Ministers have been accused of cutting corners and endangering children after the government confirmed it would consult on reducing the ratio of childcare staff so that one adult can look after five two-year-olds.
Education Minister Will Quince announced the government would consult on what he called “reflecting the Scottish model”, which allows a maximum of five two-year-olds, instead of four in England, to be cared for by one adult.
The plan, which is part of the government’s agenda to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, drew a furious response from childcare providers and opposition parties.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “Boris Johnson’s new plan is not to tackle rising childcare costs head-on, but to cut corners and put our children at risk. Your security should be our number one priority, not reduced to a cost-cutting measure.
Neil Leitch, executive director of the Early Years Alliance, said the child care sector was already “on its knees” with “underpaid and overworked” staff. “The ignorance and short-sightedness that would lead anyone to suggest loosening indices as a solution to the problems facing our industry is frankly mind-boggling,” he said.
The minister stressed that he had rejected more radical plans to deregulate the sector. “This proposal is about giving providers more flexibility,” he said. “Some were pushing me to go further in reforming the relationship, but I made it clear from the start that I would not compromise on safety or quality.”
However, he hinted at more changes to come, saying: “This consultation is just the beginning of the journey. We have some of the best early childhood provisions in the world, and I will continue to explore how we can be ambitious for working parents, improving flexibility and lowering the cost of childcare.”
With inflation expected to hit double digits in the fall, Whitehall departments have taken it upon themselves to come up with ways to cut costs for households, without directly spending taxpayers’ money.
Childcare ratios will not change in Wales, at one adult for four two-year-olds. Welsh government finance minister Vaughan Gething told the BBC: “Childcare is devolved here in Wales and we won’t cut the proportions, because there is no evidence that it will improve the quality of childcare or its availability. ”