Education & Family

Nursery ratio climb down is confirmed

Image caption Mr Clegg telephoned leaders in the childcare sector last week, telling them the plans were "dead in the water"

Plans to let nurseries and childminders in England look after more children have been abandoned, the Education Minister Elizabeth Truss has confirmed.

The changes, which were due to come in this autumn, would have allowed an increase in the ratio of children to carers, as long as carers' qualifications met new standards.

But Ms Truss told MPs there had been a failure to secure government agreement.

The change was signalled by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week.

Mr Clegg had telephoned leaders in the childcare sector last Wednesday morning and told them the plans were "dead in the water".

No agreement

Now, on Tuesday, speaking during a report stage debate on the Children and Families Bill, Ms Truss confirmed the plans would be dropped, saying there had been a failure to secure coalition government agreement on the issue.

She told the Commons the proposals had been "in line with best practice" on the continent.

"I firmly believe these flexibilities would allow nurseries to offer more choice of high quality childcare places, invest additional revenue in attracting the best staff, and reduce cost for parents," she said.

"However, as I have already made clear... it has not been possible to reach cross government agreement so we are not proceeding with this reform.

"This will not stop me from working to make affordable, quality childcare available to all. I am absolutely committed to this goal - it is a matter of pressing need."

The chairman of the Education Select Committee, Graham Stuart, described Mr Clegg's behaviour surrounding the childcare ratios as "shameful".

"My understanding is the Deputy Prime Minister did sign up to this and later on, for political or other reasons, withdrew.

"I think that is shameful if it leads to less flexibility available in our childcare system when we do have a childcare system that lacks quality and has too high a level of expense."

High bills

Ms Truss told MPs families in Britain faced bills which were far too high, especially compared to those in countries such as France or Germany.

She said: "The current child care system is not working for parents. The real cost of child care has risen by 77% in real terms since 2003.

"Families in England pay some of the highest costs in the world, some spend 27% of net family income on childcare. In comparison parents in France spend just 11% of their income on childcare."

Ms Truss said early years educators and early years teaching qualifications were reforms the government would pursue in the Bill, alongside tax free child care and directing more money to the front line.

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