Childcare ratio change is ratio-ning attention, and courting danger

13 May

I’m a tad late to the party on this one, but it’s never too late to be genuinely concerned.

For some months now there have been rumblings that the Government is planning to increase the ratio of children to adults in childcare situations in the UK. Bear in mind that already Gove has decreed that 30 is no longer the maximum for a primary class. This is leading to teachers in the public sector simply performing crowd control, or schools forced to spend budget usually deployed elsewhere on employing extra classroom support so this doesn’t become the case. As a result, it is slowly eating away at one of the fundamental pillars of our – in the main – excellent state education system, and therefore in the not-too-distant future, at the standards it can achieve.

And now the Government turns its Vulcan death stare to childcare. With a huge number of UK children in paid childcare situations, decisions here are not affecting a minority. Not, I hasten to add, that it would matter if it was. It would still be wrong, unkind, and potentially catastrophic. Liz Truss and Stephen Twigg battle it out in the ‘for and against’ video here (who’s that woman on Liz Truss’s right as you look at the footage, I ask you?); a well-reasoned piece from a specialist against it is here. And as a bonus ball, here’s an article on the Tories’ ‘childcare expert’ that I had to share, as it beggars belief. And, in addition, I would like to tell you a story.

On the day my little girl L1 turned three, she was in her kind, attentive, well-staffed nursery. We had given her her pressies and had the following day – which also happens to be my birthday – off for a double-bubble celebration; so as a consequence, that day, I was in work. I was five months pregnant with L2 at the time.

Unknown to us, my poor little girl must have had a viral infection, as mid-way through the morning, one of my department popped her head round the door (I was in a lengthy meeting) looking pretty frightened. “Your nursery’s trying to get hold of you”, she said, “L1 has fainted and she’s going to hospital.”

Needless to say it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Lovely marketing team members got me out of the office replete with £20 to get me home by cab if push came to shove, but the train’s faster; and with an hour and a half commute ahead of me – at least – to get from work to hospital; M AWOL; and my mother while find-able and on her way, still a little distance away, my tiny daughter had no-one with her at that very difficult point in her small life. Except, of course, she did.

Because there were enough staff members at that nursery for her key worker to hold her close until the ambulance came, to travel to hospital with her in the ambulance, to be there until we could be, and then to wait with us all until we knew that – thank God – everything was alright.

What would have happened to my baby, my just-three year old if she was at nursery after Liz Truss’s threatened reformation? Well probably they wouldn’t have noticed her unconscious so fast, for a start. And she would likely have been sent in an ambulance, confused, scared and unwell, on her own, with strangers, because there would have been a mere scraping of staff available to look after the kids remaining in the nursery, let alone send one off with my girl. I’ve written this with tears in my eyes from the memory, let alone the thought of what could have been. This ratio change cannot be allowed to happen.

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