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Covid-19 Response Group details guidance for a safe re-opening
For nearly two months the early years sector has tried tirelessly to navigate through the uncertainty caused by Covid-19.
However, despite changing regulations and an unprecedented situation, the sector has continued to pull together to support each other and share guidance in order to move the industry further towards a safe re-opening.
The Covid-19 Response Group is made up of the main industry membership organisations, who represent several thousand members and over 70 childcare groups.
A sub-group from the Covid-19 Crisis Response Group has created an in-depth proposal for safe reopening which is being sent to local MPs, Local Authorities and to the Treasury and DfE.
Guidance points for
a safe re-opening are
Open letter to the Government and Local Authorities
An open letter from a sub-group from the Covid-19 Crisis Response Group is being sent to local MPs, Local Authorities and to the Treasury and DfE.
The group understands how crucial it is for the early years sector and the Government to work together to bring about the solutions that will enable settings to safely come out of the lockdown.
Please see the full letter below:
To whom it may concern,
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, a wide range of Early Years organisations have come together in an unprecedented way to support and share guidance, expertise and practice in order to ensure a continuation of the very high standards of Early Years Care and Education, being delivered.
This includes the major sector representative groups alongside national, regional and smaller local multi-site providers. With all their backing, we are writing to outline how, as a combined group of 70 major providers, we feel the sector is best placed to support Government and the economy by setting out how we can safely and effectively ‘re-open’ childcare provision across the country which will clearly be needed to support parents who return to work in the months ahead.
In relation to the Statutory Framework for EYFS, current disapplication measures with in Learning & Development requirements and appropriate flexibilities within Safeguarding & Welfare requirements have given providers initial support to deliver ‘emergency childcare’ as part of the initial response to COVID-19. As we move to re-opening/transitioning from ‘emergency childcare’, the sector is well placed to address several matters:
1) EYFS – Safeguarding & Welfare requirements – with current flexibilities in place and the nature of Early Years settings being considerably smaller than schools, with key-groups of children, we are more able to further minimise transmission risks as settings are less likely to have large communal areas such as playground entrances, dining rooms, halls, meeting rooms and other facilities which may more typically be associated with schools and larger educational provision.
2) Training & Regulatory matters – providers have clear guidance and accountabilities from a range of sources including:
a. Gov.uk guidance which has been in place since late February/early March and evolved in response to the pandemic and resulted in dynamic changes to providers Site Operating Procedures (SOPs) being implemented by our workforce
b. Health & Safety at work Act 1974 and related HSE guidance and oversight
c. Ofsted Inspection Handbook and associated guidance
d. A well-established sector-linked range of independent training and support organisations
3) Key Supplies – we have the current ability to build on our emerging ‘ sector procurement strategy’ including items such as PPE, Resources and Educational Materials, Hygiene and Food which will remove any further burden from Government in supporting the sector in transitioning from ‘emergency childcare’.
4) School Transitions – we are very aware of the difficulties faced by young children who will be transitioning back into settings and for some also due to move onto primary school settings in just a few months, having spent in many cases a number of months away from their key attachments and familiar learning environments. To support their wellbeing and social/emotional implications of lockdown, alongside ongoing social distancing demands placing additional pressure on schools, we would require Government to re-enforce the existing mandatory school starting age of five for this cohort of children, allowing them to take up their reception place from either January or April 2021. Early Years settings are ideally placed to support this move, which should remain at parental choice and facilitated by:
a. Schools guaranteeing children their Reception place if entry is deferred by 1 or 2 terms.
b. LA’s funding term time 9-3pm (30 hrs) provision in Good & Outstanding provision using existing mechanisms and current underspends from DSG.
c. EY settings continuing to provide a rich and varied curriculum as per the existing EYFS which already covers the age range up to 5 years (60 months).
d. Parents retaining a choice and also paying EY providers directly for wraparound/out of school hours
Finally, we would welcome supportive guidance from Government in the following areas:
Directives to Local Authorities – a need for both consistency and speed of decision making in supporting providers through this transition phase and beyond
PPE – clarity for both our teams and parents on latest medical advice and requirements
Notice – in relation to effectively ‘re-opening’ and considering the needs of both our teams (furlough status, wellbeing) and the appropriate transition for children into the setting and their emotional and physical wellbeing, we would request that Government supports the sector to begin to open the nurseries in response to local need as and when they are ready.
As referenced above, Appendix I sets out an outline of SOP’s which relate to the key considerations all settings will have in re-opening and/or transitioning from ‘emergency childcare’ operations. These have also been developed with the expertise and input of the aforementioned providers and should serve as a sector-wide reference tool from which all providers can make the necessary arrangements that are appropriate to their individual setting or context.
These views and the SOP’s included at Appendix I are given in good faith and with a collaborative spirit to ensure we can provide the very best level of Early Years Care and Education that the country’s children deserve and that enables families to get safely back to work whilst ensuring all appropriate consideration is given to how we support ongoing measures in the UK’s response to COVID-19 and ensuring that ‘R’ is both reduced and maintained at a suitably low level to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed as part of a second spike.
Early Years COVID-19 Response Group
Survey: A quarter of childcare providers fear permanent closure within the year
According to a new survey conducted by the Early Years Alliance, one in four nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England say it’s “unlikely” that they’ll still be operating in 12 months’ time.
The sector has been plagued for decades by underfunding, but on top of that a lack of adequate government support during the coronavirus crisis has really taken its toll.
More than 3000 childcare providers took part in the survey.
- 25% of respondents felt that it was ‘somewhat unlikely’ or ‘very unlikely’ that they would be operating in 12 months’ time.
- 74% of respondents said that the government hasn’t provided enough support for early years providers during the coronavirus crisis.
In recent weeks the Government has made several U-turns on the amount of support available for the early years sector including allowing staff to be furloughed and assistance through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Government guidance published on 24 March stated that childcare settings could benefit from both early entitlement funding and the Job Retention Scheme. However, on 17 April, the Department for Education published additional guidance which placed new limitations on how much financial support providers receiving early entitlement funding could receive via the scheme.
The survey found that, of those childcare providers who employ staff:
- 75% had thought they would be able to access the scheme in full alongside early entitlement funding prior to the new guidance being published on 17 April.
- 71% had already furloughed staff ahead of the new guidance being released, while a further 11% had informed staff they were going to be furloughed.
When asked what impact the new limitations on furlough funding would have:
- 47% said they may need to make staff redundant
- 37% said they may need to retract offers to top up staff wages to 100%
- 21% said they may need to retract offers to waive or reduce parent fees
Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said:
‘These findings paint a truly worrying picture of a sector struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and not getting anywhere near the support needed to make it through this crisis.
‘Many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders were already struggling financially long before the coronavirus outbreak hit as a result of years and years of severe underfunding – and while the government has taken some steps to support providers during this period, as the results of the survey show, they are simply not enough.
‘The recent last-minute U-turn on the support that childcare settings can receive for furloughed staff in particular has had a hugely negative impact on the sector, and if not reversed, is likely to contribute to many avoidable redundancies and, in some cases, permanent closures.
‘Add to this the number of providers that the survey revealed are falling through the gaps of existing schemes – such as settings unable to benefit from business support grants, and newly-registered childminders excluded from the Self-employed Income Support Scheme – and it’s clear that government support for the sector is severely lacking.
‘The government must now accept that it needs to do much more to support early years providers in this country – otherwise, we may not have a functional childcare sector when this crisis is, eventually, over.’
Play at Home Fest announces lineup
Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide has announced a lineup of household names that will take party in the not-for-profit Play at Home Fest.
The digital festival will take part between May 23 and 24.
Included in the lineup is stand-up comedian and author, Shappi Khorsandi, who will headline the main stage to entertain families.
Mum of two, Shappi, is a well-known name having appeared on shows including Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
It’s a great opportunity to get the family together for a virtual day of fun and entertainment.
Headlining the Time To Create Stage and bringing a model making workshop to the festival is Merlin Crossingham from Aardman, the world-famous animation studio. Merlin is creative director of Wallace & Gromit and Morph, but also directs commercials, short films and was Animation Director on the recent feature film ‘Early Man’. Merlin will share tips and tricks with budding animators.
Maggie & Rose, the global family members’ club, has teamed up with classic children’s character, Miffy, to host a very special session for little ones filled with Miffy-inspired Maggie & Rose art, craft, cooking and story-time classes. The instantly recognisable rabbit, created by Dick Bruna, is an evergreen brand with a multigenerational appeal, and this year celebrates her 65th anniversary.
For the evening story time performance, the award-winning makers of the Toniebox, tonies will take the main stage to read to children.
Amanda Gummer, Founder and CEO, Good Play Guide, comments: “The lineup for Play at Home Fest is phenomenal already and we are just thrilled to be able to bring this level of play, fun, and excitement to families at such an uncertain time, while raising funds for the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal.”
CMA investigation will focus on childcare providers among other sectors
The Competition and Markets Authority has pointed to the nursery and childcare sector as one of their areas of concern.
In a new investigation of cancellation and refund practices, the CMA highlighted three sectors of concern:
- Nurseries and childcare.
- Wedding and private events.
- Holiday accommodation.
Commenting on this, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:
‘The government has asked that childcare providers are ‘reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents’ during the coronavirus outbreak, and we are proud to see that this has been the approach taken by the vast majority of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders to date. We know that many early years providers are waiving parent fees during this crisis regardless of the terms of their parental contracts, and despite the negative financial impact this is likely to have on their settings.
‘Any instances of settings taking an unreasonable approach to parental fees would be likely to represent a tiny minority of the sector as a whole. What’s more, it is important that the CMA takes into account the fact that, unlike the holiday and wedding industries, the childcare sector is heavily dependent on government funding, and this funding has been inadequate for years. This has put a huge pressure on providers trying to remain sustainable, and especially during this incredibly challenging period.
‘It is vital that any review of childcare practices takes these factors into consideration, and the Alliance would be very happy to support the CMA to gain a full and comprehensive understanding of these issues to ensure that the upcoming investigation is balanced and well-informed.’
Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of NDNA, stated:
‘Nurseries are being put between a rock and a hard place during this crisis. They are being asked to remain open and run at a loss to provide emergency childcare, while those who can’t open still face staffing and other costs which the Governments support doesn’t fully cover.
‘As a result of a lack of insurance cover, delays to Government support schemes and chronic underfunding of childcare places we know that some nurseries have asked parents for contributions to keep their businesses afloat.
‘Nurseries as consumers have their own concerns especially about how insurance cover is working for them as this is leaving them exposed to losses. We have also raised concerns with the CMA previously about how Government funding is affecting the childcare market which is already pushing them to the brink. Before this crisis more than half were only breaking even or running at a loss.
‘If nurseries don’t have the income to cover their ongoing costs then they won’t be able to re-open when parents come to going back to work. If these measures – combined with a lack of Government support – force more nursery closures it will be the families and children who will suffer in the long term.’