Parents of children who attend nurseries, as well as members of staff, face a “worrying time” according to the head of the National Day Nurseries Association.
On Monday (4 January), the Prime Minister announced the closure of all primary and secondary schools, with the exception of children considered vulnerable and those of key workers, as part of the third national lockdown, in an effort to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Nurseries are exempt from the lockdown; being not only allowed, but expected to stay open. Many key workers, including healthcare staff, rely on childcare to be able to work.
The risk to children is tiny
The risk of children becoming ill from the virus is tiny. Prof Russell Viner, president of Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told the BBC on Thursday:
“the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only.”
Scientists are still investigating the new variant, but there is no evidence it causes more severe illness in any age group.
Staff and parents concerned about transmission
The evidence it spreads among young children is limited, but there is some evidence that children of all ages can transmit the disease. According to a report published 23 December 2020 by the European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control, clusters have been reported in preschools. The report also says evidence of the potential impact of the new variants of the virus is not yet available.
Since the emergence of the new strain of Covid-19, it has become clear that it is much more transmissible, but scientists don’t yet know whether this is the case amongst small children. In the minutes from the government’s advisory body Sage from 22 December, the government scientific advisers say the “closure of secondary schools [is] likely to have a greater effect than closure of primary schools”.
Toddler’s World, Maggie and Rose, Buttercups, Kïdo, BusyBees and Devonshire Nursery are amongst some of Chiswick’s nurseries which remain open. One nursery told us the issue was a “hot potato” and too political for them to comment on.
Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association, says that parents and staff are scared and unsure about the safety of nurseries. She has also raised concerns about the lack of proper Government support to bridge the funding gap which many nurseries in the sector are facing.
Nurseries ‘cannot be hung out to dry’
“This is a worrying time for parents, nurseries and their staff. Throughout this pandemic nurseries have been operating as safely as possible to ensure children have access to early education and parents are able to work” Purnima said.
“Nurseries want to keep open so they can continue to support children and give them a safe and nurturing place during this lockdown. However, the Government are asking a lot of childcare providers and their staff and have to recognise this.
“There is a lot of fear and confusion about how safe nurseries are. Parents and staff need reassurance from the Government about the evidence behind the decision to keep nurseries open to all. A lot of work has gone into making nurseries as safe as possible but this reassurance needs to come from the highest level.
“Nurseries and early years providers cannot be hung out to dry. At the time when the Government and the country is asking the most of the sector – to remain open while all other education services are closed – they must support childcare settings. The short-sighted decision to cut early years funding to headcount only, must be reversed.
“With so many settings worried about the financial impact of higher running costs and reduced income more targeted support needs to be made available to prevent wide-scale closures.
“For months we have been calling for better access to testing for early years staff, and with schools now closed, these settings have to be a priority. We all know it’s impossible to distance from toddlers and babies who need close care and contact. Therefore early years staff must also be a priority for the vaccine to enable them to continue on the frontline providing support for families.
“Time and time again the early years sector have been asked to go above and beyond for children and to support working families. Ministers have to recognise the scale of what they are asking, support the sector and ensure nurseries can survive this lockdown.”
“Struggling” nurseries may close down
Following a meeting with the Minster for Children on Tuesday 5 January, Vicky Ford, Purnima had this to say:
“This morning I met with the Minister Vicky Ford alongside other early years organisations to discuss last night’s announcement. I was clear with the Minister that there is a lot of anxiety and concern in the sector and the Government needs to reassure parents and providers about the scientific evidence behind last night’s decision.
“I also reinforced the message that unless the Government addresses the issue of funding support to nurseries through this lockdown, alongside testing and vaccination priorities for staff in the sector, nurseries will struggle to provide places and we could be looking at more settings closing their doors.”
According to the NDNA, during last year’s lockdown, nurseries had around £4 of income for every £5 of costs they incurred.
“There are specific grants for retail and leisure businesses affected by the latest lockdown but once again there is no specific support for childcare settings. Discretionary grants will be available to local authorities but at a time where early years is the only education service open to children attending, this is not good enough.
“The Government needs to revisit the funding support to early years this term and re-instate the block payment of childcare places to make sure that no setting loses funding at this critical time.”
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See also: Latest Covid figures for Chiswick
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