Government muses ratio changes

Children in early years setting playing instruments

Government muses ratio changes

According to reports in the Daily Telegraph, the government is considering a consultation on relaxing child:staff ratios in early years settings. Not unexpectedly, this suggestion is being fiercely opposed by much of the childcare sector who argue that it would force providers to choose between children’s safety and sustainable income.

This all may feel eerily familiar to those who have been in the childcare sector for some time. Back in 2013, the then coalition government made similar noises. Then, the proposed change was championed by Conservative MP, Liz Truss – now the Foreign Secretary but then the childcare minister – but was reportedly vetoed by Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, following strident representations by the childcare sector.

In fact, the prospect of relaxing ratios has never really gone away. The government feels it is funding childcare well, but is constantly being told that nonetheless it is not doing enough. Rather than loosening the purse strings – something successive Chancellors, including Rishi Sunak, have opposed – policy makers find themselves looking for other ways to put the sector on a more sustainable footing. To a Treasury minister, perhaps not overly familiar with the history of the childcare sector, relaxing ratios may seem like low hanging fruit. A solution that costs the government nothing and can be achieved at the stroke of a pen. However, in general, as soon as they explore the idea in any detail, ministers back away from the idea. Appearing to risk children’s safety is never popular.

Of course, this government is a bit different to those of recent years. It has an 80 seat majority, which means in principle, it can enact its preferred policies with relative ease. It also has to contend with the financial fall out of Covid-19, the logistical challenges of Brexit, as well as the (hopefully) short term crises around energy prices and availability. While it would be well advised not to be dead to the childcare sector’s warnings, it remains to be seen whether it will heed them.