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Adult:Child ratio petition...

Debated in Parliament on 14th November 2022.

Why we started the petition

Oliver sadly passed away on the 29th September 2021 at the age of just 9 months after being involved in an incident at a nursery in Ashford, Kent on the 23rd September. The police investigation into Oliver's death is still ongoing but going through the pain and heartache of loosing your only child just as he was starting to say 'da da' and so on, is nothing short of inhumane. We have spent many days and nights sobbing, wishing we could change things, wishing he was still here and this was just some form of dream and we'd wake up soon. 

Unfortunatley we both know this isn't a dream, and we now feel we have a duty after being angered by the Prime Minsters suggestions of lowering the adult to child ratio (currently 1 adult to every 3 children aged 2 and below) will help towards curing the 'cost of living' crisis. This will only endanger children and place them at higher risk and have a severe effect on staff members' mental health. After speaking with many early years staff members in the last few days, a great number of those have left the industry as the felt they couldn't protect children on the current adult to child ratios. 

Boris Johnson had tasked then Education Secretary Will Quince MP with travelling around Europe, seeing how other early years settings compare to the United Kingdoms, where many operate with a different ratio structure. The fact they are willing to spend money on private plane tickets to research this idea is nothing short of absurd and frankly shocking. Mr Quince has said "The safety and quality of early years childcare is of paramount importance to me and @educationgovuk. I am looking at how to improve the cost and availability so that parents and taxpayers are getting the best value for money." but they remain researching the idea of lowering the adult to child ratios.

PM Liz Truss, as the then 'Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education' tried to overhaul the childcare sector in 2013 but was blocked by Nick Clegg who said "Relaxing child-to-staff ratios would not necessarily drive down the costs of childcare – and might even increase them – and would not necessarily improve standards." and now here we are again, the government making suggestions which will put children at risk.

After loosing Oliver in an early years setting, we feel it's our duty now to protect other children from people who are trying to overhaul the sector. These are members of parliament who will never put their own children into a local nursery/childminder because of their wealth and privileges; who simply don't live in the real world the rest of us do and don't bat an eyelid at the cost of childcare. There would be no guarantee if for whatever reason the changes did go ahead that by loosing/sacking staff members to save money, any savings would be passed along to parents anyway. Many early years staff are underpaid, overworked and anymore cuts would simply push them beyond breaking point.

Our petition reached the 100,000 signatures required for consideration for debate on 29/09/22 which is a very poignant date for us, being the first anniversary of Oliver's death. We are looking to gain the backing of MPs during our campaign over the next few months as it gathers pace. A huge thank you to everyone who has signed the petition and continue to share it across all social media platforms.

Lewis & Zoe

18/03/23 - Statement following ratio relaxation for EYFS

Now we have had time to sit and process and talk to various TV stations and radio stations about the announcement that ratio changes are being put into place as an optional extra available to early years settings from September 2025, I just wanted to air my feelings and our intentions. 

Since losing our beloved and very much missed son Oliver at the Jellybeans Day nursery in Ashford in September 2021 we have fought long and hard about the proposed ratio changes trying to be implemented by this government. As many of you know we started a petition [] which reached a staggering 109,844 signatures and was debated in parliament in November last year with great media attention. Following the debate, in January this year, Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced in the times newspaper that changes to ratios had been scrapped. 

Then, to find out that Jeremy Hunt was planning to bring these plans back to the table myself and Zoe were utterly dismayed. We felt like it was a huge kick in the teeth and undid every single part of our campaign to have the plans shelved. We are led to believe that ratios were a factor in Olivers death which is why we are so compelled to fight these horrific changes. We have been to hell and back, spent days crying whilst trying not to destroy our own mental health and the petition gave us a solid focus and a distraction of an empty house and the loss of Oliver. 

Our thoughts on the new announcement...

I cannot fathom, or even begin to process how any human can say that removing a set of eyes, ears and hands from a room where children are in their most vital stages of their development, education, sensory and so on is safe or doesn’t increase risk. It is quite clear that the government has failed to listen to EYFS experts, professionals, practitioners and parents as it was a solid resounding no to any changes to the ratios. The DfE’s own consultation which was sneakily released following the budget said a total of 842 providers (85 SBPs, 589 GBPs and 168 CMs) responded to the online and the survey confirms that these changes have been brought in even though the majority (70%) of group settings with 2-year-olds said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to change their provision, with the greatest proportion of respondents (45%) saying they would be very unlikely.

The most common reason for this, given by over a third of these settings, was that they believed relaxing ratios (that is allowing each member of staff to look after an extra child) would compromise their quality of care. Over a quarter of settings were concerned that the new ratio would put children’s safety at risk, and around a quarter believed it would put additional strain and pressure on an already stretched workforce. Another concern that was expressed by providers that said they were unlikely to make changes to their provision was that 2-year-olds constitute a very demanding age group, often starting nursery for the very first time. They therefore require a lot of support with, for example, toileting and feeding, meaning that relaxing ratios would not be feasible. Furthermore, around a quarter of settings expressed their concern about the impact that reducing the ratio would have on children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), especially as settings have been reporting an increase in the number of children with undiagnosed SEND and/or developmental delays, particularly post pandemic.

Myself and Zoe still strongly believe that no amount of surveys will change the fact that one less pair of eyes on a child will have a detrimental impact on not only their safety but their education and development. The DfE have made changes to the statutory framework to now so that the wording in requirement 3.29 in the EYFS to be explicit that ‘adequate supervision’ whilst children are eating means that children must always be in sight and hearing of a member of staff – not just within sight or hearing.  In essence this will mean that regardless of the ratio requirements, when children are eating, early years providers will have to deploy their staff in such a way to ensure children are within sight and hearing of a member of staff which may mean more members of staff present with the children.
We don’t feel that staff being “in sight and hearing” or a child eating is simply good enough, because that allows distance and distraction. We are by no means sector or EYFS experts, but we feel that knowing what happened to Oliver, staff should be positioned in front of any children they are caring for whilst engaging in high-risk activities such as eating. We strongly believe that simply being within sight and hearing allows flexibility for staff members not to be directly in front of a child during these said activities. We know 99.9% of nurseries are perfect when it comes to these high-risk activities, and we thank them for this. 

The government are saying that the ratios will be optional and down to providers to take up at their own accord but sadly we feel that this is the government just extending the piece of rope which allows flexibility and would wash the government of any accountability when it comes to an incident occurring. The government would lay the blame solely at the provider's door for using the extended ratios. 

I have read the childcare consultation which was released following the budget, and it is frantically clear that providers do not want these changes as they feel they're unsafe and would have severe impact on a child’s development, but the government has pushed this through as if it is some kind of miracle cure to help providers cut costs and help profitability. This will only add increased pressure onto staff members I'm practitioners who are already overworked and massively undervalued by this government and as it has been proven for the past few years many practitioners are leaving to find alternative employment away from the childcare sector and frankly the blame lies at the door of the government for the years upon years of chronic underfunding and the sector being in the childcare bracket where the focus is not on early years. 

We are desperate to tell Oliver story and what happened to him on that day as we believe we could force change across the sector for the good and the safeguarding of children. We are currently appealing the Crown Prosecution services decision not to press charges even though the initial CPS decision concluded that the nursery’s policies and procedures were ‘of poor quality and inconsistent’. Painful but no accountability for our son’s tragic and avoidable death will prevail at this moment in time.  

We want to make a promise to everyone who is connected to the early years sector and that we will continue to fight on your behalf and for our own sanity until these utterly abhorrent plans are shelved for good. We couldn't have done the petition without the support of the sector and the many organisations who backed us such as the early years alliance, pregnant then screwed, NDNA, LEYF, PACEY, EYTagTeam and everyone else across all social media platforms who shared and signed our petition.

Even though now the government have thrown the petition back in everyone's faces and gone ahead with these ridiculous changes our fight has just grown stronger and we will continue to fight for change in the memory of our son Oliver Keith Steeper.

Lewis & Zoe Steeper - 18/03/23

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