Childcare reforms must be seen, not just heard

So now nursery carers will be able to look after more children, which means more nursery places, and more overwhelmed teachers

Share
Related Topics

With every week, the Government seems to become more like a fat, desperate town crier, walking up and down with his silly bell, straining his voice to be heard in the market square of UK plc. He’s ruddy-faced, bloated and limping slightly. Despite the fact that some people have thrown buckets of water over him, he keeps shouting in a jolly, aristocratic baritone, announcing imaginary improvements which no one can understand.

Now, heaven help us, the town crier has a special message for a special interest group. “Hear ye, lady womb-owners and infant-bearers of this parish! The great eye in the sky hath seen your recessional pain! Ye can barely afford to work! Ye do not have any monies remaining after paying for childcare! Lo, now we will allow you to put as many of your children in the care of others as ye like! No restrictions on the numbers and to hell with health and safety! All at the same time and for the same monies! Or something like this. We are not quite sure yet.”

As he burped out this half-formed thought, the town crier found himself wearing ladies’ clothes – a Boden wrap dress, in fact! – and taking on the attributes of children’s minister Liz Truss. The town crier does not often take a woman’s form as he is not much concerned with women’s business. But votes are votes and childcare is a vote winner!

So here was the big news: a plan to boost the qualifications of nursery carers (no one can quite say how) and increase the child-to-carer ratio. So each carer will be allowed to look after six two-year-olds rather than four. They can mind four under-ones instead of three.

Ta-da! It’s magic! More nursery places! Ring the bell triumphantly!  Clear the market square for the dancing bears!

Kids galore

Except it doesn’t work. Two adults in charge of a dozen two-year-olds? Qualifications will not help you there. Ear plugs and sainthood might. Also, how does this make life easier for parents? There is no shortage of nursery places. There is a shortage of affordable, quality nursery places.

Truss cites European case studies as evidence, saying there are no limits to the ratio in Denmark, Germany or Sweden. But in Scandinavian countries, they don’t count nursery assistants in their staff numbers. In any case, the logic is flawed. Pick the most qualified, pay them more and dump more children on them? Anyone who has looked after  pre-schoolers knows they do not respond to qualifications. They respond to time and individual attention. They’re pretty inconvenient, that way.

This is why this scheme won’t even do what it’s designed to do: encourage more women to go back to work (to what jobs, anyway?). If anything, it will make existing working parents more worried about the standards in nurseries. If you’re used to your child being one of four and suddenly they’re one of six, wouldn’t you consider moving them? Ah, but it’s all voluntary, says the Government. Nurseries don’t have to change their numbers. It’s only if they feel like it. So what’s the point, then?

If you read the not-so-small print behind this initiative, it’s not even a policy, it’s just a suggestion. It’s another way of looking as if you’re doing something when you’re actually doing nothing. It’s only because the town-crier has put on a dress this week that anyone has paid any attention at all. Turns out it was just the usual guff. Which reminds me, I can’t help feeling that if there were more women in Government available to front these announcements, any change to childcare arrangements might be meaningful and significant instead of pointless and “voluntary”. Maybe if you like ratios so much, that’s one you could have a look at?

What plan?

What’s most tragic, though, is that this non-move is divisive. It just makes people without children think, “What are you breeders always moaning about? They are always making life easier for you. What have they ever done for us?” When in fact no breeders have been remotely helped at all by anything that has been discussed in the past 24 hours.

This pathetic, doesn’t-add-up-to-anything so-called plan is a whole pile of nothing too late. Please, Government: if you are going to do something about childcare, will you just do it instead of banging on about it all the time? Allocate money. Devise an attractive commercial model. A lot of you are businessmen (with the emphasis on “men”): you must know how to do this. But no. You will not do this. Instead, you will put your energies into tax breaks for the rich. On you go. People voted for you, so it seems you are allowed to. Just be honest about your values while you go about it.

Meanwhile, Liz Truss’s report, “More Great Childcare”, should be re-titled “More Tomfoolery Designed to Convey the Impression that We Are Helping Parents When We Are Not”. Although that would have been a bit of a mouthful for the gouty old town crier. Still, at least he got to wear a dress and talk in a high voice for a bit. Bless him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Peter Mandelson first resigned from the cabinet on 23 December 1998  

2015's dim-sum index has too many courses

John Rentoul
 

I'm just as merry without a drink, thank you

Fiona Sturges
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015