Chancellor’s plans for free childcare will “destroy the industry” says Chiswick nursery principal

Image above: Increasing of children to carer ratio ‘will put children at risk’; nursery photograph Dukes Education

Government proposals are “absolutely diabolical”

The Chancellor’s plans to expand free childcare and increase the ratio of children to carers within early years settings will see many nurseries go under and put children at risk, according to the principal of five nurseries in west London.

Aimee Kimbell, Principal of Riverside Nursery Schools in Richmond, who lives in Chiswick, told The Chiswick Calendar the Government’s priorities were all wrong, and nobody with any real knowledge of the industry would approve of their proposals.

“In a nutshell, it is absolutely diabolical what they’ve said” Aimee told me.

“We have a staffing crisis in the sector anyway by them belittling the career. By saying they can up the ratio of the amount of children we can look after and by saying its free, it’s going to destroy the industry I think.”

As part of a wider drive to help people into work and boost growth, the Chancellor announced an extra 30 hours a week during term time to parents of children from the age of nine months to two years, matching the existing offering for three- and four-year-olds.

The Chancellor also announced an increase in ratio of two-year-olds each adult can look after in a childcare setting from 1:4 to 1:5.

Image above: Aimee with one of the nursery children in her care

Ratio increase “a time bomb waiting to happen”

The safety of children will be at risk should the Government proceed with their plans to increase, Aimee said, describing the increase as “a time bomb waiting to happen for accidents”.

“We’re hoping we wont have to abide by these rules, we’re going to to try to stick to 1:4, because it’s hard enough 1:4 as it is.

The company Aimee works for, Dukes Education, oversees 34 private schools, colleges and nurseries. She says they will probably be able to afford to stick to the 1:4 ratio, but others may not be so lucky.

“It does mean that some nurseries will [adopt a 1:5 ratio] and I do think there will be a serious accident that will happen because of it, I don’t think they’ve thought it through.

“The Government were trying to say even babies could be changed from a 1:3 ratio to a 1:4 and I think everyone put their foot down on that and realised that really is just ridiculous and unsafe. They don’t seem to have followed up on that, but they do want to change the ratio for the two-year-olds.”

Image above: Riverside nursery

Focus should be on staffing issues rather than free childcare “lies”

Aimee added that the offer for free childcare for one and two year olds is “just lies” and the Government should instead focus on fixing staffing issues in the sector.

“It’s them pulling the wool over parents eyes.” The money on offer to nurseries will not meet their actual costs, she says. “Obviously nurseries can’t exist on that kind of funding, so it isn’t free and a lot of nurseries will go under.”

The Chancellor promised more funding for the early-years sector, which has long argued that the amount providers receive from the government for the current free hours offer leaves them out of pocket. The funding gap has already driven many providers out of business.

In an effort to prevent further nursery closures, Jeremy Hunt promised an increase of free hours funding of £204m from this September, rising to £288m next year, which he claimed was a 30% rise.

The Women’s Budget Group estimated that funding the current hours for three- and four-year-olds would cost an additional £1.82bn – far greater than the amount promised by the government.

So what should the Government be doing instead?

Aimee Kimbell

“…They should do something about getting overseas candidates to come and work here who we’ve lost… We’ve lost our members because of Brexit, Covid and because it’s not paid enough.

“Young people going into the industry can get paid more working in a coffee shop than they would working with children, working with children is much more challenging and a bigger responsibility.”

“They should have said they’re going to put us on the list of other industries that need more workers, which we’re not currently on the list of which is ridiculous. People that want to come other from say South Africa or other parts of the world can’t… They should have supported the industry rather than making us suffer more.”

“They should have consulted with the experts in early years education to find out about the funding and what works. Because what will happen is more people will apply, more families will apply, thinking it’s for free then they’ll find out it’s not for free but people will make important family decisions based on these lives.”

“Anybody that has [been consulted] like the National Day Nurseries Association and the Early Years Alliance have always fought these kind of decisions but it seems they haven’t listened to them at all and have just gone ahead.

“Anybody who is an expert in working in early years have always said no, and we’re thinking we’re gonna have to start a big petition because – we’re okay because we think we’ll be able to survive, but there will be lots of stand-alone nurseries that will just go under.

“Obviously I understand people need childcare and they do it in other countries very successfully, but this isn’t the way to do it.”

Image above: Aimee Kimbell

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Ruth Cadbury MP brands Governments new migration bill as ‘inhumane and cruel’

See also: Cycleway 9 extension into Brentford to last six months and cause ‘significant disturbance’ to area

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.