Press release

Parents to have more choice of high-quality childcare

Information on the government initiatives to improve state-funded childcare set out in the report ‘More great childcare’.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss

Parents will have more choice of high-quality childcare, the government outlined today in its new report ‘More great childcare’.

The current system doesn’t work. We have a poorly-paid and poorly-qualified early years workforce with many not having a grade C in GCSE English and maths.

That’s why today’s childcare reforms will ensure that we overhaul childcare qualifications, and provide more choice of quality education and care for parents.

European countries, such as France and Denmark, recognise that looking after children is an extremely important job - and that attitude is reflected in higher levels of skills and pay. In contrast, Professor Cathy Nutbrown said in her review of childcare qualifications, about England:

Too many people who work with young children are under-qualified and the system for qualifications is confusing and inadequate.

This cannot continue if we are expected to compete in a global market and we want to provide children with a complete and fulfilled education.

The first step in doing this is to make sure qualifications for the early years workforce are rigorous and more demanding.

Secondly, we propose to allow nurseries to relax ratios only where they hire highly-qualified staff. Nurseries without highly-qualified staff will need to stick to existing ratios.

Thirdly, we will set up childminding agencies who will offer a one-stop shop service for childminders - taking care of business practicalities, and quality assurance for parents.

Fourth, Ofsted will be the only arbiter of quality, reducing the burden on LAs from doing their own inspections and saving them money so more can go to the frontline.

Fifth, by abolishing the requirement on schools to register separately with Ofsted if they want to provide care and education for children under the age of 3 - we will make it easier for more schools to offer childcare and early education.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said:

It is right that the government does everything it can to ensure the provision delivering early education is of the highest quality, staff are paid better, and childcare is affordable to parents.

When parents hand their child over to the care of a childminder or nursery they are not just entrusting them with their child’s physical safety; they are also entrusting their child’s brain. With this in mind it is no longer acceptable that childcare professionals are not required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and maths.

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

At the moment, many nursery and private, voluntary and independent settings do not use full ratios. We think teacher-led settings with full ratios and structured activities are a good thing. Ofsted will favour this too. We do not mean to stipulate how all settings should behave, but we want parents to have the choice.

National mandatory ratios in different countries

Provider                      Nurseries  Nurseries  Nurseries  Nurseries
 Age       Under 1


2    3+  
England (current ratios) 1:3 1:3 1:4 1:8 or 1:13  

England (proposed ratios where there are

high quality staff)

1:4 1:4 1:6 1:8 or 1:13  
Netherlands 1:4 1:5 1:6 1:8  
France 1:5 1:8 1:8 or 1:12 1:8 or 1:26  
Ireland 1:3 1:5 1:6 or 1:11 1:8 or 1:11  
Denmark None None None None  
Germany None None None None  
Sweden None None None None  

In France, nursery staff can look after eight 2-year-olds each. In Holland and Ireland, they can look after 6 2-year-olds. But in England, they can look after only 4 2-year-olds.

And childminders in Denmark can look after 5 children under the age of 5. In France, they can look after four under-5s. In England, they can only look after 3.


Age 0   1     2      3     4      5      6  
England (current) 1:1 1:3 1:3 1:3 1:3 1:3 1:6
England (proposed) 1:2 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:6
Denmark 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5
France 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4 1:4
Germany 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5
The Netherlands 1:2 1:4 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:6 1:6
Ireland 1:2 1:2 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5 1:5
Sweden None None None None None None None

Relaxing ratios would not mean it was mandatory for childminders to look after more children. Far from it. Instead, it would allow them to exercise their professional judgement, giving them more options over how they operate.

Ros Marshall, from kidsunlimited said:

As a leading nursery operator in the UK, kidsunlimited broadly welcomes the focus and changes that the government is proposing in relation to nursery care provision.

Early years learning is a crucial stage of a child’s development and the increased recognition of its importance will benefit children and families, while the focus on qualifications will help staff in the sector gain the status and recognition that their hard work deserves.

Relaxing staff ratios will ultimately offer nurseries a degree of flexibility to focus on the best-qualified staff and highest standards of care for children and the introduction of childminder agencies will help those sole practitioners who operate to a high standard get the support network they need to thrive and reduce costly registration practices.

Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, said:

Parents throughout the country agree with government that ‘more great childcare’ is needed. We know that the shortage of affordable and accessible childcare is the biggest barrier to parents returning to work and holding down their job.

Parents also agree that childcare needs to be the highest quality. Parents need the peace of mind that their children are being well looked after by well-trained and qualified staff.

4Children welcomes the further consultations that will follow today’s launch which offer childcare experts and parents alike an opportunity to have their say on this important subject. These are complex issues and it is vital that we take the time to get it right. It is crucial that any changes that are made reduce inequality between young children from disadvantaged families and their better-off peers and we will work with government to realise that ambition.

The government’s plans to improve the quality and qualifications of staff are very welcome and offer an opportunity to look again at how childcare is organised and staffed.

The welfare of the child must be our first concern throughout but with highly-qualified early years teachers and a better inspection regime, there is an opportunity to review current arrangements and provide simpler information for parents and better incentives for providers to concentrate on what matters - children.

Ben Black, Director of My Family Care, said:

As someone who employs 200 people across various childcare businesses, I feel passionately about the issues and about the changes proposed by the government.

Childcare in the UK is very heavily subsidised, ultimately by us taxpayers, in various over-complicated ways. And yet it remains expensive and unaffordable for many.

We all know that nursery staff, given the responsibilities they have and jobs they do, are underpaid. Looking at ratios, and in some cases daring to suggest that they be relaxed, isn’t only sensible; it’s essential. The quality of nursery workers is the most important consideration for parents by a distance and there’s an obvious link between ratios, how much nursery owners can afford to pay and how many good childcarers are lost to the industry every year to marginally better-paying jobs. It’s a tragedy.

From my position as a parent and a provider giving nurseries a bit more leeway on ratios is absolutely the right approach. Ultimately that will lead to better paid jobs, better quality and more affordable childcare.

The government will report shortly on care for school age children, informal childcare and the funding regime. The childcare commission, which is looking at affordability and accessibility, will report soon.

Notes to editors

  1. More great childcare - Raising quality and giving parents more choice can be found on the Department’s website.

  2. Childminders look after children aged under 5 in their own home while their parents are at work or studying. They are registered with and inspected by Ofsted. Early education is provided in an independent setting like a nursery, or be part of a school or children’s centre. Nursery teachers work with children aged three to five in nursery schools or classes. They plan, organise and run a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities for them.

  3. Staff salaries and staff:child ratios in several European countries are outlined below. Sources are detailed in More great childcare.

  4. The government has today announced the ‘Focus on enforcement’ review of how regulation for childcare providers is enforced by national regulators and councils. Parents, childcare providers, nurseries and pre-schools are invited to provide examples of how enforcement could be improved. They are also asked to highlight where regulation is working well, so that good practice can be replicated across the sector.

The review is available at ‘Focus on enforcement’.

Average annual salaries (GBP £)

European country         Childcare (family day care) Childcare workers in more formal settings (e.g. creche or accredited play groups) Supervisors/managers of formal settings Primary school teacher
Denmark £21,500 £20,350 £32,800 £38,050
Finland £14,800 £18,800 £22,300 £28,100
France £13,250 £16,300 £23,950 £25,400
Germany £14,600 £19,150 £28,250  -
Netherlands £22,500 £22,100 £34,400 £34,000
Sweden £20,150 £22,450 £29,250 £23,250
England £11,400 £13,000 £16,850 £33,250

Supportive quote:

John Woodward, Chief Executive of Busy Bees Group and Marg Randles, Chief Executive of Busy Bees Nurseries, said:

We believe today, as we did when we started our first nursery in 1983, that the quality of our service is totally dependent upon the enthusiasm, dedication, passion, commitment and continuous development of the staff in each location. It is clear from the report that the government has the same view. We are encouraged that they see the impact high-quality nursery education and childcare has on children and their development, and we believe the sector will welcome and embrace more flexibility which can be used as they feel appropriate in their individual settings.

As we at Busy Bees continue to develop a national network of local nurseries, we agree that increased flexibility for providers will give more opportunity to deliver higher quality places and parental choice, and this should mean that women in particular feel more confident about returning to work.

We welcome initiatives that find ways of improving the quality of care and education provision in the UK, and the ways of making this provision affordable for every family. It was the lack of choice and flexibility in the sector 30 years ago that led us to sell our own homes to fund our own nursery so that we could provide the quality of childcare we needed as working parents. In our aim to make this quality childcare more affordable for working families we introduced the childcare voucher system at Busy Bees.

In our opinion the childcare voucher system is the most effective way of helping working parents save money. Some of the suggestions of making changes to ratios may work in some settings (although we will always protect our quality provision) but in reality this will only be a saving of around £3.50 a week per family who use full-time childcare. However, by raising the cap from £55 to £75 (as our campaign ‘Mind the Gap - Raise the Cap’ instigated last year) it could mean a saving of approximately £49 a week - based on 2 working parents - which would be a considerable financial benefit for our working families.

Busy Bees also supports the concept of enhancing the status of childcare workers and their continuous professional development, and has a comprehensive in-house training programme thanks to funding obtained by the SFA. Within our 213 settings we have many fabulous practitioners, many of whom have the desired grade C, and we support our staff to enhance their numeracy and literacy skills across the board. Credit must be given to the staff working within good and outstanding nurseries across the UK. We thank them for delivering great care and urge that we all look to them for practical and educational guidance as we implement areas of change.

Over the last 10 years we’ve had the benefit of looking at childcare provision around the world, and have seen for ourselves that quality childcare and early provision can be delivered in a range of styles reflecting local communities and differing cultures. It is essential that we (government, local authorities, childcare providers and schools) come together as one body, and combine innovation with ‘hands-on’ experience in order to manage the implementation of any changes that have been outlined in the report.

This sector is accustomed to change, and we at Busy Bees believe that by embracing the numerous changes over the last 30 years, we have evolved into a sustainable business with the ability to attract and retain exceptional staff, and provide the very best in childcare.

We welcome the report and the discussions it will raise.

Minister, Elizabeth Truss said:

The government has today announced the ‘Focus on enforcement’ review of how regulation for childcare providers is enforced by national regulators and councils.

Parents, childcare providers, nurseries and pre-schools are invited to provide examples of how enforcement could be improved. They are also asked to highlight where regulation is working well, so that good practice can be replicated across the sector.

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Published 29 January 2013