Sunderland nursery owner slams Government's 'reckless, dangerous and disgusting' decision to increase minimum child-to-staff ratio

A nursery owner has blasted the Chancellor’s budget announcement about increasing children to staff ratios and has called the change “disgusting, reckless and dangerous”.

During his Spring Budget delivery to Parliament, Jeremy Hunt announced the phased-in expansion of free childcare for one and two-year-olds and also announced the current stipulated minimum staff to child ratios for two-year-olds would increase from one to four to one to five.

Michelle Barr is co-owner of Washington-based Buttons Nursery and has previously spoken to the Echo about chronic under-funding of the Early Years sector.

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While the move will reduce costs, Michelle lambasted the decision and vowed she will not be implementing it.

Michelle, 38, said: “There’s no way these ratios should be adjusted and I think it’s a disgusting decision. I’m really annoyed about it. It’s reckless, dangerous and something we will not be doing.

"After hearing the announcement, I spoke with the staff-team and they’re adamant you shouldn’t mess with these ratios.”

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Michelle feels the decision could potentially deter people from entering or remaining in the profession.

Buttons Nursery co-owner Michelle Barr (front) has labelled the Government's decision to increase child to staff nursery ratios for two-year-olds as "dangerous and disgusting".Buttons Nursery co-owner Michelle Barr (front) has labelled the Government's decision to increase child to staff nursery ratios for two-year-olds as "dangerous and disgusting".
Buttons Nursery co-owner Michelle Barr (front) has labelled the Government's decision to increase child to staff nursery ratios for two-year-olds as "dangerous and disgusting".
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She said: “These children are the most precious things in the world to parents and so there’s already a massive responsibility for staff who, due to under-funding, are often paid the minimum wage.

"I just don’t think it’s fair to expect even greater responsibility and expect them to take on even more. It’s an extra burden of stress and I wouldn’t blame nursery practitioners if they considered looking at other careers.

“I saw a photograph of Jeremy Hunt in a nursery. It was obviously staged for the announcement as they’ve not got a clue what it’s like to look after this number of children at this age. Before making these decisions they should maybe spend a day working in a nursery to see just what it’s like.”

Michelle also cited the response of the charity The Oliver Steeper Foundation, established by the parents of Oliver who died at the age of nine months while in a nursery setting.

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When the idea of increasing child to staff ratios emerged in July last year (2022), the Foundation launched a Parliamentary petition against any change which was signed by 109,488 people.

Following the Chancellor’s announcement, the Foundation tweeted: “I’m so sorry to everyone that our campaign has just been totally ignored by the Government.

"We’ve spent the past two years campaigning to stop these ratio changes. The Government announced in January they had cancelled the plans and now they’ve just announced it’s happening as if it is something brilliant they’ve come up with to cure the cost of living crisis, when actually it puts children at significant risk with less eyes per child during vital times such as feeding and playing.”

The Department for Education (DfE) said the health and safety of children will always be their “utmost priority” and ratio changes were brought in to give providers “more flexibility in how they run their settings while maintaining safety and quality of care”.

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The DfE said the changes were implemented following consultation within the sector which indicated “some settings would utilise these new ratio changes” and could also “see a financial gain”.

The response also cited the changes are “inline with Scotland and other comparable countries” and settings could choose to continue with the previous ratios.