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Councils to lose child care inspection role

By Vivienne Russell | 29 January 2013

Councils are to lose their power to inspect and assess local child care services, ministers have announced.

While all child care providers must be registered with Ofsted, councils can also carry out their own checks on local nurseries in order to determine which should qualify for funding. Concerns have been raised that these inspections sometimes duplicate or can conflict with Ofsted’s, while councils sometimes demand excessive amounts of information from providers.

In a major speech on child care reform, children’s minister Elizabeth Truss said local authorities’ assessment responsibilities meant that they were hanging on to £160m of government money made available to fund child care for three- and four-year-olds each year. ‘Ending this situation will mean as much money as possible goes to the front line,’ she said.

Following the change, Ofsted will be the sole arbiter of quality, the Department for Education said. This would free up councils to focus their resources on ensuring that the most disadvantaged children are able to access early education that meets their needs.

In today’s speech, Truss also confirmed that the government intends to relax the child-staff ratios in those nurseries that ensure their employees are highly qualified. Child-adult ratios for two-year-olds will be increased from four to one to six to one, and for one-year-old children and younger from three to one to four to one.

Childminders will also be allowed to look after up to a maximum of four children under the age of five, of which no more than two can be babies aged under one-year-old. Childminding agencies will be established to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ service, providing childminders with administrative support and parents with quality assurance.

These changes will be backed by more rigorous and demanding qualifications for people who want to pursue a career in child care and early years education, Truss said. A new graduate-level Early Years Teacher position will be introduced and Early Years Educator roles will also be created requiring candidates to have achieved at least a C grade in GCSE English and Maths.

Truss said the government was doing ‘everything it can’ to ensure child care was high quality and affordable.

‘Parents want a choice of quality and home-based care, quality nursery care or a combination of the two. Our proposals for overhauling childcare qualifications, having early years teachers, and child-minding agencies, underpinned by a robust inspection regime, will provide this.’

But the proposals attracted strong criticism from the child care sector.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Daycare Nurseries Association, said: ‘We are particularly concerned about suggestions to increase the number of children under three that nursery staff can look after, due to the degree of personal attention needed by very young children. Strong adult-child interactions are vital for good child development. Staff with higher qualifications will still find it difficult to give larger groups of under threes the level of practical care they need.’

She added that it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the government’s proposals would lead to a reduction in nursery fees. Insisting on more qualifications for staff would drive up wages, offsetting any savings from increased staff-child ratios, Tanuku said.

The National Childminding Association and the Pre-School Learning Alliance also expressed concerns about the relaxation in staff-child ratios.

The Institute for Public Policy Research argued that publicly funded child care systems, such as those that operate in Nordic countries, were better at delivering high-quality and sustainable early years education.

‘Instead of proposing tax reliefs and additional voucher schemes, the government should continue to invest in free or heavily subsidised early-years provision, building on its extension of free nursery places for low-income two-year-olds,’ said Dalia Ben-Galim, associate director at the IPPR.



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