Ministers have been accused of cutting corners and endangering children after the government confirmed it would consult on cutting childcare staffing ratios so that one adult can look after five two-year-olds.
The education minister Will Quince announced that the government would consult on what he called “mirroring 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, prompted a furious response from nursery providers and opposition parties.
The Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, said: “Boris Johnson’s new plan is not to address soaring childcare costs head-on, but instead to cut corners and endanger our children. Their safety should be our number one priority, not be reduced to a cost-cutting measure.
Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said the childcare sector was already “on its knees” with “underpaid, overworked” staff. “The ignorance and shortsightedness that would lead anyone to suggest relaxing ratios as a solution to the problems our sector faces 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 greater flexibility,” he said. “Some were pushing me to go further on ratio reform but I’ve been clear from the start that I would not compromise on safety or quality.”
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He hinted at further changes in the future, however, saying: “This consultation is just the start of the journey. We have some of the best early years provision in the world, and I’ll continue exploring how we can be ambitious for working parents – improving flexibility and reducing the cost of childcare.”
With inflation expected to hit double digits in the autumn, Whitehall departments have been charged with coming up with ways to cut costs for households, without directly spending taxpayers’ money.
Childcare ratios will be unchanged in Wales, at one adult to four two-year-olds. The Welsh government’s economy minister, Vaughan Gething, told the BBC: “Childcare is devolved here in Wales and we won’t be cutting the ratios, because there’s no evidence that will improve the quality of the childcare or the availability of it as well.”