Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 16:18 UK

The rules covering nursery staff

boy in nursery
Nursery staff must be "suitable" - so far as anyone knows

The rules governing places that care for young children have come under renewed scrutiny following the court case involving a nursery worker who abused children.

Plymouth nursery worker Vanessa George and two other people she met online have admitted a series of charges after abuse was recorded on mobile phones.

As a result, one of the parents with children at the nursery where George worked is campaigning for tighter controls on staff's camera phones.

Cheryl Higgs has set up a website, nocameraphones.org, calling for staff to have to deposit their devices in a secure room while at work.

"It is my hope that with pre-schools, nurseries and even schools signing up to this campaign voluntarily, we can encourage it to be brought forward as legislation which can give clear legal guidelines on the use of camera phones in childcare," she says.

Others have ridiculed the idea: why target camera phones as opposed to other types of compact camera - or even sketch books?

They say the issue is the behaviour, not the technology - and making indecent photos - let alone abusing the children in the first place - is already illegal.

The real issue then is how someone like George had the time and space to be able to do what she did.

Qualifications

The rules that cover childcare in England relate primarily to staff qualifications and the ratio of staff to children.

The ratios vary depending on the age of the children and the setting.

For example, there must be at least one member of staff for every three children in any early years group setting with children aged under two.

At least one person must have a relevant Level 3 (advanced) qualification, and at least half the other staff must be suitably qualified to Level 2 (GCSE equivalent).

In schools, where someone is a qualified teacher or has another suitable Level 6 qualification (degree equivalent), the ratio is one member of staff for every 13 children aged three and over.

Home alone

In non-school settings there must be at least two adults "on duty... at any time when children are present".

But this does not mean no adult cannot be on their own with a child.

Instead whoever is operating the place should make thorough checks on the suitability of their staff.

None of this applies to childminders, who may individually look after up to six children under the age of eight without any qualification beyond an introductory course in home-based childcare and a first aid certificate.

All adults working with children must have Criminal Records Bureau checks - or from next year be registered with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority.

But these systems do not bar people who - like Vanessa George - have never previously given cause for concern.



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