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NDNA calls for urgent action to give equal access to testing for all early years workers

The Department for Education announced that early years workers in private and voluntary run settings must attend community testing centres while maintained nurseries and nursery classes in schools get ‘at-home’ test kits.

This clearly highlights how the sector is being treated so differently from schools, despite facing even more challenges as they have been told to remain open.

Now staff in private, voluntary and independently (PVI) run nurseries and preschools will need to travel to testing sites during working hours to be part of asymptomatic community testing, instead of being able to test at home before travelling to work.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said:

‘This announcement once again shows that the Department for Education has total disregard for the pressures on PVI nurseries and the whole early years workforce. Promises of access to mass-testing for all have unravelled with different treatment for those in maintained settings compared with the rest of the sector.

‘The inclusion in community testing will mean staff taking time away from children during the day to attend test sites, increasing their exposure risk and providing settings with further headaches as they try to cover those hours. At a time when the workforce is already stretched covering those self-isolating or ill.

‘At-home testing would mean staff know before they set off to work if they present a risk of infection to others.

‘Excluding the majority of the workforce from receiving at-home tests available to those in the maintained sector is unfair, irresponsible and neglectful of a sector that is being asked to go above and beyond for our children. If distribution is an issue we have suggested using hubs as collection sites for the stay at home kits so that nurseries can pick them up to distribute to staff.

‘Ministers must urgently find a way to live up to their words when they promised asymptomatic testing for all in the early years sector.’

As part of the joint #ProtectEarlyYears campaign, NDNA, Pacey and the Early Years Alliance, which collectively represent around 50,000 childcare providers, had called for access to mass testing for early years workers. They are also reinforcing their call on the government to prioritise those working in early years and childcare for Covid-19 vaccinations following the announcement of the vaccine delivery plan and debates in Parliament this week.

Day nursery in Leek sold through Christie & Co

Christie & Co, has announced the sale of Teddys Garden Day Nursery in Leek, North East Staffordshire, to expanding operator, Daycare (UK) Limited.

Teddys Garden Day Nursery is a well-established children’s day nursery set in a large Victorian villa with private access. It is located in a stunning rural setting in Leek, North East Staffordshire, and expands to 1.5 acres with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

The nursery was developed in 2004 by Mr Andrew and Mrs Justine Cope who are relocating to spend more time with their family and concentrate on other projects. The setting offers ‘Outstanding’ provision for 60 children aged from zero to five years. Teddys Garden Day Nursery has been purchased by Daycare (UK) Limited, which also own Dot Tots Nursery in Wolverhampton, and forms part of the company’s wider expansion plans.

Company director, Mr Daniel Skitt, commented:
‘Our first setting, Dot Tots, was acquired 14 years ago and, since that point, both myself and my wife have been heavily involved in many positive changes for the building and the business. Teddys’ beautiful Victorian building and history was key to our decision to purchase and is in keeping with our ongoing commitment to only acquire and operate settings we’d be happy to send our own children to. Its grounds and local notoriety for exceptional childcare also spoke volumes.

‘We have chosen to move our family into the setting’s onsite accommodation and will continue to provide ‘Outstanding’ childcare for our families present and future.’

Jassi Sunner, associate director at Christie & Co, who handled the sale, added:

‘Teddys Garden is a hidden gem in a rural part of North Staffordshire, offering a vital early years service. Justine and Andrew have grown the business effectively over the years and earnt a strong reputation. It was a pleasure to work with them and really understand their business and what they were looking to achieve from the sale.

‘Once we introduced Daniel to the transaction, a sale was agreed very quickly. With the pandemic hitting last year, we all worked together to complete this sale just before the end of 2020 and to provide Daniel with a strong platform to grow the business in the New Year. We sincerely wish all parties the best of luck.’

Teddys Garden Day Nursery was sold at an undisclosed price.

Childcare in crisis: London nurseries forced to shut as the virus soars through the capital

The early years sector is facing a crisis, standing alone on the frontline while the virus surges across London.

Nursery leaders are urgently calling on the Government to give nursery workers the recognition they deserve and allow free access to Covid-19 testing to prevent further cases among staff.

Parents and essential workers across London risk not being able to access childcare during the new wave of the pandemic, as nurseries are being forced to shut because staff are off sick due to the virus or need to self-isolate.

This London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has closed or partially closed 14 of its 39 nurseries since the start of 2021 to allow staff to self-isolate – with many more set to follow. LEYF is also closing room bubbles regularly leaving parents without childcare at short notice as staff isolate at home.

With the announcement from the Secretary of State for Education that private Early Years providers will have to access Covid-19 testing through the NHS programme, rather than offer asymptomatic testing in each setting (as with schools, colleges, maintained nursery schools and primary schools with attached Early Years settings). This is a further discriminatory blow to the sector and will impact greatly on the number of children attending London’s thousand nurseries – affecting vulnerable children and those whose parents are keyworkers.

LEYF’s CEO, June O’Sullivan who has been campaigning for the Government to vaccinate all nursery and childcare workers as part of the Government’s list of 13.2 million ‘priority’ people and provide the routine testing kits for staff given to schools says:

‘This is a national scandal and totally disgraceful and discriminatory for the Early Years sector. In order for nurseries to continue functioning and provide a ‘lifeline of childcare’ to many front-line staff and a place of refuge to vulnerable children, Ministers must provide a level playing field when it comes to Covid-19 testing and also prioritise the Early Years after society’s most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab. Many of our staff are aged over 50 (including those from BAME communities) which makes testing and their vaccinations even more pertinent. The latest reports are that coronavirus vaccines are being thrown away because people are not keeping appointments, it’s absurd that vaccines are maybe going to waste when they could help save the Early Years sector.’

One of the LEYF nurseries went from one to 22 cases in a week. Working on the frontlines, the staff are putting themselves at risk to care for the children and quite rightly society has a duty of care towards them.

A Government petition signed by over 469,000 people to prioritise teachers, school and childcare staff for Covid-19 vaccination was debated in Parliament on Monday 11 June. The Government is yet to respond.

Marcus Rashford MBE calls for an urgent review of free school meals

The government is once again facing criticism after it emerged that headteachers in England have been told not to supply vouchers and food parcels to disadvantaged children over the February half-term holiday.

The dust has barely settled after a flurry of furious parents shared photos of the small food parcels they were sent.

Fresh guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) published this week states: Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term.” Instead, it says, there is already wider Government support available for families and children outside term-time through the Covid winter grant scheme.

While this at the moment is focused on free school meals, Marcus Rashford’s campaign is for all vulneralble children. Reports of child poverty are increasing at an alarming rate with many young children not getting the necessary nutrients needed for healthy growth.

A letter signed by Marcus Rashford MBE, Jamie Oliver, Dame Emma Thompson, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and over 40 NGOs, Charities and Education Leaders has today been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the Government to conduct an urgent comprehensive review into Free School Meal policy across the UK to feed into the next Spending Review.  

The letter coordinated by the Food Foundation details the main areas the review should cover: It needs to: 

  1. Review the current eligibility thresholds for Free School Meals across all four nations to eliminate disparities and to explore whether disadvantaged children are being excluded in line with National Food Strategy recommendation. The ongoing eligibility for children with No Recourse to Public Funds should be considered explicitly.  
  2. Urgently consider how funding for Free School Meals can deliver the biggest nutritional and educational impact, supporting children’s learning and well-being throughout the school day and during the school holidays (including breakfast provision and the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme). This should include whether the current allowance for Free School Meals is adequate and whether funding for national breakfasts adequately covers all who would benefit from access to provision. 
  3. Explore how schools can be supported to deliver the best quality school meals which adhere to school food standards and which ensure the poorest children receive the best possible offer, including by introducing mandatory monitoring and evaluation on an ongoing basis of Free School Meal take-up, the quality/nutritional adequacy of meals, and how the financial transparency of the current system can be improved. 
  4. Consider what we have learned from Covid-19 and its impact on children in low-income families and the implications of this for school food policy for the next 5 years, as the country recovers. 
  5. Consider how existing school food programmes (such as Free School Meals, holiday and breakfast provision) can eliminate experiences of stigma for the poorest students. Review the impact that Universal Infant Free School Meals has had on stigma, health and education.  
  6. Consider the role of family income (wages and benefits) in enabling families to afford quality food in and outside of school time and during the holidays with choice and dignity.  

The process should involve input from all the devolved nations and done in consultation with children and young people, as well as teachers, charities, NGOs, frontline catering staff and school meals service providers. It should draw on evidence of food insecurity and health inequalities.   

Q-Bell knocks up support

Q-Bell is a virtual doorbell that allows nursery to control to flow of parents and children coming to their doors.

The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to implement more rigourous safety measures to protect our society.

How it works?

Customers will see a list of available Q-Bells, made up of private Q-Bells they have been invited to, or public Q-Bells that are nearby. The customer can then simply press the button to “ring” the Q-Bell and inform you they are there.

When customers ring your nursery’s Q-Bell they will appear on screen, queued up in the order that they rang. When you are ready to welcome the parent or carer you can type a message manually, or simply click a configurable “pre-canned” response such as “pick up”, to send a message of your choice.

This technology makes the entire drop off and pick up process stress free and simple. The parents won’t be in massive queues and the practitioners will have more quality time to welcome each child.

Khayam Ezzat, owner, Funding Loop said: ‘We have tried to make the product as accessible as possible by being easy to set up, intuitive to use and affordable at only £4.95 a month.

‘The response from nurseries has been amazing who have found it a simple solution to a very real problem.’

Government must reverse funding decision as fewer children head to nursery

A snap poll by National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) shows that the average nursery has a third fewer children than normal and figures published by the Department for Education suggest this could be closer to half across all early years settings.

According to the findings, 58% of nurseries are not confident they will survive until Easter on the current funding arrangements. However the Government’s plans from the start of January mean councils will only pay nurseries for children who attend.

Since Easter 2020, the Department for Education has paid all early years providers funding for all children who should be in nursery. But despite occupancy rates still being very low, the DfE has decided to only fund places based on one-shot census data taken in the current lockdown period.

The survey reveals that 23% of families are not sending their children to nurseries, which are still allowed to open fully to all children, due to concerns about the virus.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said:

‘Since the announcement that schools would be closing to all but vulnerable and key worker children, almost 99% of nurseries have decided to remain open.

‘Those who have closed tell us the main reasons are high numbers of staff absences which prevent them from opening safely or concerns about local case rates.

‘Our quick poll shows that 56% of nurseries want more information to reassure parents and employees that staying open is the right decision.

‘Nurseries have now been put in an impossible position due to a number of Government policies. Firstly, if they close they get no funding for two, three and four-year-old places which make up about half of an average nursery’s income.

‘If they continue to remain open, they are now only funded for the children who attend – the average nursery has a third fewer children compared with this time last year.

‘Nursery businesses have also had much less support than schools – for example, schools have had support with PPE costs, cleaning, staff absences and access to testing kits – none of which has been made available for PVI providers who have been operating throughout the pandemic.

‘And as community transmission of the virus increases, more staff are having to self-isolate, leaving settings struggling to meet staff/child ratios.

‘Early years settings are the only educational establishments that are open to all and must be prioritised. They need testing kits, given priority for vaccinations and urgent financial support to prevent mass closures across the country.’

A total of 605 nurseries in England responded to NDNA’s short survey over the last five days.

 

Early years census data: Alliance calls for urgent clarity on planned changes

The Early Years Alliance has called on the Department for Education (DfE) to provide urgent clarity on planned changes to early years census guidance which is due to be issued to local authorities.

This comes as significant concerns grow over the falling demand for childcare places across England.

Speaking during the Westminster Hall debate on the impact of Covid-19 on early years settings, children and families minister Vicky Ford said:

‘We currently do intend to go ahead with this year’s census next week. However, I recognise the particular challenge that the sector faces in recording an accurate picture of expected uptake, because of the impact of Covid on attendance and the operation of settings.

‘To support local authorities, we will very shortly – very, very shortly – be issuing Q&As to help them interpret existing published census guidance so that census data reflects expected attendance, and doesn’t exclude what is considered to be a temporary absence or closure. This makes sure that children at open providers are counted when they are temporarily not in attendance and that is important for the providers.’

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and children and families minister Vicky Ford, Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said:

‘I noted from the debate that new guidance on census data is to be issued to local authorities to ensure that this data reflects ‘expected attendance’ and ‘doesn’t excludewhat is considered to be a temporary absence or closure’. It is absolutely imperative that more information is provided to this sector on what this means in practice as a matter of urgency – particularly, the definition of ‘temporary’ in this context – alongside clarity on how the support provided by such an approach compares to simply funding the sector at pre-pandemic levels, as has been widely called for.

‘It is also vital that any guidance issued is made as a clear and compulsory directive to local authorities, and not open to interpretation or optional adherence.’

Neil also urged the minister to ‘ensure that those providers who rely predominantly on private income are not forgotten’ stating: ‘While I know that settings can now access furlough funding for loss of both private and public income, existing guidance on this remains unclear and of course, the Job Retention Scheme only covers staff costs, and not other running costs that providers continue to face. For self-employed childminders, details of the fourth Self-employed Income Support Scheme has yet to be published and those who are newly-established businesses have not received any support from this scheme to date in any case. These gaps in support must be filled.’

He added: ‘Early years providers provide a vital service, and it has been positive to see this publicly recognised by the government on so many occasions over recent days. This rhetoric must now be matched by action, with all providers offered financially protection from the impact of the pandemic as far as is possible.’

Huge decline in childcare demand in England as concerns for the sector grow

While restrictions are absolutely necessary to curb the spread of the virus, the lockdown in England has hit the early years sector hard.

Many parents and carers working from home are not using their nursery places. This coupled with the lack of support from the Government is putting many nurseries on the brink of permanent closure.

The Department of Education released statistics, revealing that an estimated 542,000 children are currently attending early years childcare settings on Thursday 7 January. This is about 37% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time. Furthermore, the statement read:

‘On a typical day in the Spring term we expect attendance to be 1,052,000, due to different and part-time patterns of childcare during the week. We estimate that the 542,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 52% of the usual daily level.’

Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:

‘While we of course understand why many parents have taken the decision to keep their children at home, the failure of government to provide adequate financial support to early years providers means that this huge reduction in childcare demand is putting many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country at serious risk of permanent closure.

‘As it stands, early years settings are facing a complete postcode lottery, with some councils continuing to provide funding for children who aren’t currently taking up their childcare place, and others refusing to do so. Add to this the fact that providers are also losing private parental fees at an alarming rate, and it’s clear that, without help, many in the sector will simply not be able to remain afloat for much longer

‘Given that the government’s ‘stay at home’ order is likely to remain in place for several weeks, it is absolutely critical that the Department for Education and Treasury stop dragging their feet on this and commit to providing the temporary financial support that providers need to make it through this incredibly difficult period: that means the immediate reinstatement of early entitlement funding at pre-Covid levels as well as emergency funding for providers facing a loss of private income.

‘The government keeps saying how important a role the early year plays, but what the sector needs is urgent action, not empty rhetoric.’

Key Findings

  • An estimated 49,000 early years settings were open on 7 January. This represents 72% of all settings, with 13% closed and 15% unknown. The percentage closed may include some providers which are open, due to differences in the ways local authorities collect data and report non-responses. This is currently being reviewed.
  • Estimated 542,000 children attended early years settings on 7 January. This represents approximately 37% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time.
  • 542,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 52% of the usual daily level.

 

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Norwich Road Nursery Group sold

Norwich Road Nursery Group, which has a capacity for 94 children across two settings, is now under new ownership.

Based in Attleborough and Watton, the group was founded in 2004 by the current owners David and Sharon Percy-Griffiths.

Starting out at the Attleborough setting, the business experienced strong levels of growth and enjoyed an array of referrals and recommendations from parents across Norfolk. The group acquired its second setting in 2016 when they purchased premises in Watton.

Both settings provide a welcoming feel throughout and benefit from good-sized classrooms which create a pleasant environment to learn and play for all ages along with a home-from-home feel.

Children aged between three months and five years enjoy high levels of childcare across both settings and all members of staff are highly experienced and qualified, providing an excellent learning environment throughout.

Having built up the successful Group since its inception, David and Sharon wished to sell Norwich Road Nursery Group as they wished to spend more time with their family.

Recognised as the UK’s leading childcare business broker, Redwoods Dowling Kerr were instructed in the sale of Norwich Road Nursery Group.

Using our extensive marketing campaign and research strategies, the business was eventually sold to Goldenapples nurseries, a group operator in the childcare sector looking to expand their portfolio.

Upon completion of the sale, the vendor said: ‘Thank you to Redwoods Dowling Kerr for all their support and hand-holding during the process, and for helping to ensure that we got the deal across the line.’

Senior childcare negotiator, Sarah Ellison, said: ‘It was a pleasure to have worked with David and Sharon Percy-Griffiths to aid them in a successful completion.

‘It was important to our clients that we found them an experienced operator and when we introduced them to Mrs Wheeler who owns and runs a wonderful group of four successful nurseries, they were thrilled when she made the offer especially during unprecedented times.

‘We would like to wish Mrs Wheeler all the best with her two new settings and hope to work with her again in the future to continue to grow her business.’

Tommies Childcare recognised for having ‘Extraordinary’ levels of employee engagement

Tommies Childcare, a day nursery and pre-school provider, has been recognised as a well led and well managed organisation demonstrating ‘extraordinary’ levels of employee engagement, despite the current unprecedented circumstances.

The organisation, which provides early years experiences for children up to 5 years old, has been certified by Best Companies and recognised for their commitment to employees, with a 3-star accreditation rating.

This is the third consecutive year that Tommies has achieved the 3-star accolade, which is the highest available.

In order to secure the achievement once again, Tommies Childcare kept employee welfare front and centre of its planning in response to Covid-19. It ensured all workers were kept connected through regular communication with management, with the introduction of wellbeing initiatives and through team building activities for both furloughed and non-furloughed staff.

A ‘core team’ of employees that continued to work on site to provide early years education and care for the children of key workers were rewarded with thanks and a personalised book. The company has provided training to both Head Office and Nursery staff with regular meetings to communicate internal changes. They hosted the training virtually, with specific sessions for different staff members held to ensure information, and how it would impact upon roles, understood.

Danielle Butler, operations director, said: ‘Our employees have worked on the frontline since the pandemic reached the UK, and I am incredibly proud of how they have risen to the challenge. In what has been a turbulent year for us all, our commitment to making Tommies Childcare an extraordinary place to work for our people remains unshaken. To retain our 3-star accreditation for a third consecutive year is a remarkable achievement, and I am delighted to celebrate this success with our employees.’

Jonathan Austin, founder and CEO of Best Companies, said: ‘Tommies Childcare should be very proud of their achievement, demonstrating extraordinary levels of engagement and testament to them being well led and well managed throughout this pandemic. This accreditation is recognition of all they have done to be a best company to work for, having put their people first during these unprecedented times.’