Government proposes nursery staff look after more toddlers per adult

Image above: Nursery children with a nursery teacher

Move to drive down childcare costs

The Government is proposing nurseries and childminders in England should be allowed to look after more two-year-olds per adult member of staff in a bid to bring down the cost of childcare.

It is launching a consultation with parents over the proposal to increase the ratio of young children to adults from 1:4 to 1:5.

Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi says the move will “support thousands of families across the country, helping to develop children’s skills while also supporting parents into work.”

The Department of Education says it could potentially eventually reduce the cost of this form of childcare by up to 15%, or up to £40 per week for a family paying £265 per week for care for their 2-year-old, if providers adopt the changes and pass all the savings on to parents.

But would it be safe? The BBC reports that most nurseries do not want the change. In Scotland carers are allowed to look after up to five young children each, but the National Day Nurseries Association, which has members in England and Scotland, says the two systems cannot be compared.

It says that in Scotland more staff have at least a level three qualification in childcare (84%) compared with England (76%); nurseries receive on average more funding per child from local authorities; the nurseries are exempt from business rates; and a larger proportion than in England are run by the local councils, where costs are different.

Image above: Bright Horizons Chiswick Park Day Nursery and Preschool

Current ratio of care already “can be quite challenging”

Sumudu Dantanarayana is the manager of Bright Horizons Chiswick Park Day Nursery and Preschool; she thinks the proposals are a bad idea and could impact quality of care. She told The Chiswick Calendar:

“I was watching the news and someone from a nursery told the Minister to come and spend a day in the nursery to find out how difficult it is to work to a 1:5 ratio.

“At the moment, I work as a manager but I’m also a room-based manager and I find 1:4 can be quite challenging, especially when you have children with special needs in the room. A two to three year old child can be the most challenging age for the child as well as the setting.

“I don’t think as a company we will follow it … because it’s not a legal requirement. I don’t know how that will work, but personally I don’t think that’s a good move.”

Image above: Karolina Adamkiewicz, Hadrien Pichat and their children Maxine and Gabriel

“Nursery care needs higher subsidies from Government”

Karolina Adamkiewicz and her husband Hadrien Pichat have lived in cities across Europe and have experienced a range of nursery fees and different ratios of care.

The couple moved to the UK from Mallorca in 2020, where they lived for two years, living in Paris before that. Karolina and Hadrien’s son Gabriel went to nursery in both Spain and France, where subsidies for childcare are more widely available.

The ratio of care in Spain averages at nine children to one carer. In France, it’s five children to one carer if the children are unable to walk, and eight per carer if they are walking. The couple said while reducing the ratio of care could be part of the solution to make childcare less expensive in the UK, it isn’t the only factor which needs to be addressed.

Hadrien told The Chiswick Calendar:

“There’s more help [in Europe] for those in need, financially speaking, for example in France they have more subsidies than the UK. In France, the more you earn, the more you pay. So, if you’ve got very low income you can pay 200-300 euros per month for five days per week whereas if you have high income, you could pay maybe 1,000 euros per month.”

Karolina agreed:

“Nursery care needs higher subsidies from Government. If nursery care was cheaper, many women and men could return to work and start paying taxes. It’s often women who stop working for long periods of time which can also put a break on their career and one that is not easy to rebound from.”

Image above: Banana Moon Nursery in Chiswick

English nurseries “some of the most expensive in the world”.

In Mallorca, Karolina and Hadrien said they paid £375 per month for nursery from 8.00am to 5.00pm five days per week, nappies and milk had to be provided separately.

In Paris, they paid 15.52 euros per day, but Hadrien was not working at the time so with a lower household income, Gabriel’s nursery fees were subsidised at a higher rate.

A rough estimate for monthly costs at a Paris nursery based on a family with a household income of €100,000 (9.00am-6.00pm five days a week) amounts to 750 euros per month, before tax deductions.

Staggeringly, in the UK, Karolina and Hadrien pay £1,716 for their daughter, Maxine, to go to nursery for just four days per month, which Karolina said is “completely mad”.

While nappies and milk are included in their UK costs, Karolina said nursery staff have told her the UK had some of the the most expensive nursery care in the world. They’re right too, OECD data from 2021 showed the UK has the third highest childcare costs worldwide, second only to Slovakia and Switzerland.

Some of the least expensive and highest quality solutions are found in the Nordic countries. According to OECD research, these countries “consider childcare an essential public service and provide guaranteed access to childcare for all children from one year of age or earlier”.

Critics say the UK Government’s proposals could simultaneously end up reducing quality of care, while doing very little to slash England’s sky-high childcare costs.

Read more stories in The Chiswick Calendar

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