Changing staff to child ratios for two-year olds: families need quality and affordability

DfE will be consulting the children’s sector on changing staff to child ratios for two-year-olds. The simple question that we are asking ourselves at NCB is: what evidence do we have that this proposal will lead to better outcomes for our youngest children?

Our initial response, based on decades of research and practice experience, is that not only will this proposal fail to improve outcomes for children, it risks worsening both the quality and safety of early years settings.

Young children need a broad range of experiences and opportunities to thrive and fulfil their potential. They need adults as playmates, companions and people to learn from. They need to hear their voices to learn language, watch how they play and negotiate with others to learn social skills, and guidance to develop personal skills. They need stimulating opportunities that are well planned and honed to their needs. If there are so few staff that all they can do is troubleshoot problems then children’s development will be adversely affected.

Reducing the number of available adults in a setting will also impact the setting's ability to support disabled children and those with special educational needs as part of their ordinary provision. Just as the SEND green paper offers new hope for a more inclusive vision for our education system, it is vital we do not put that at risk by reducing staffing numbers.

Working with young children is an extremely rewarding, yet challenging job. But the sector is already facing a recruitment and retention crisis, in part fuelled by the meagre salaries paid to the staff undertaking this vital work. Increasing ratios will only mean staff feel more stretched, potentially causing more to leave the profession. One of the aims of the revised EYFS was to reduce practitioner workload – it seems a backward step to increase ratios and therefore workload. 

It is fair to say that NCB is highly sceptical that these proposals will improve the quality of services on offer to children and families. There is even the danger that health and safety risks could increase. However, it is important to emphasise that this is a consultation process and it is crucial that we examine the government’s proposals in detail. We will be supporting the sector to engage in the consultation and have their voices heard.

We must continue to make the case for more affordable childcare, particularly as the cost of living crisis puts family finances under huge strain.

However, we also know parents want confidence that a setting has the right staffing levels to support their children. Research shows that parents were happier, more comfortable and more likely to choose a setting if they perceived the staffing levels to be strong (Callanan et al; DfE; 2017)

This cannot be a binary choice: families deserve both quality and affordability.