Andrew Jackson: Schools minister Elizabeth Truss nursery ideas look like a turkey to me ...

IF, as the saying goes, less is more then it appears the Government has decided the opposite is true and that more should be less.

IF, as the saying goes, less is more then it appears the Government has decided the opposite is true and that more should be less.

I refer, somewhat obliquely I admit, to the Government’s plans for childcare.

They have spotted the problem that people are leaving the workforce to look after their children as it costs a fortune to leave little Johnny or Jemima in the hands of a childminder or nursery.

They’ve also realised people may be thinking about having less children due to the cost of having their offspring looked after.

It appears around £8,500 a year is common for a full-time nursery place in Huddersfield with the thought of paying another load for Billy or Barbara’s sibling (despite some sort of discount) leading to “not tonight darling, I’ve got a financial headache”.

So how do we get around this issue and lower the cost? More free childcare for all benefiting all levels of society? Free places for second child paid for by Government?

A cap for childcare costs with the rest paid from central taxation via a grant cashback scheme to childcare providers?

No, you let nursery and childminding staff look after more children than they are currently allowed.

I thought the same thing.

So let’s look through the numbers and what people say before we rubbish it. But we will rubbish it, because despite any amount of statistics, if an idea looks like a turkey, smells like a turkey and hops up onto the dinner table looking for the late Bernard Matthews, then I think we can all agree it’s a turkey.

First up, currently one person can look after a maximum of three ones and unders or four two-year-olds. They can look after eight three-year-olds and above or 13 if the session is led by a qualified teacher.

After these changes they can look after four one-year-olds and six two-year-olds. The numbers if you are three and above stay the same.

So then that’ll be the fees coming down – same person looking after higher number of kids.

Er, not quite. Apparently, according to Education Minister Liz Truss, this means that the charities that run these nurseries and childminding businesses will have more cash to train staff to a higher level and pay them more.

Or as our Liz, a friend to all classes, puts it: “I have been particularly struck by the high status and trust afforded to childcare professionals in continental Europe. In particular, I’m impressed by much of what happens in France.

“The well-established system of ecoles maternelles is being expanded to offer spaces for more two-year-olds while a mixture of crèche and childminder provision is in high demand for younger children.

“Many French families put down their child’s name for a French crèche as soon as they discover they are pregnant. Nursery workers are paid around £16,000, compared to about £13,000 here.

“In return, candidates are expected to have higher qualifications. We are at the bottom of the league table of our near neighbours.”

They have child soldiers in Africa as well Liz but just because they do it abroad doesn’t men we should be seeing a knee high military junta in Oakes.

The move to push through extra training will also drive up quality says our friend in the Government too.

See how I referred to the businesses that run nurseries etc as charities earlier on? You read and thought ‘they’re not charities’ but then were distracted by the mention of ecoles maternelles (a cry often heard in Huddersfield).

Now we come back to that. These places are businesses. Imagine a nursery that has 50 kids – eight one and under, 15 two and under and 27 three and above. That’s 23 x £8,500 for the under threes which is just short of £200,000.

Now for your threes you get 15 hours free so we’ll say that’s two days out of five. So proportionately we now have £5,100. Multiply that by 27. That’s just a bit under £140,000. Under the changes you need two, not three people for the ones and under and three rather than four for the twos. That’s a saving of £26,000 a year!

Whoops we forgot our ooh la la bonus of £3,000 for extra qualifications – that’s the five staff in ones and twos so that’s £15,000 gone from our saving.

Do the people in the three and above room get it? If they’re not teachers then there’s at least four of them – that’s another £12,000. Wait a minute, I’ve overspent by a thousand!

So far we’re a thousand pounds worse off, with fewer staff and we’ve not reduced costs to parents at all. I’m no expert, but this doesn’t sound like a success to me.

Someone who is an expert is Professor Eva Lloyd of the University of East London, who has advised our Liz on childcare.

She said: “The ratio relaxation is unlikely to reduce childcare costs, but may well drive down childcare quality.”

I think it’s time for Liz to get the Paxo out for her idea.

 

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