Currently there are regulations in this country which stipulate how many children of a particular age can be cared for by 1 adult. For 0-2s it’s 1 adult to 3 children, for 2 year-olds it’s 1:4 and for 3+ 1:8 (or 1:13 for a qualified teacher).
Why are there ratios? The obvious answer is for safety reasons. We’ve all heard about situations where an incident occurs which swallows up the attention of one of the adults. The margin of risk can narrow quite dramatically should another incident occur (or one of the other adults be unexpectedly elsewhere).
The less immediately obvious, but also critical reason for fewer children per adult is for social, emotional and educational development. Fewer available adults means that opportunities for learning and interaction are considerably reduced. Across the country, speech and language therapists working with children rely heavily on the skills of early years practitioners (EYPs). It’s fair to say that good pre-school provision really does give children the best start in life – and it’s all about the availability of an experienced workforce.
We can educate the workforce – we can help develop their skills and confidence to deliver not only for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) but for every child – but the staff need to be physically available and have the capacity for continuing professional development (CPD).
Recent reports indicate that the Government is considering not only reducing but scrapping ratios altogether – leaving it up to individual settings to decide for themselves. Whilst professional, high-quality settings will continue to provide what is right and appropriate there will be others where the financial implications mean that fewer staff (equalling lower costs) might amount to a significant temptation in the current economic climate. Think about what will have to give – because assuredly, something will! The requirement to employ supply staff to cover sickness, for example, or meet the professional development needs of the staff team, simply disappear.
Even in the best of settings there is likely to be more fire-fighting (equalling disruption to the usual curriculum and less exposure to learning opportunities).
As is always the case, the most disadvantaged families will suffer and it is so often the children in these families who most need the wealth and breadth of experience and the fun that quality pre-school settings provide.
Decision-makers need real-life experience of the aspects of our society over which they hold such power. They need to seek out (and listen to) experienced practitioners in the field – people who are on the ground and doing the job.
Let’s hope this is just a rumour… one of those ‘ideas’ Governments put out there to test the waters of public opinion.