Clegg wins coalition’s childcare ratio tussle

Conservative plans to increase childcare ratios are conspicuously absent from today's final proposals from the Department for Education, handing Nick Clegg a sizeable coalition victory over Michael Gove.

Today's statement from children's minister Elizabeth Truss on improving the supply of affordable childcare instead focuses on helping schools provide more after-school and holiday care.

On a day of coalition disagreement over the divisive review looking at options into the like-for-like renewal of Trident, the Lib Dems were able to enter into gloating mode over the demise of plans to broaden childcare ratios.

Truss had argued the case for changing the adult to child ratio from 1:3 to 1:4 for children aged under two years old.

The ratio for two-year-olds would have been increased from 1:4 to 1:6 under the ambitious education reforms outlined in this year's Queen's Speech.

Prof Cathy Nutbrown, the coalition's adviser on the issue, dismissed the proposals as making "no sense at all" and Clegg was quick to intervene to voice his concerns.

Childcare providers told the changes would have been resisted by those in the sector because of the importance of convincing prospective parents their children would be better looked after at their nursery or crèche than at those of nearby rivals.

Families in Britain spend 27% of their income on childcare costs, compared to 11% in countries like France.

Without tackling ratios the coalition's headline reforms instead make it easier for schools to provide childcare beyond the school day and in holidays.

The moves attracted instant criticism from Labour, which pointed out its extended schools programme had been scrapped by the coalition in 2010.

"After her big idea to cram more toddlers into the same nurseries had to be dropped, Liz Truss has had to resort to stealing Labour ideas from 2005," shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson said.

"Ninety-nine per cent of schools were delivering the extended schools core offer of wraparound childcare and family support in 2010, but this government abolished the funding and removed the guarantee for parents."

Today's More Affordable Childcare paper instead extends the principles of Gove's school reforms to pre-school years and the childcare sector.

Nurseries rated good or outstanding will receive their funding directly from the government, rather than via local authorities, and nurseries and childminders will no longer have to complete paperwork such as 'learning journeys'.