with those who reduce theirs, and in doing so, are able to reduce their costs. With inflation and cost of living rising, no-one would blame cash-strapped parents for going with the cheaper option. Over time, this will naturally have a deleterious effect on provision.
The Childcare Minister is currently abroad, learning lessons from childcare provision on the continent. He should reflect however that British childcare is already admired across the world for the quality of its provision. Before making changes in the name of cost savings, he should think very hard indeed.