Childminder ratios define how many children each childminder can look after at a time. This number legally fluctuates depending on the age of the children you are caring for, your home space and safeguarding procedures, the way you organise your day and more.
Why? Because the early years foundation stage (EYFS) puts standards in place to ensure a safe, secure and optimal learning environment for children. All early years childcare providers that are Ofsted registered, either through self-registration or via a Childminder Agency (CMA), must adhere to these standards.
In this article, we’ll share how childminder ratios work and answer common questions so you can confidently run and expand your childminding business.
Table of contents
- How many children can a childminder look after?
- Why are childminder ratios important for early childhood development?
- How do childminder ratios affect your childminding schedule?
- Wrapping up
How many children can a childminder look after?
The childminder ratios vary depending on the age of the children you’re looking after, as well as how many staff (if any) you have employed.
As we discuss in our guide on how to navigate Ofsted registration for childminders[a], you can become registered to look after children below the age of five, between five and eight years old, or both age groups.
Naturally, if you’re registered for only one of the age groups, you need only to pay attention to the rules for your designated cohort.
In general, one childminder cannot look after more than six children under the age of eight at one time. In other words, no matter the age, the ratio is 1:6 across the board.
Then, out of those six children, a maximum of three can be below the age of five, and one can be below the age of one.
Let’s visualise this in a table:
If you’re registered for both age groups (i.e. “young” and “old”), the number of children you can care for in the older age group (between five and eight) will vary depending on how many younger children (below five) you look after.
For example, if you have three children in your care under the age of five (which is the maximum) but no children under the age of one, you can bring three older children into the group.
If you add a child below one year old to the above example, you’ll only be able to look after two older children.
Keep in mind that everything we’ve outlined thus far applies to one childminder only. You absolutely can look after more children if you employ assistants to increase the number of adults in the room. We’ll dive into how this works in more detail in a later section.
It’s important to note that space also plays a part when it comes to childminder ratios. If you do not meet the space requirements outlined in the EYFS statutory framework, you may need to decrease the number of children you look after. Those requirements are as follows:
- 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
Note: If you have more than the allotted space per child, you cannot increase the number of children you look after. The maximum 1:6 still applies.
Are there any exceptions to the rules?
In short—yes. But as usual, it depends on the case.
If you can prove to Ofsted inspectors (or CMA inspectors if you are registered through a childminder agency like tiney) that you can reasonably care for more children than the given ratios, exceptions can be made.
The EYFS outlines the qualifying criteria for exceptions:
- If there are two babies that are siblings
- If you are simultaneously caring for your own children or your own baby alongside other people’s children
- If you care for children between the ages of three and five before or after normal school hours during a school day, or during a school holiday, you may look after them alongside three other “young” (i.e. aged five or below) children
That last point is a bit of a head spinner so let’s examine it more closely.
Remember, the maximum number of children you can look after under the age of five is three. However, an exception can be made to look after more than three young children at once if the additional young children are:
- Aged between three and five (so, any child three or below does not count for this exception)
- Those additional children aged between three and five (to reiterate, this is on top of the maximum three young children the regular rules allow for) are only being looked after before or after scheduled school hours or if it’s a holiday
If you are a tiney-registered childminder, you can apply to alter the conditions of your registration and agreement. To learn more about how to make this request and any details you’ll need to include, read our guide to applying to vary the numbers of children you can care for 🔢
Why are childminder ratios important for early childhood development?
High-quality care should be of top priority when caring for children of any age—but this is especially true for young children.
Let’s start with the obvious. Children between the ages of birth and eight years old aren’t as self-sufficient as older children (in most cases). They’re smaller, have fewer motor skills, and aren’t as tuned into what the average older child perceives as dangerous (like playing with something sharp).
But once you get past safety, high-quality care becomes a bit more subjective. Does the size of a group of children affect learning? What about the quality of staff—does that have anything to do with the quality of care?
This is where scientific studies shine. Research and subsequent findings help us remove the question marks and allow us to create exceptionally high-quality learning environments.
For example, research shows that the more qualified a childminder is, the “better quality pedagogical environments in the early years”. In other words, qualified carers lead to a higher-quality early education learning environment.
Research has also shown that, especially in nurseries, when the childminder:child ratio increases (i.e. more children allowed per one adult), the adult becomes less positive, which can have an adverse effect on care.
Moreover, although the subjects were in a preschool classroom, this study found that small group instruction afforded more personalised attention, which resulted in important cognitive and social development in each child. The study concludes that “fewer should be considered more” when it comes to learning and development for young children.
Here are a few more reasons why childminder ratios are important:
- The interactions between childminder and children are more positive, because the childminder has a chance to personally bond with each child and cater to individual needs. This is crucial, as positive bonds are vital to allow for the children to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. In turn, this makes learning more productive and helps to relieve stress from parental separation anxiety.
- Continuity of care improves, as smaller groups often lead to stronger bonds and subsequently longer-term, stable care. This strong bond helps children to become more socially competent and, again, reduces the stress response of spending time away from parents at a young age.
- Allows for more stimulating activities, as the adult has a chance to interact with each and every one of the children in their care on a personal level. This makes for more interesting and engaging lessons and play, and also helps children with language and reasoning development.
All of the above information has an even deeper impact when you understand the science behind child development. The long and short of it is that early years development influences a child’s social, behavioural and cognitive development into adulthood.
Importantly, between the ages of zero and three, the brain is more than half the size of an adult’s. This means that the foundations for everything we use in our lives, from building social bonds to learning language and vocabulary, following instructions, making decisions, solving problems, paying attention and more, is laid in those early years.
This is why high-quality care is so important. Get it right, and you’re giving children the best chance at developmental success for both the short and long term.
How do childminder ratios affect your childminding schedule?
As a childminder, you work for yourself, so you make your own schedule. If you’re happy to keep your business small and work for yourself, by yourself, you simply need to adhere to the six children maximum guidance (and follow the number of children allowed per age).
This can certainly be a lucrative path. If you take on three full-time children (i.e. 40 hours per week) you could earn more than £40,000 per year. If you take on the maximum of six children full time, it doubles to £80,000.
However, finding parents that want full-time care is unusual. More often, parents are interested in part-time care either in the form of sending their child to you a few times a week or for only a few hours every day.
This means that you’ll likely need to find several children to care for on a primarily part-time basis. As you can imagine, this makes scheduling more difficult, as you’ll need to constantly monitor not only how many children you’re looking after in a given timeframe but also their ages, as well as if any exceptions (like sibling babies) apply.
If you want to expand your business beyond six children at a time or employ somebody to take some full-time hours off your back, you can hire assistants as a way to increase your ratios (and give you back some of your valuable time). Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Get a family member registered as a childminder assistant to help out full- or part-time
- Employ an assistant [or childminder assistant] to work for your business
If you want to hire an assistant to help you run your tiney home, they must have previous experience working with children, though it’s not required that this experience was in a professional capacity. To ensure your assistant is equipped to help you provide the highest quality care, it’s preferred, though not required, that they have an existing Early Years qualification (possibly level 3).
Of course, you can also require that your assistant becomes registered as a childminder. That’s entirely up to you and your comfort level and needs.
It’s also important to note that some childminders do work in pairs. If you want to start your tiney home with your partner, family member, or friend, that’s a great way to increase your ratios from the get-go. To see what a childminder pair looks like in real life, check out how and why this mum and daughter team opened their tiney home nursery together.
Do the ratio rules change for childminder assistants?
Regardless of who your assistant is, the usual ratios apply to them. In other words, each assistant may care for the same number of children that the primary childminder can. For example, if you bring on one assistant, you can each look after a total of six children, bringing the total to twelve.
That said, as mentioned above, this is only possible if your childminding setting allows for it. Additionally, children can only be left in the care of a childminder assistant for up to two hours per day. To clarify, this means two hours total in a single day, not two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, for example.
And, before doing so, you (the childminder) must get permission from the child’s parents that this is ok.
How childminder assistants can help your childminding schedule
A great example of when an assistant can provide relief is if you have children of your own that you need to leave the house with throughout the day (like for school drop off and pick up, or if one of them becomes unexpectedly sick). If you don’t want those circumstances to play into your childminding schedule, an assistant can sub in for those allotted time frames.
Another example is if a parent asks to extend the hours that you’re looking after their child, either temporarily or permanently. Rather than saying no outright and potentially losing their business entirely (and damaging the ever-important continuity of care and bond you’ve built with that child), you can employ an assistant to help you manage that additional time.
Of course, before you consider taking on more children, even with the help of assistants, consider:
- The unique needs of each child, and whether increasing the group size and taking on extra children (even with more adults on hand) would negatively affect their learning or development
- The way that you group the children to ensure that you are giving them the most comfortable and conducive environment
- How you will provide additional support to children need be (especially if you are maxed out)
- How you will continue to provide the highest quality of care, especially when it comes to group activities and personalised play
Childminder ratios are in place to ensure that you are consistently providing the highest quality of care to the children you look after.
If you feel you have an exceptional circumstance that allows you to take on more children, you can certainly apply to vary the number of children you care for.
Additionally, if you want to grow your childminder business or simply hire some help (which can be beneficial for a variety of reasons), you can hire childminder assistants and take on more children and responsibilities while maintaining the ever-important 1:6 adult:child ratio.