LETTING nursery staff look after more children will affect the care youngsters receive, Oxfordshire nurseries have warned.

One nursery owner branded the plans, which would allow single nursery staff to be in charge of up to four babies or up to six children under three, as “ludicrous”.

Children’s Minister Liz Truss yesterday announced plans to change the adult to child ratios for nurseries and childminders as a way of making childcare more affordable.

But Oxfordshire nurseries raised serious concerns about the proposal, and feared a two-tier system of child care would emerge.

Margaret Webster, 55, who owns Tiny Toes Day Nurseries in Steventon and Abingdon, said: “Good nurseries will not increase the staff-child ratio. Those that do will have less staff, more children and more workload on staff who are already overloaded. Children will suffer and nobody will be better off.”

She said even if the proposals were introduced, she would not change ratios in her nurseries as they are not expected to be compulsory.

She said: “If my staff had to look after four babies, they would be frazzled by the end of the day.

“Trying to save money by altering staff ratios is a ludicrous idea.”

As well as caring for children, staff have to make regular observations and report on each child’s day, and provide feedback to parents.

Anna Thorne, 46, is manager of Donnington Doorstep Children’s Centre in Oxford, which is set to take over the management of neighbouring Donnington Playgroup.

She said: “With ratios as they are, it’s very difficult to look after that number of young children effectively and give them the sort of care they need. I don’t think it will make childcare cheaper.

“Those parents who can afford to pay will get better quality childcare, while parents on lower incomes will end up with poorer quality childcare.”

Natalie Greatbatch, owner of Stepping Stones Nursery in Glanville Road, East Oxford, said she did not see how one person could possibly look after six two-year-olds. She said: “They are at an age where they need a lot of attention. How can you feed four babies at the same time?”

But Ros Marshall, chief executive of Kids Unlimited, which has nurseries in Oxfordshire, said relaxing staff ratios would offer nurseries flexibility to focus on qualified staff and high standards of care.

At Busy Bees, which has a nursery in Bicester, chief executives John Woodward and Marg Randles said they welcomed more flexibility.

Ms Truss said easing rules on ratios can give nurseries the “headroom to pay higher salaries”.

She insisted better wages were needed to improve the system in England, pointing out that nursery staff only earn £6.60 per hour on average.

“We have learned from other countries that deliver better-value and better-quality childcare,” she said.

“We have looked across Europe and beyond. The aim is not to replicate another country’s approach but to learn from and apply best practice.

“I have been particularly struck by the high status and trust afforded to childcare professionals in continental Europe. In particular, I am impressed by much of what happens in France.”


  • THE current ratio for children under two in nurseries is 1 adult: 3 children. Under the proposals it would be 1:4.
  • The current ratio for children aged under three in nurseries is 1:4. The proposed new ratio is 1:6.
  • The current ratio for childminders outside a nursery setting is 1:3 under fives, only one of which can be under the age of one. The proposed ratio is 1:4 under fives including up to two babies aged under one.
  • The new ratios would only be allowed if a member of staff with a new, early years educator qualification which is set to be of A-Level equivalent standard, was present. Otherwise former ratios would apply.
  • It is not planned to change the nursery ratio for children aged three or over, which is currently 1:8 or 1:13 depending on whether a qualified graduate is present.