Professor Cathy Nutbrown denounced the Government plans to increase the number of toddlers nursery staff can look after as “nonsense”.
Reducing the staff to child ratio will “dilute” the quality of experience the youngest children receive in nurseries, even if staff have better qualifications, she said.
She described plans for a new Early Years Teacher qualification as “insulting and misleading” because those obtaining the title will not be granted qualified teacher status putting them on a par with colleagues in primary schools.
Prof Nutbrown, from Sheffield University’s School of Education, called for enhanced training and status for early years professionals in a Government-commissioned report on childcare qualifications, published last year.
But she said it was clear that the majority of her recommendations had been rejected or watered down in the Government’s More Great Childcare proposals, unveiled in January by Education Minister Liz Truss.
The proposals envisage better training for nursery staff – including the EYT qualification – but also set out plans to increase the number of two-year-olds each adult can care for from four to six and under-twos from three to four.
In an open letter, Prof Nutbrown said: “Trading staff-child ratios for higher qualified staff is nonsense. Watering down ratios will threaten quality. Childcare may be cheaper but children will be footing the bill.”
Setting out the results she expects from cutting staff numbers, she said: “The difference will be too few adults with too many little children; too few moments in the day for a toddler to have uninterrupted time with their key person, and too few early years practitioners to talk and work with parents.
“Who will suffer most? The youngest, most vulnerable children. Their parents, who will know that their little children will get less attention, less conversation, less holding, than they need. And with them, their early years practitioners who – though they may be well-qualified – are unable to provide the best that they can because they have had their greatest resource (their time for children) reduced.”
Prof Nutbrown warned: “Reducing the number of adults available to work with very young children will dilute any positive effects on the quality of the experiences children could expect to receive.
“To use the hoped-for enhanced quality of staff as a justification for reducing the number of adults to children in a setting makes no sense at all.”
Mistakes in early-years policies will have knock-on effects for years to come, she said, warning ministers: “Young children must not bear the costs of Government getting this wrong.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Professor Nutbrown’s review provided a valuable contribution to the development of our proposals for early education and childcare. We have taken forward several of her important recommendations but we recognise that reforms and improvement need to go much further if we are to give parents a proper choice of high quality childcare and early education.
“All the evidence shows that quality and safety are linked to high quality staff. Our reforms mean that only high quality providers will be able to have this additional flexibility.” The spokesman added that preliminary work suggested providers would be able to attract quality staff.