UK & World News

  • 29 January 2013, 9:24

Childcare Plans: Nursery Ratios To Be Relaxed

Nurseries and childminders will be allowed to look after more children under Government plans aimed at reducing the burden on parents struggling to pay soaring fees.

The current ratio of one member of staff to every four two-year-olds will be increased to one carer for every six toddlers.

Nurseries will also be allowed to loosen ratios for under-twos, with one carer being allowed to look after four instead of three children.

A childminder would be able to look after two babies rather than one and four under-fives rather than three, according to the proposals.

British families spend an average of 27% of their income on childcare - the second highest proportion in the world.

But when it comes to the quality of care provided, the UK is said to be behind other European countries.

Citing the example of France, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss will argue that easing the rules on ratios can give nurseries the "headroom to pay higher salaries".

She is expected to tell an event at the Policy Exchange think-tank: "We have learned from other countries that deliver better value and better-quality childcare.

"We have looked across Europe and beyond. The aim is not to replicate another country's approach but to learn from and apply best practice."

Ministers also want youngsters to start being taught reading and maths at a younger age to reassure parents that their children are receiving a proper education.

And in return for deregulation and higher pay, Ms Truss will insist that nursery workers have tougher academic standards, including potential carers needing at least a grade C in English and maths to begin the two-year Early Years Educator Qualification.

Ms Truss said: "We want to see more of a continuum between childcare and the education system, we want to see more teachers in early years leading high quality group settings and also more people with English and maths GCSE going into early years.

"So this is about raising the quality and making sure our young children get the absolute best."

Rachel Parangi, a mother-of-two, told Sky News: "The cost of childcare is a burden, it's like a mortgage, in fact, it's more than my mortgage - so yes it is expensive.

"It's a price you have to pay for quality childcare. When you're at work you want to know that someone is looking after your children."

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the plans threatened child safety and would not reduce costs.

"This Government has created an affordability crisis by cutting support and pushing up costs for parents. Watering down quality is the wrong way to try to deal with the problem they've caused," he said.

"Experts are warning this could threaten child safety and won't reduce costs. Parents will be worried.

"With a 1,700 toddler tax for families with two children, and 401 fewer children's centres, parents are being locked into inflation-busting cost rises while the quality of childcare is undermined."