Leading early years organisations the Early Years Alliance, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) have called on the Government to take immediate action to protect the sector.
Plunging into another lockdown with little warning rings similar tones to the abruptness of the first lockdown in March 2020. After re-opening, nurseries and childcare services called on the Government to deliver sufficient funding to help the sector survive.
Now, nearly a year later, that support has not come and the early years sector has been ignored from any major Government relief packages.
Now the organisations have issued a joint call for the government to take urgent steps to protect the safety and financial sustainability of those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings in England.
As part of the new joint #ProtectEarlyYears campaign, the three organisations are calling on the Government to:
- prioritise those working in early years and childcare for Covid-19 vaccinations.
- roll-out mass asymptomatic testing at all early years and childcare settings.
- reinstate early entitlement funding support for settings who have been forced to close or have seen a fall in the demand for funded places.
- introduce targeted funding for providers reliant on private income who have suffered from falls in parental demand.
The Government has continued to say that early years settings are ‘low-risk environments’, however, the same was said for primary and secondary schools before the Government u-turn on closing them.
Professor Calum Semple, a virologist and SAGE member already warned of this decision:
‘The reality is that under these circumstances, every opportunity to remove social mixing and work mixing of human beings is vitally important. So if a political decision has been made here to keep nurseries open in order to keep essential staff at work, then that could be tempered by restricting the nursery capacities to those essential workers. But if we’ve gone to the point of closing the universities, secondary schools and primary schools on the ground of public health, then I would be looking to close all other non-essential activities.’
In light of this and other scientific responses, The Early Years Alliance, PACEY and the NDNA are also calling on the Government to provide clear scientific evidence on the risk implications of staying open
Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:
‘It is simply not acceptable that, at the height of a global pandemic, early years providers are being asked to work with no support, no protection and no clear evidence that is safe for them to do so.
‘We know how vital access to early education and care is to many families, but it cannot be right to ask the early years workforce to put themselves at risk. That is why it is vital that the government takes the urgent steps needed to safeguard those working in the sector, particularly mass testing and priority access to vaccinations.
‘With many providers seeing a huge fall in the demand for places, if nurseries and childminders are to have any hope of being able to remain open in the long term, it is also vital that the government provides the necessary financial support, both for those reliant on ‘free entitlement’ funding, and those reliant on private parental income, to enable settings to remain viable.
‘Ministers cannot simultaneously ask providers to stay open but take no action to ensure they can do so safely and sustainably. It’s time for the government to step up and give the early years sector the support it needs and deserves.’
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said:
‘The Government is asking early years providers to go above and beyond in this lockdown and we know there is a great amount of determination among nurseries to support children and families at this challenging time.
‘Time and again, whether it’s on PPE, cleaning costs, testing or staffing, early years providers have been overlooked by the Department for Education. Now, they are the only part of the education sector fully open to all children and must be given priority.
‘What we want to see from Government is the practical and financial support that will allow providers to do what they do best – giving children the highest standards of care and early education through this lockdown period. The sector must be supported now and cannot be an afterthought for Ministers.’
Liz Bayram, Chief Executive at PACEY, commented:
‘Early years and childcare providers have been a vital pillar of support for so many families throughout the pandemic but the latest restrictions have left them and their staff between a rock and a hard place. We need sight of the evidence that led government to decide it was low-risk to keep early years open but close schools. We need better financial support, not just for settings that have to close but for the many who decide to continue to provide services despite the risks and the significantly reduced numbers of children in attendance.
‘Many PACEY members, most of whom are self-employed and on low incomes, cannot afford to temporarily close their business regardless of risk and have no choice but to carry on. If government believes early years are so vital, childminders, pre-school and nurseries should be better supported financially to make the right choice for their service to remain open or not. They and their staff should be a priority for vaccination and have access to rapid testing too. Gavin Williamson says early years are key, his words need to be backed up with decisive actions too.’