The Government has today set out its plan for the return of all pupils to schools and colleges as part of the roadmap for leaving lockdown, published this afternoon on gov.uk.
The Government has been clear that the return to face-to-face education is the national priority and that two weeks’ notice would be given ahead of any change. As part of the roadmap, the Government has also announced that all staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will now have access to tests to use twice weekly at home. This will be available from Monday 22 March. Childminders can continue to access community testing, and the Department continues to work with colleagues across Government to review the testing approach available for childminders.
Early years organisations and charities have, for months, called for access to testing since they remained open across England witnessing increasing Covid infections across settings.
Purnima Tanuku OBE, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said:
‘There are two crucial pillars to keeping staff and children as safe as possible in early years settings, mass rapid testing and vaccination of critical workers. The announcement that all staff in PVI nurseries and pre-school settings will have the same access to testing as schools is fantastic news for the sector.
‘We have worked hard alongside our members to ensure the practical and logistical challenges are overcome. We hope that soon childminders will also be able to access the testing kits. Early years staff have been desperately waiting for this support since the scheme for schools was announced in December.
‘We hope that the roll-out of this plan can happen as soon as possible so early years workers can test at home before setting off to work, limiting the spread of the virus. The next stage has to be the question of vaccination for staff because that is how we can ensure they are as safe as possible and minimise the disruption of care and education for our youngest children.’
Commenting Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:
‘After months of sector lobbying, today’s announcement will come as welcome, though long overdue, news for private and voluntary nurseries and pre-schools – although many will be understandably frustrated that they will have to wait a full month for this change to come into effect.
‘It is completely unacceptable, however, that there is still no information on when – or even if – home testing kits will be available to registered childminders in England.
‘Like their nursery and pre-school colleagues, childminders have continued to provide vital care and education in close-contact environments during the most worrying period of the pandemic. Given that childminders care for young children in their own homes, and the direct risk this places not just on them but also on members of their households, there is no excuse for excluding them from this latest rollout.
‘As the number of Covid reports from early years settings continues to rise, it’s clear that the whole sector, without exception, must have access to home testing kits as soon as possible. As an emergency interim measure, we at the Alliance have asked government to work with us to develop a system allowing home tests for childminders to be distributed safely via local group settings.
‘At every stage of this crisis, PVI early years providers have had to fight to get the support they need to continue operating as safely as possible. It is incredibly disappointing that what should been a positive announcement for the sector has been undermined by more unequal treatment of hard-working early years professionals.
‘What’s more, we know that asymptomatic testing is just one important step in protecting the early years workforce. Priority access to vaccinations remains crucial to safeguarding everyone working as a childminder or in a nursery or pre-school. We therefore continue to call on government and the JCVI to ensure all those who work in the early years get this vital protection as part of Phase 2 of the vaccination delivery plan.’