While childcarers would welcome higher wages they do not want this to be at the expense of children's safety and care.
Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of Voice
New Government plans “will not reduce the price parents pay for childcare, while changing the ratios will cut corners and compromise children's safety and the quality of provision”, according to Voice.
The union, which represents education professionals, including early years and childcare professionals, said ministers are “giving with one hand and taking away with the other”.
Education Minister Liz Truss announced the changes in a speech today. She said there would be changes to the statutory ratios for carers per child, but only if carers' qualifications meet new standards.
Ratios for two-year-olds are set to rise from four children per adult to six children per adult, and for ones-and-under to rise from three children per adult to four children per adult.
Ratios for three-year-olds and over would remain at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate was present.
Deborah Lawson, General Secretary of Voice, said:
“We welcome the raising of qualification standards and the Government's recognition of childcare as a profession – which we have been promoting and calling for for many years.
“It is important that childcarers should be well qualified and better paid, but qualifications do not give a nursery professional an extra pair of eyes or hands.
“While childcarers would welcome higher wages they do not want this to be at the expense of children's safety and care.
“When children are hurt as a result, the responsibility will be the Department's for not listening to advice and there will be demands for existing ratios to be restored.
“The staff child ratio for 3-5 year olds is 1:8. However, good practice for years has dictated 1:6 – which many providers have followed, or have done in the past. We would be very concerned about a ratio of 1:6 or 1:4 for younger and more vulnerable children.
“European models of care are not necessarily culturally and economically appropriate for our society. We should not be lowering our standards. We have to be concerned, given the lack of any evidence to support a relaxation of ratios, about the impact that relaxation would have on quality.
“The as-yet-unpublished report of the Government's own advisers said that relaxing ratios would lead to a 'deterioration' in the quality of care and would not help parents to reduce their costs.
“How can the minister claim that standards will be raised when the Government is intent on lowering some of them?
“If fewer, but better paid, staff are employed, that will not reduce the overall cost for parents. Where is the incentive for nurseries to employ more qualified staff and pay them more highly?
“The greatest cost to the industry is that of recruiting or training staff to a high level and then rewarding them appropriately – paying a salary that is consistent with the level of skill, knowledge and responsibility of a highly qualified professional.”
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said the Government “risks undermining quality and even risks undermining safety”.
"I think this is one area where we've actually got something to teach other countries,” he said.
"If you look at France, there's actually quite a big public debate about whether they've got this right. I don't think you can compare the situation with Sweden where they have very, very generous parental leave so very few young babies are in these sorts of settings.”