Ratio exemptions - England

In England, childminders have strict ratio guidance which must be adhered to at all times. Most importantly, a childminder should never exceed six under 8's at any one time, and only three of these should be under 5 years, and one under 1 years of age.

A need for flexibility

In recent years, Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) recognised the need for some flexibility within ratios. They understood that childminders offer a unique service where strong bonds are formed, and parents rely on these services to work, and to socialise their children in preparation for school. Sometimes work hours change, or parents take on new workdays, or a new baby comes along. Such examples demonstrated that sometimes exemptions to normal ratios need to be applied to keep services running reliably.

Ofsted defines these exemptions in the following way:

3.42 of the EYFS: If a childminder can demonstrate to parents and/or carers and Ofsted inspectors or their childminder agency that the individual needs of all the children are being met, exceptions to the usual ratios can be made, for example, when childminders are caring for sibling babies, or when caring for their own baby or to maintain continuity of care. If children aged four and five only attend the childminding setting before and/or after a normal school day, and/or during school holidays, they may be cared for at the same time as three other young children. But in all circumstances, the total number of children under the age of eight being cared for must not exceed six.

Working with assistants is also subject to ratio limits. Your assistant can have the same ratio of children as you - no more than six under 8s at any one time. Of course, you need to be sure you have the space to increase your numbers, and you must consider assistants' illnesses and holidays and how this will affect your capacity.

It is important when considering an exemption to your normal ratio, that the care of the other children is never impacted. You need to take in to account the range of needs, if you can logistically and practically manage another child on the days required, and you should also inform parents of this exemption. It may be that you are on hand to offer emergency care for your local authority or another fellow childminder, and in these situations there is often not much notice. This is fine as long as the relevant people are informed as soon as possible. You should also be sure you have space and resources to commit to this.

Risk assessing

Although a written risk assessment isn’t a requirement when applying your exemption to your ratios, it provides evidence that you have considered all aspects and possible scenarios. Of course, you will be visually assessing as you go along too. You need to be able to justify why you have taken on an extra child, how it falls under the exemption category, and how you will manage this increase. Below are a few considerations to explore before saying yes:

  • Can you justify why you are applying an exemption should anyone query it?
  • Can you confidently and comfortably look after an extra child on the day(s) required, taking into consideration the needs and ages of the other children?
  • Have you got the resources to manage another child e.g. buggy space, feeding equipment, the space in the car?
  • Can you safely exit the building in an emergency with this extra child?
  • Do you have enough extra space in your setting to accommodate an extra child, or will space be compromised?
  • Can you safely carry out all day to day tasks such as nursery drop off/pickups, school runs and walks/outings, nappy changes and nap times?
  • Can you still effectively deliver the learning requirements of the EYFS?

Insurance requirements

Your insurance will only remain valid if you adhere to your ratio limits, this includes sole childminders and those with assistants. Children can be left with an assistant for up to two hours a day as long as they remain in ratio and seek parental/carer permission. At all times the space requirements set out in the EYFS should be followed:

3.57: The premises and equipment must be organised in a way that meets the needs of children. Providers must meet the following indoor space requirements:

  • Children under two years: 3.5 m2 per child
  • Two-year-olds: 2.5 m2 per child
  • Children aged three to five years: 2.3 m2 per child

Feedback from childminders

We spoke to childminders that have used the exemption to ratios in their settings, and have compiled some of the most common reasons this exemption has been applied:

  • Caring for a sibling of a child already in their setting. Lots of childminders take on siblings under continuity of care. This allows siblings to remain together, keeping the child already there settled and happy. It gives parents peace of mind that their children are content and safe with each other.
  • A parent needs new days or hours due to changes in work circumstances. This means the parents/carers don’t have the added worry of needing to find a new or additional setting for their child, and gives the child much-needed continuity and familiarity.
  • Emergency care. Some childminders are registered with social services to take on emergency childcare, and also act as backups to other local childminders should they be unable to offer their usual services for any reason.
  • School taster sessions. Most schools start Reception children gradually, doing staggered days and times for the first few weeks. In this situation, childminders can offer wraparound in addition to having three other under 5s at any one time.
  • Small cross-over with babies under one. Some childminders have their own baby under 1 and get enquiries for a child who will be 1 in a matter of weeks. Ofsted have clarified for this short period having two babies under 1 years old is acceptable.

For childminders to have been given this degree of flexibility is very beneficial. By doing so, Ofsted has recognised that childminding settings are subject to changes in circumstances, and being small they don’t always have the same options as larger settings. However, using an exemption should be considered carefully each time, bearing in mind all the points raised in this article.

It is especially important to always adhere to the conditions outlined in your insurance policy, and to keep within the conditions of your Ofsted registration. In all circumstances, the total number of children under the age of eight being cared for must not exceed six.