The Impact Of New Staff Ratios In Early Years

In the March 2023 Budget, following a consultation with the industry, the Government announced changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) that would affect nurseries, childminders and group provisions. The changes were in response to concerns about early years provision including: 

  • The high cost of childcare for families 
  • Pressures on the workforce 
  • The need for new places to match changes to Government-funded provision 
  • Recruitment and staff retention concerns 
  • A desire to upskill the workforce and raise the profile of early years practitioners 

Some of the most debated issues related to changes in the staff-to-child (staff:child) ratios and how these are now calculated, as well as changes to the qualifications needed at different levels and the status of staff that could be included in different ratios.  

What Are Staff-To-Child Ratios? 

Childcare ratios refer to the number of qualified staff that are necessary in an early years setting compared to the number of children cared for by the setting. In England, the ratios are set by the Department for Education (DfE).  

The main changes to ratios which came into force on 4 September 2023 are: 

  • The statutory minimum staff-to-child ratio in England for two-year-olds is now 1:5, changed from 1:4 
  • Childminders can care for more than three young children (the maximum) if they are the siblings of children they already care for or the childminder’s own children 
  • “Adequate supervision” while children are eating now means that children must be within sight AND hearing of an adult 

Other things to bear in mind are that ratios may change depending on the needs of the children. For example, if there are children with special needs and/or disabilities in your setting, you may need to employ more staff to ensure their needs are met.  

Understanding Ratios In Early Years

Ratios work across the whole setting and apply to the total number of staff available to work directly with children, and not for each room in the setting. That said, there is a requirement to always have “adequate supervision” for the children. It is important to remember that the EYFS also states that: “Ofsted may determine that providers must observe a higher staff:child ratio than outlined [in the EYFS] to ensure the safety and welfare of children”. Although not common, it is something to be considered.  

The current regulations concerning child-to-staff ratios in England are in the EYFS Statutory Framework (paragraphs 3.28 to 3.44). The recent changes only changed the ratio relating to 2-year-old children, which has changed from 1 qualified practitioner for every 4 children, to 1 qualified practitioner for every 5 children.  

It is important to note, however, that this is not a mandatory change. If you are happy to keep the lower ratio, then that is your prerogative as the owner. You can employ more staff for the children you have, but you must ensure you at least have the minimum number of staff needed.  

Qualified Staff In Early Years 

The minimum number of qualified staff you need depends on the number of children you have in each age group. For example: 

  • If you have 6 children all under 2, you will need 2 qualified members of staff for them (ratio 1:3) 
  • If you have 15 children aged 2, you will need 3 members of staff for them (ratio 1:5) 
  • If you have a person with an Early Years Professional Status, working directly with children, and 16 children aged 3+, you would need 2 members of staff (ratio 1:13 but as there are 16 children, you would need 2 members of qualified staff) 
  • The ratio 1:13 only applies to registered early years settings where there is a person with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), or another approved Level 6 practitioner who is working directly with children. If you have a person within the setting with these qualifications who is not working directly with children, OR you do not have a person in the setting with these qualifications, then the ratio for children aged 3+ is 1:8.  

The following people can be included in the ratios at the level below their level of study if you are satisfied they are “competent and responsible”: 

  • Suitable students on long-term placements 
  • Volunteers (aged 17 or over) 
  • Staff working as apprentices in early education (aged 16 or over) 

So, an apprentice studying for a Level 3 EYE can count in the Level 2 ratio if you think they are responsible and competent.  

To be included in the staff-to-child ratios at these levels, staff must hold a qualification that is recognised by the Department for Education as full and relevant at the appropriate level.  

Staff who do not hold a full and relevant qualification can still work in your setting, but only as an unqualified member of staff and therefore cannot count in the staff-to-child ratios required.  

Level 2 Maths 

In the recent changes, Level 3 practitioners are no longer required to hold a Level 2 Maths qualification to be included in ratios, but managers must ensure that their staff have the right level of maths knowledge so they can deliver high-quality education in this area in the early years. 

However, all newly appointed EYFS setting managers (appointed after 1st January 2024), must now hold a Level 2 Maths qualification (or achieve one within 2 years of starting). In effect, this has shifted the requirement to hold a Level 2 Maths qualification from junior staff to managers, which may help when settings count staff in ratios as long as the managers have good maths knowledge that they can pass on to their practitioners.  

Suitable Level 2 qualifications in maths are: 

  • Functional skills qualification in maths at Level 2 
  • GCSE or International GCSE qualification in maths to at least grade C (grade 4) 
  • Key skills qualification in application of number at Level 2 
  • A level or AS level qualification in maths or pure maths and/or further maths to at least grade E 
  • O’Level qualification in maths to at least grade C 
  • CSE grade 1 Maths 
  • Basic skills certificate at Level 2: certificate in adult numeracy 

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