Cheaper childcare – at what cost?



A recent pronouncement by Liz Truss, Education Minister for early years, very tantalisingly promised us all cheaper childcare. As most working parents have to toil for four months of the year to pay childcare costs, this seems like an attractive and popular initiative. Or is it?

Dig a little deeper and we will find how this ‘cheaper childcare’ is being funded – by making those working in early years’ care take responsibility for more children. Under the changes, staff will take care of six two year olds, not four, and the ratio of under ones will increase from three to four per worker. So, in a nutshell, by making workers deal with more children, nurseries and early years providers will be able to cut costs to parents at a stroke.

Sounds too good to be true? It probably is. How can we be sure that savings in staffing costs will be passed on to parents? In the wake of this initiative, how likely is it that we will see costs for childcare fall? My guess is that most organisations will use the money saved to pay for much-needed resources or other long-overdue major expenditure. They may be able to take in more children as a result of reduced ratios and so will require even more staff. And so the cycle goes on…

Ms Truss is promising that those who work in early years care will be better qualified. As a parent, a main requirement in sending your child to nursery is that they are safe and the probability of an accident is reduced. Along with the qualifications, are workers provided with an extra pair of hands and eyes to ensure the safety of the little ones? And what about the one-to-one care necessary for language and cognitive development?

So, is it all bad? In France, from which Ms Truss has taken her model, she states that crèches for under threes ‘operate with fewer staff who are better paid and better qualified than their English equivalents’. In Holland and Ireland ratios are similar. If this means that more children will have the opportunity to attend a crèche or nursery, can this be so bad?

We would welcome your thoughts and opinions.

Mr Chips@Smart