Sian Nisbett, Director of Dizzy Ducks

Sian Nisbett, Director of Dizzy Ducks Day Nurseries and Parenta customer comments on Childcare Ratio Cuts…

“So, Liz Truss thinks that the answer to reducing childcare costs is to cut staff ratios? Seriously, what planet is this lady on?! With all due respect, I would like to see her hold this view after spending a day looking after 12 two year olds with just one other person to help. Regardless of the proposals in place by the government, Dizzy Ducks will not be cutting our ratios, as in my opinion it will not cut costs at all to parents: it will serve only to damage the quality of childcare on offer. I’m having no part of it.

There is an argument that says if you cut ratios, then you employ higher qualified staff in place of NVQ staff. While I am all in favour of increasing “Quality” in childcare, I can’t see this working either. I see such a wide range of candidates apply to us at Dizzy Ducks. Some of the highest qualified candidates I see (who may have Qualified Teacher Status or Early Years Professional status) have very little experience in practise. Studying childcare in the classroom is VERY different to experiencing it in practise. One of my most well loved practitioners is a granny herself, with 40 years childcare experience. What is the point of a three year degree qualification, if you are then unable to engage with children in an activity, read a book with them, or encourage their development through role-play. Back to Ms Truss’s claim that cutting ratios will cut childcare costs….how can this possibly be? If I have to employ higher qualified staff, this will cost more.

Personally, I think that there is a dangerous message being sent out to parents here. They will expect a big cut in their fees and that simply isn’t going to happen. Even if nurseries did go down the route of cutting ratios (which I’m pretty sure very few will) the cost saving will be minimal. Add to that, the fact that the remaining staff will be exceptionally overworked (moving from a 1:4 ratio to a 1:6 ratio means a 25% increase in workload!) My prediction would be a hugely increased staff turnover due to low morale and exhaustion. This in turn will lead to increased recruitment costs, more staff passing through nurseries and most importantly, a lack of consistency for children which damages their educational outcomes. Hmmmm…not looking so rosy now is it Ms Truss?

Quality is the most important aspect of nursery care. Consistency of care for babies and young tots is crucial in the Early Years. Our staff are chosen because they have a regard for Quality and they have a natural ability to work with the very young. Some of my most incredible staff are Level 2 or 3 qualified with no intention to study for a degree. They are brilliant. I trust them with my daughter and she loves them. My entire staff of 160 are a mix of highly qualified, highly experienced practitioners and newly qualified, training practitioners. Everyone has a valid place in their nursery. Everyone contributes something to the team. Most importantly, we have happy children achieving excellent outcomes at the end of the Foundation Stage. If it ain’t broke…..

An overwhelming concern to me is that should this proposal be passed, we are going to end up with a two-tier system of childcare in this country. On one hand, we will have nurseries operating on the government guideline ratios and on the other hand we will have nurseries operating on the current standards. Parents will be forced to choose. I found it really interesting that parallels were made with Denmark– our childcare system could not be further removed from Denmark where childcare is often heavily subsidised by employers and children don’t start school until six years old. Its comparing apples and pears! (I also have strong opinions on raising the school starting age until six but I’ll leave that for another time!)

Children need to have good quality early education, of course they do, and I am not disputing the need to increase quality in some Early Years settings, especially those that routinely employ heaps of trainees and apprentices, with a massive staff turnover, low quality and poor outcomes for their children. I just can’t see how cutting ratios is going to tackle this!

At Dizzy Ducks, we understand that babies also need love, cuddles, hugs, reassurance, hand holding, and gentle snuggles when they wake up from sleep time. They need one to one time with practitioners who they love and trust. They need to be listened to. They need to be played with. They need our time. Having and 1:6 ratio with two staff with twelve toddlers is not going to make that “Time” possible.

Cutting ratios is not the answer to reducing the cost of childcare to parents. It doesn’t work on paper, let alone in practise. There is a consultation underway which you can be part of. Tell the government what you think.”

Dizzy Ducks Mum, Jade Wiles has her say:

Great article and response Sian…Babies have a ratio 1-3, but has any 1 person tried to pick up 3 babies under ‘normal’ circumstances, let alone under ‘emergency’ circumstances? I struggle with one baby & a pre-schooler. As for qualifications, I feel it is important that the lead person should be suitably qualified in both ‘child’ related areas AND people management, however the mixture of other practitioners should be varied for many reasons.
There’s some SMASHING staff at Dizzy Ducks who might not hold the highest of qualifications, but have captured my kids hearts & made me feel happy to leave them there whilst I’m at work, surely that is as valuable!!! Keep up the great work Dizzy Ducks!

And what do the Nursery staff think about this proposed change?  Charley Magee, Mayflower Dizzy Ducks Practitioner:

“The ratios I feel should definitely stay the way they are. It would become too overcrowded and I feel the children and staff wouldn’t enjoy their time at Dizzy Ducks as much as they should. I have just finished my level 2 but have had 4 years of experience with children, I feel hiring more, higher qualified staff is not the way forward! It shouldn’t matter what is written down on paper it should be about the experience 100% or for a new NVQ; the passion and enthusiasm for working with children!”

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