First one to Dr. Drew from Liam Fox MP
Dear Dr Drew
Thank you for contacting me about the proposed reforms to childcare. I will pass on your concerns to the Minister responsible for these issues at the Department of Education.
These are much needed reforms. English parents face the highest childcare costs anywhere in the world besides Switzerland, even though the Government spends £5 billion on childcare every year. Despite all this spending by parents and taxpayers, quality can be poor and nursery staff too often lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. The Government wants to do all it can to reduce the cost of childcare for families and improve quality.
The first step is to improve early years qualifications. We will insist on C grades in GCSE English and maths as minimum requirements for new childcare workers. Nurseries will be led by graduate level Early Years Teachers, required to meet the same entry standards and pass the same skills tests as classroom teacher trainees.
We also have to look at the rules governing the number of children staff can look after. At the moment, restrictive staff:child ratios put a cap on quality. Whereas in England nursery staff may look after no more than four two-year-olds, in France they can be responsible for eight and in Denmark, Germany and Sweden, there are no limits at all. In these countries, the emphasis is on the quality of the staff, not the number of children.
England’s relatively tight ratios have two main effects: higher costs for parents and lower pay for staff. Nursery staff below supervisor level are paid an average of £6.60 an hour – barely more than the minimum wage. In turn, low pay drags down the quality of the workforce. In other countries, providers can use the extra income they get from taking on more children to reduce fees for parents and pay staff more, but this is not possible in England. Crucially, these countries also ensure they employ highly qualified professionals in the early years.
The Government is therefore going to free high quality providers to offer more places, so long as they employ well-qualified staff. This will mean more great childcare places for parents to choose from and more freedom for providers to pay staff more and attract high quality people into the profession. Where staff are well-qualified, the Government plans to allow ratios for two-year-olds to rise from four children per adult to six children per adult and for ones-and-under to rise from three children per adult to four children per adult.
These new maximum ratios will bring England into line with standard practice in other countries where high quality childcare is more available and more affordable. It is worth emphasising the new ratios will be optional, so if parents and providers want to stick with the existing ratios, they will be free to do so.
A number of other measures will help deliver high quality childcare. The Ofsted regime will be improved. Councils will no longer duplicate Ofsted’s inspection work, making sure more of the £160 million of early education funding they currently retain reaches the frontline. We will help schools open nurseries on site, giving more parents the choice of traditional nursery classes led by teachers. The introduction of childminder agencies will make it easier to become a childminder, relieve bureaucratic burdens on childminders, and provide training and quality assurance.
Taken together, I welcome these first steps which will deliver a stronger, more flexible and high-quality early years offer. Thank you again for taking the time to write.
Parliamentary Office of the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP