Why can ‘Early Years Teachers’ go on a higher ratio?

As many of you may already know over the last 12 months I have completed my EYTS alongside my day-to-day role and now hold Early Years Teacher Status, this means that overnight I went from being able to have 8 three-year olds to 13 three-year olds assigned to me in our staff:child ratio. 

This has always confused me. 

Why am I suddenly able to be responsible for keeping FIVE more children safe, engaged and learning than I was the previous day? 

Now before you say but “if you have achieved EYTS, then you have clearly demonstrated confidence, competence and outstanding practice in Early Years”, that is not my point. I am not saying I haven’t. I am saying, if I am capable of it today then I was yesterday or vice versa. 

Staff:child ratios should be about the safety of the children as much as the educational opportunities they are provided with. I feel the EYTS programme from the Department for Education is heavily focused on the teaching and learning of the children rather than the health and safety, yes of course health and safety is covered, but not in a way that makes me a significantly safer educator than before. I am not even sure it is possible to make educators ‘safer’ anyway. Surely this kind of awareness and understand can’t be taught can it? I tend to think experienced practitioners are either capable of this or they aren’t?

I am sure some Reception teachers will read this and ask why I feel this is important when they are able to have up to 30 children on their own. To them, I simply refer you to the age of the children I have mentioned above. I am not talking about children who are turning five by the end of the academic year, I am talking about children who are three, some might have just turned three while some might be nearly four. There could be a BIG GAP between these children and their independence and ability to be safe and competent learners. 

I know these staff:child ratios are the minimum required and I also acknowledge the fact that the EYFS Statutory Framework 2021 places the responsibility firmly on the provider, 3.29 states: ‘Staffing arrangements must meet the needs of all children and ensure their safety. Providers must ensure that children are adequately supervised, including whilst eating, and decide how to deploy staff to ensure children’s needs are met.’ HOWEVER there are problems with this. 

Before I continue, just for clarity, I am writing this from the perspective of having never been put in this situation myself, this is because I am lucky to work for employers who do not use the 1:13 staff ratio as a matter of course. I do however also recognise that this is not the case for everyone. I also appreciate, that for many reasons, it can be difficult for Early Years Teachers to feel that they can challenge this decision in their workplace. You may feel that because it is legal in the statutory framework that you have to go with it but you don’t. If you believe it is unsafe and the safety of the children and/or their quality of education is impacted you should speak out. 

Some settings believe that as long as they follow the statutory requirements then they are completely safe and they aren’t really wrong really are they? If a provider can justify the deployment of their staff, as the EYFS Statutory Framework states then they are considered to be doing the right thing. If the decision is as subjective as that, who are we to argue? 

This links to what is probably my biggest problem with the increased ratios… safety. I obviously understand the concept that higher qualifications = more experience and knowledge which in turn = more responsibility, however I do not necessarily believe that these qualifications which are primarily academic in nature make you more competent at keeping children safe. In fact, it has been put to me by a colleague the view that it is instead leadership positions which have a bigger impact on making you a more safety conscious practitioner rather than your qualifications, which is something I tend to agree with. So the question could be therefore “should staff who are leaders go on a higher ratio?” 

Also, a big consideration for PVI (private, voluntary and independent) providers is the cost, a regular topic of conversation amongst this section of the Early Years sphere. Whilst these ratios are the minimum, meaning you can have more staff than this if necessary, employing an Early Years Teacher is usually more expensive. This, coupled with the low funding rate, further stretches the budget for settings. Therefore the option of the higher staff:ratio is naturally appealing. This reason also highlights the different challenges faced by PVI providers and both the financial and ethical dilemmas they face. 

Having said that, speaking as an ‘Early Years Teacher’ I would naturally expect a higher salary based upon my qualification – because the level of professional development I have undertaken and the positive impact my training has had on the teaching and learning provided to the children. However, if you asked me the question “do you feel more capable of safely educating and caring for a higher number of children at any one time than you did before you were an EYT?” I would say no. I would argue this is because I was actually already competent in my job role and an effective leader with a lot of knowledge and experience. 

So why is the staff:child ratio based purely on qualifications?

The honest answer may well be because it is the simplest way to do it and I don’t necessarily have a simpler answer either. 

I do however believe consideration should be given to a range of factors when deciding staff:child ratios and we should consider reforming the way we make these staffing decisions. Potentially a checklist scoring system that considers people’s qualities to lead and take responsibility rather than just their qualifications. Maybe we should seriously consider the question I posed before… “should staff who are leaders go on a higher ratio?” 

This could however open a whole new debate, what is considered to be a leader in Early Years? Does this need to be based upon job title or is there more to consider? Can you please be a leader of practice without having that job title? Much like the question are you only a ‘teacher’ if your qualifications say so? 

However whilst the statutory framework primarily bases staff:child ratio on qualifications I doubt anything can or will change. As much due to financial limitations as much as any other factor.