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Adult to child ratios for working with children

Guidance on supervision levels for safeguarding children and young people

Publication date September 2023

When working with children and young people, you must make sure you have enough staff and volunteers to keep children safe. 

Adult to child ratios are different depending on the children and young people in your group, your setting and the activities you're carrying out. You must also ensure adults are suitable to undertake the tasks you need.

Supervision levels will vary depending on the children's age, gender, behaviour and the abilities in your group.

How many adults you need also depends on:

  • the nature and duration of activities
  • the competence and experience of staff involved
  • location, accommodation or organisational requirements
  • any special medical needs
  • any specialist equipment needed.

Deciding appropriate levels of supervision

Carry out a risk assessment of the activities you are planning, taking the issues above into consideration. This will help you decide how many adults you need and what skills and experience they should have.

> Find out more about running safer activities and events

Who is suitable to supervise children?

You should carry out a range of safer recruitment processes and checks to ensure you employ the right people to work or volunteer in roles that have contact with children.

The types of checks needed will depend on the nature of the work being carried out, and whether or not the work will be supervised by other staff members.

It's important to make sure:

  • make sure all adults who have contact with children understand and agree to follow your safeguarding policy and procedures
  • any staff or volunteers who have only had the checks required to work with children while supervised aren't left alone with a child.

If you work in performing arts you should make sure chaperones have the relevant licences.

> Find out more about safer recruitment including vetting and barring checks

> Find out more about safeguarding in the performing arts

What adults supervising children need to know

Staff and volunteers need to have:

  • an understanding of their responsibility to keep children and young people safe
  • clear procedures to follow if they have a concern about a child's wellbeing
  • insurance for certain activities
  • codes of practice which they understand and agree to follow.

Parents who attend activities with their children should not be used to supervise other children unless they have been recruited into the role, undergone the necessary checks and had the relevant child protection training.

> Find out more about safeguarding procedures

> Look at our example behaviour code

> Learn more about child protection training requirements for education and early years sectors

> Find out more about our introductory child protection training

Schools are expected to carry out their own risk assessment at the beginning of each academic year to determine appropriate levels of supervision for each class except the Early years and foundation stage.

The National Education Union (NEU) provides guidance on class sizes and advises schools to consider children’s emotional, behavioural and special needs when determining staff to child ratios (NEU, 2019).

Schools also need to carry out a risk assessment to determine appropriate adult to child ratios at breaks and lunchtimes. Things to consider include:

  • the layout of the playground
  • the number of children on the playground
  • the ages of the children on the playground.

For children in the Early years and foundation stage there is specific guidance about supervision ratios - find out more in the section below.

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) publishes guidance for early years providers which sets out statutory requirements about adult to child ratios (DfE, 2023). The required adult to child ratios vary depending on the setting and the age of children.

Key points for all early years settings include:

  • staffing arrangements must meet the needs of all children and ensure their safety
  • children must usually be within both sight and hearing of staff and always within at least either sight or hearing
  • only those aged 17 or over may be included in ratios (and staff under 17 should be supervised at all times)
  • students on long term placements, volunteers and staff working as apprentices may be included in the ratios if they are old enough and the provider is satisfied that they are competent and responsible.

Pages 28-32 of the guidance set out the statutory staff to child ratios for all providers and then specific guidance for:

  • early years providers other than childminders
  • those providing before and after school care
  • those providing holiday care
  • childminders.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, (DoH) has published minimum standards for childminding and daycare for children under 12 (PDF) (DoH, 2018). Standard 11 sets out the minimum staff to child ratios for children of different ages in different settings. 

In Scotland, there is guidance from the Care Inspectorate for early learning and childcare settings (Care Inspectorate, 2018). It sets out adult to child ratios and the rationale behind them.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has published National minimum standards for regulated childcare (PDF). Standard 15 sets out staffing ratios including for childminders and day care.

There is no specific guidance about supervision ratios for organisations that are not in the education or early years sectors. We’ve put together some best practice guidance to help other organisations work out how many adults are needed to supervise children safely.

We recommend having at least two adults present when working with or supervising children and young people. We recommend the following adult to child ratios as the minimum numbers to help keep children safe:

  • under 2 years - one adult to three children
  • 2 - 3 years - one adult to four children
  • 4 - 8 years - one adult to six children
  • 9 - 12 years - one adult to eight children
  • 13 - 18 years - one adult to ten children

Depending on the needs and abilities of the children, and the nature of the activity, you may need to have more adults than the minimum.

We recommend having at least two adults present, even with smaller groups.

If young people are helping to supervise younger children only people aged 18 or over should be included as adults when calculating adult to child ratios.

Children who have special educational needs, additional needs and disabilities

If you are working with children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) or additional needs you may need more supervision than the minimum ratios above.

You should carry out a risk assessment for each activity to help you decide on supervision ratios. This should take account of children and young people’s behaviour, ability and mobility. As far as possible, include input from children and young people and their parents and carers in risk assessments to ensure children’s needs are met.

> Learn more about protecting d/Deaf and disabled young people

Toilet ratios

If the group has both boys and girls there should be at least one male and one female responsible adult supervising visits to the toilet.

Adults who haven't previously volunteered and haven't had the necessary vetting checks shouldn't be left alone with children or take them to the toilet unaccompanied.

In larger groups of children, encourage groups to take a comfort break together with one responsible adult while the other adult(s) supervises the remaining children and keep a head count.

First aid ratios

We recommend that at least one adult is trained in first aid.

If you're running one-off events you will need to carry out a first-aid and medical risk assessment. Many organisations provide medical services but ensure the organisation you select is competent, trained in first aid and able to cope with the demands of your event.

Travelling ratios

When travelling with children and young people the recommended adult to child ratio can vary depending on:

  • size of the group
  • age of the children, their behaviours and needs
  • size of the vehicle that you are travelling in.

If you are travelling in a vehicle it is recommended that there is one adult driving and one adult supervising the children. Larger groups and vehicles will require more adults to ensure adequate supervision. 

References

Care Inspectorate (2018) Guidance on adult to child ratios in early learning and childcare settings (PDF). Dundee: Care Inspectorate.

Department for Education (DfE) (2023) Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework. [Accessed 17/08/2023].

Department of Health (DoH) (2018) Minimum standards for childminding and day care for children under age 12 (PDF) Belfast: Department of Health (DoH).

National Education Union (NEU) (2019) Class sizes. [Accessed 17/08/2023].

Welsh Government (2023) National minimum standards for regulated childcare for children up to the age of 12 years (PDF). Cardiff: Welsh Government.

Safeguarding and child protection in schools 

Safer activities and events

Supervising children and young people's sport and activities