Nick Clegg questions changes on nursery staff ratios

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted that childcare policies must be led by evidence after signalling he did not support loosening ratios of staff to children in nurseries.

Mr Clegg said discussions were continuing in government but responses to a consultation on plans to relax the restrictions had highlighted problems with the proposals.

He said he was “absolutely passionate” about improving the quality and availability of childcare but “we have got to get this right”. Mr Clegg also questioned whether any change in policy would result in cheaper childcare costs for parents.

Asked during his phone-in show on LBC 97.3 if the Prime Minister was aware of his concerns, Mr Clegg said: “We have been talking about this for weeks and weeks.”

The policy, being championed by Tory Education Minister Liz Truss, emerged after months of wrangling between the coalition parties. From September, the ratio for children aged under one had been due to rise from three per adult to four.

Each would be able to look after six two-year-olds instead of four, but the ratio for three-year-olds would stay at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate was present.

Ms Truss has argued that the changes would lower childcare costs and allow professionals in the sector to be paid higher salaries. But Mr Clegg said looking after four two-year-olds was “already quite a handful”.

He said: “I have got young children... they have been through nursery so I know how much parents will really care that we get this right in terms of improving both the affordability of childcare, which we must do, but also the quality.

“A lot of people basically got back in the consultation and said this isn’t going to work, particularly for very small children, it isn’t necessarily going to be passed on in terms of cost savings to parents.”

He added: “We have got to get this right; we are still discussing this within government.”

Mr Clegg said his stance on the ratio would not affect wider reforms to childcare, including tax breaks worth £1,200 for families where both parents work.

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