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Live webchat about childcare reform with Liz Truss, Education & Childcare Minister, Thursday 7 February, 1pm

(408 Posts)
JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 06-Feb-13 13:14:14

Hello hello,

We'll be welcoming the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare - Elizabeth Truss MP - for a webchat on Thursday Feb 7th (tomorrow) 1pm - 2pm.

As the Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, Elizabeth Truss lives in Downham Market with her husband and two daughters. She was brought up in Yorkshire and, before entering Parliament, worked as the Deputy Director at the think-tank Reform. She also worked in the energy and telecommunications industry for 10 years and is a qualified management accountant.

Elizabeth recently wrote a Mumsnet guest blog on the Government's plans for childcare reform, which generated this recent thread - and childcare expert Penelope Leach responded to the proposals here.

Do post your question in advance on this thread, or join us live on Thursday 1pm-2pm.

And, as ever, a gentle reminder to all to stick to our webchat guidelines.

Many thanks.

midnightexpress Thu 07-Feb-13 10:16:28

Hi. My question is not about childcare ratios but about your comments regarding teaching children to read and write in the pre-school years. Why do you think this is necessary, when huge amounts of evidence suggest that a later start to formal schooling is more beneficial to child development and achievement?

Fortunately, my children are out of pre-school now and won't be affected by this, but I would be extremely unhappy for my children to be sitting learning to read and write at the age of 3 or 4, when they should be climbing trees and making a mess with paint.

Both this and the childcare ratios seem to pay absolutely NO heed to what is best for children.

MerrieEngland Thu 07-Feb-13 10:26:34

As a working parent, who wishes to carry on working, the cost and availability of childcare is currently a major disincentive from continued active participation in employment. I am hopeful that your reforms will be implemented to make life easier for my husband and me. But I think that there should also be fewer complications in the tax system. Please can you ask the Chancellor to simplify the tax system, introduce flatter rates, and remove complex rules that distort decisions and provide a disincentive to people like me who want to work hard, do the right thing for ourselves and our country, yet also want to do the best thing for our children, so that they are able to grow up and thrive in a country that is fair and economically competitive.

sarahnev707 Thu 07-Feb-13 10:41:33

Dear Ms Truss,

Over 40,000 childminders, early years professionals and parents have now signed 2 petitions against changes to ratios... one directed to you and one to the Dept for Education. They are on if you would like to browse under 'early years'.

Many more childminders are going to be writing to you over the next few days and weeks to share their concerns about childminders and agencies - some emails should already have reached your inbox.

Concerns about your plans are wide ranging. However, they are mostly focussed on 2 main areas - our children's health, safety, wellbeing and outcomes... and our future business sustainability.

My question is - when are you going to start listening to us?

My follow up question - do you really think pushing these plans through and giving interviews where you talk about them as a fait accompli without support from the majority of the people the plans affect is a good career decision?

PS. I am very concerned that you do not fully understand current childminder ratios as you made a mistake in your recent interview with NW magazine. I am more than happy to take you through them if you would like to contact me.

All the best, Sarah

BoffinMum Thu 07-Feb-13 10:44:19

Hello Liz,

I was wondering, do you think it might be possible to make taxation more favourable in terms of childcare? For example making this category of employment exempt from employers' NI contributions? It seems an obvious way to me of reducing costs to employers/parents but that kind of thing is never discussed, and I was wondering what you thought about this?


OptimisticPessimist Thu 07-Feb-13 10:45:36

I think the ratio issue has been well covered already (and it thankfully won't affect us here in Scotland) so I'd like to ask a different childcare related question.

If your Government is so committed to helping working families afford childcare, then why in its very first budget did it cut the childcare element of working tax credits from 80% to 70%? This was a change that cost parents of two or more children £30 a week, which is a massive amount for those on low incomes. It had a massive impact on me as a lone parent, and I ended up resigning and now claim income support. The childcare element puts money into the economy by contributing to the employment and income of childcare workers, so what reason did your Government have for cutting this benefit?

ElizabethTruss Thu 07-Feb-13 11:11:43


JaneGMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 07-Feb-13 11:15:45

Hi there,

The National Childminding Association's Joint Chief Executives, Catherine Farrell and Liz Bayram, have asked us to pose the following question:

"How will you ensure that local authorities continue to support individual childminders to improve rather than relying on childminding agencies alone?"


ChildminderH Thu 07-Feb-13 11:29:06

In your speech you talk about the gap between England and East Asia in terms of the average PISA maths score and state that this gap is already there by 5 years old.

Children in Singapore do not actually start primary school until they are 7 and the staff:pupil ratio when they first attend kindergarten at age 4 is 2:15 (1 teacher, and 1 teacher's aid) compared to 2:26 in our F1 classes, so how is a relaxation of ratio's for our youngest children going to help this, and should we not be looking to reduce our class sizes as a means of closing this gap?

LesbianMummy1 Thu 07-Feb-13 11:30:55


As a childminder I am slightly confused by your proposals as they seem slightly contradictory.

If you want to improve care and education higher ratios are surely a disadvantage as less individual time per child.

If you want to promote lower costs to parents surely improving funding systems is more efficient than increasing requirements for qualified staff, surely higher qualifications equal higher pay rates.

If you want to ensure all childminders are offered equal preferences based on grading and qualifications so proposing scrapping local authority support and putting it under Ofsted remit to ensure a level playing field why have agencies that will have variations.

Could you please clarify where I am making my error?

Thank you

starlight78 Thu 07-Feb-13 11:33:05


I think this country needs a major wake up call-the majority of parents for years and years have wanted the same thing-affordable childcare. Affordable in the sense that parents should feel that they are indeed better off working rather than claiming benefits simply because they are worse off if they are working. In my personal situation, I have 2 kids under the age of 3, and I simply cannot see myself going back to work full time as childcare costs will mean that I have almost nothing to live on.

We need some sort of major reform that will help working parent and also help parents get back to work if they are unemployed. Cutting back on childcare ratio is not the way forward.

MsWobble Thu 07-Feb-13 11:43:04

As a parent of preschool age children, I am horrified by these proposals.

I have three main questions.

Who is going to benefit here?

Not parents who will at best pay the same for lower quality care or more for providers who raise prices for maintaining existing ratios.

Not nursery staff who will be asked to take on additional work where any corresponding pay rise from a reduction in staff will either be non existent or so modest that it will in now way compensate for the additional workload and stress.

Possibly only the big nursery chains who could pocket some profit but these will not be seen as the desirable providers.

Why would I return to work when I would be concerned about the welfare of my children?

If these ratios were implemented then the result for me would be giving up work as the welfare and development of my children would have to come first. Many parents feel the same so a negative impact on the economy.

These proposals are therefore likely to deter parents from returning to work. A GCSE does not make someone capable of caring for 4 infants, it does not give someone more eyes, arms and laps. How could a parent of a one year old be confident that their child's basics needs of food, sleep and clean nappy be met on these ratios.

Is this really how little the government values ordinary families?

There was an opportunity to come up with some real sustainable, valuable childcare policies and support for working parents, yet the heart of the proposal is lower quality care . Thanks a lot.

The response from parents, childcare providers and professionals is overwhelmingly negative, please take these real concerns about our children into account.

Sharonmanc Thu 07-Feb-13 11:44:28

I am deeply distressed by the proposals for agencies for childminders. Why was their no consultation? The childminders you supposedly spoke to with regards this who were they? As it is obvious from your proposals the childminders you spoke to are the ones who are "lagging behind" to want an agency to tell them what to do. I for one do not. I run my own business I do not want to be dictated to by an agency, nor do I want to pay a percentage of my own very low wage ( as this is the only way I can see these being run) to an agency when I can do what they are supposedly for, myself.

If agencies are introduced I shall be leaving this profession (as it is a profession ) childminders offer a unique service, they offer parents choice and flexibility at a lower cost than most other childcare providers. I am not simply there for crowd control ( which I would be If you increase ratio's) I offer quality education and car to the little ones I look after. I left a career in teaching, am qualified to post graduate level and was graded good by Ofsted in my recent inspection under the revised EYFS (apparently I cannot get outstanding as I am new to childminding) so I take offence to your recent comments about childminders " lagging behind" as they are in the minority not the majority.

ChildrenAtHeart Thu 07-Feb-13 11:59:09

So many questions I hardly know which one to select. However, as many others have already reflected my thoughts on the proposed ratios (e.g. we will not be able to provide the levels of safety, care and attention needed to promote their development and learning, no matter what qualifications we hold) etc. I will therefore focus on a subject to my childminding heart. How will you ensure that childminders who choose not to join an agency will not be disadvantaged in any way, including access to training and support; accessing funding; providing funded early years education; and advertising their services?
For further information on my views please see the attached which has been copied to Ms Truss

Dawnev Thu 07-Feb-13 12:04:42

I am a network accredited child minder, good with outstanding features at last inspection, a lead child minder for my local peer to peer support cluster and a national policy forum representative for the NCMA. I have three degrees, including a BA in Early Years and am about to confirm my skills/knowledge through the EYPS.

I want to know why the minister feels the setting up of agencies will increase quality child minder numbers when it is very clear from the discussions I have been involved in both locally and nationally that many of the quality child minders already operating have stated they will either not join an agency or will leave the profession if having agencies impacts on their ability to trade independently! There are already very good examples of support networks operating in local authority areas and on social media sites that provide much of what the minister is using as a reason for the implementation of an agency model. In my local authority area we have the following:

* Volunteer run drop in daytime sessions operating from community centres and children's centres that support child minders (new and old) in implementing the EYFS and embedding good practice.
* Volunteer run evening meetings supported by the local authority and children's centre through partnership working in delivering a facility to share good practice, discuss concerns, gain support, deliver specific training to address local need and allow networking between child minders to be able to support each others families during periods of sickness or holiday cover
* Lead child minders (volunteers) supported by the local authority in being a support to existing child minders with business questions/issues, support in care of children, information on training and sign posting to other services and support
* Link child minders (volunteers) supported by the local authority in supporting people going through the process of registration and for the first six to twelve months after registration before linking them into their local lead child minder and cluster group.
*accredited network for those child minders wishing to show parents an additional commitment to the provision of quality services and the ability to offer early years entitlements on a level playing field to nursery and pre-school settings
*NCMA Local peer to peer group, run by child minders for child minders. This supports local child minders through face to face meetings but also through specific online community support

How can the minister suggest that child minders do not have access to quality support in order to encourage more people to enter the profession or believe that to undermine these existing services by introducing agencies that will charge child minders for these same services that they currently access for FREE will drive down prices for parents and improve quality.

Her thinking and statements made over the past week suggest that she is less than familiar with the current EYFS and with the way many child minders already operate within existing networks. I would like her reassurance that before agencies are piloted that she will engage actively, in person, in visiting areas such as my own (Wigan Local Authority) to see the damage these agencies will do to current quality provision.

Dawn Heaps

elisbet Thu 07-Feb-13 12:22:42


I am an experienced early years practitioner, qualified to Level 4 and currently studying towards an early years degree. I have chosen to return to work as a childminder rather than as a nursery based practitioner because I believe in the value of home environments for building positive relationships with very young children which nurtures their love of learning, and I am dismayed by the proposals in 'More Great Childcare'.

My colleagues have already raised the problems with ratio changes, agencies, and fees, so I would like to ask why you inaccurately state in a footnote of page 7 of your report, that nurseries provide "education and childcare" and that childminders provide "childcare"? We ALL work within the EYFS framework to support young children's learning and development in an evidence-based developmentally appropriate way.

As a follow up question, I would like to ask why you ignoring the elements of the EYFS that already support children's developing literacy skills and are calling for more formal strategies, when there is sound evidence that this does not improve outcomes, and indeed may well damage outcomes, particularly for vulnerable children?

Lostonthemoors Thu 07-Feb-13 12:47:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 07-Feb-13 12:52:26

Very pleased to say that the Minister is hear and will be kicking off shortly.

Bicnod Thu 07-Feb-13 12:54:04

I haven't read all the questions on this thread so apologies if this has already been asked.

What is the government proposing to do to support self-employed people who have childcare costs?

I had to quit my job after my second maternity leave ended as the commuting and childcare costs combined for 3 days a week made it impossible to return (I would have been paying for the privilege) and my employer turned down my application to work 3 days in 2 as compressed hours - with good reason I might add.

I now have my two DC in childcare two days a week and I work from home 2 days a week as a freelancer + bits and pieces evenings/weekends (when I don't need to pay for childcare).

Will there be anything like the voucher scheme available to make it possible to pay for childcare pre-tax if you are self-employed? And if not, why not?

Thanks very much.

ElizabethTruss Thu 07-Feb-13 12:54:15


It's great to be here at Mumsnet - really looking forward to the chat today.

I'm going to try to get through as many questions as I can.



bob567 Thu 07-Feb-13 12:55:41

I would like your input on how childminders are supposed to safely take children out of the house if our ratios are increased. At present I can't even fill my full ratio of 6 children (including my own) as I am unable to collect my own children from school or go on outings by car.
The benefit of a childminder is being able to access facilities in the community, playgroup, library, parks etc. which many nurseries can't offer children. Increasing our numbers will make many childminders housebound which would have a hugely negative impact on the children's well being and care.

Bicnod Thu 07-Feb-13 12:56:02

Oh, and FWIW, my CM, who also used to be Manage of a reputable day nursery, thinks the new ratios are ridiculous and will result in poorer quality childcare. She thinks (and I agree) that it will force good quality CMs who don't want to raise their numbers because they want to give the children in their care the attention they need and deserve to compete with people who lower their charges and increase their numbers as a way of making more money.

ElizabethTruss Thu 07-Feb-13 12:58:03


How is increasing nursery ratios going to benefit the children? They will get even less attention than they do in current childcare settings, and young babies need interaction and responsive attention. How are staff going to supply this with such high ratios?
And what can you say to reassure parents who will no longer feel comfortable leaving their children in childcare due to the above point?

The issue we've got at the moment with childcare is that we have some of the lowest salaries for childcare workers in Europe and the highest cost to parents. £6.60 ph is the average wage of a childcare worker, which isn't much more than the minimum wage. The consensus by Ofsted and the OECD is that the most important factor in the outcomes for children is having really good qualifications and high staff quality. I'm really concerned that at the moment it's difficult to attract and retain staff at that level of pay. What we're saying is that there's an option for nurseries, so this isn't compulsory, to have more flexibility over their staff numbers if they upskill the workforce. These changes would bring us into line with most European countries, for example, Scotland, France and Ireland all have higher ratios than we do.

CinnamonStix Thu 07-Feb-13 12:58:11

The Room Leader at DS's pre-school asked me innocently the other day, "I know we've got written down that he's not allowed sweets, but can I check he's allowed skittles?"

I don't think having a grade C in GCSE maths and English has helped - qualifications don't give you common sense.

On another occasion, I questioned where the carbs and greens were at tea when they informed me he had beans and one fish finger for tea. They said, "the children had their greens and carbs at lunch".

Is it not crucial to improve the education and standards of food in nurseries, as well as having a grade C in GCSE maths and English? Why has this not been addressed?

ElizabethTruss Thu 07-Feb-13 13:00:36


How will you ensure that these highly qualify/highly trained Early Years Teachers are paid the same as Reception or Primary School Teachers?

Early Years Professionals were supposed to have the same status as Qualified Teacher Status but few EYPs are paid as well as those with QTS?

One of the issues we've got is the massive gap in salaries between primary schools and early years. I think that early years are probably the most important in terms of a child's development, and yet as a country we don't value that at the moment. So what we're doing is making the entrance requirements the same for early years teachers and school teachers, and encouraging more crossover between primary and early years.

Italiana Thu 07-Feb-13 13:03:12

Ratios and agencies were not part of CCommission
Proposals you made means we were not consulted on agencies
How will independent c/ms know how to proceed to register etc, how much it will cost in registration fee and inspections

Will you be holding meetings with independent c/ms to explain the process?

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