Early years providers were sent into chaos this week as the Government announced that, despite closing primary and secondary schools due to the spread of coronavirus, nurseries and other early years services would not be included.

Whilst very young children are deemed to be less at risk to Coronavirus, real concerns have been raised about the safety of staff within these services as well as the continued asymptomatic community transmission between children to parents at home. Only last week the Government identified schools as significant vectors for the transmission of the virus, owing to high infection rates in areas like Medway.

Further confusion has been caused by the Government with regards to financing for the services. Unlike the first lockdown in March, whilst many parents may choose not to send their children into nurseries the providers will not be compensated for these absences. This is exacerbated by planned Government changes to the early years funding system set to be implemented this spring, which are estimated to put nearly 20,000 childcare providers at risk of closure within six months due to financial issues.

The Labour Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, Tulip Siddiq MP recently wrote to the Government to express the concerns of early years settings and parents across the country, urging the Minister to share the scientific basis of keeping nurseries open and for clarity regarding the financial and practical elements of this policy. You can read the full letter here: https://bit.ly/2JSUKiP

Cllr Jo Howcroft-Scott, a Labour and Co-operative member of the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said that, ‘I have a lot of sympathy for early years providers, who are being treated as an afterthought by the Government.

‘It was acknowledged that, whilst no-one wanted schools to move online, it was simply unsafe with the current rate of infection levels to keep children in physical education settings for the welfare of themselves, their families and to mitigate community transmission – which begs the question why early years providers are any different?’

 Cllr Clive Johnson, Labour and Co-operative Group Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, added that, ‘Not only are early years providers risking their welfare by remaining open, they are effectively being punished for it.

‘Understandably many parents will be apprehensive about continuing to send their children to nurseries and other early years services – but unlike the first lockdown in March, services will not receive financial support for absences.

‘The Government are treating providers with contempt, not only through the lack of consistent policy with other education settings but also by overlooking financial support which is so desperately needed for viability of these provisions.’

Cllr Vince Maple, Labour and Co-operative Group Leader, said, ‘Having heard from multiple early years providers in Medway this week, it’s abundantly clear the Government have just got this wrong.

‘Early years providers are essentially delivering an emergency service, and have very real concerns about their health and wellbeing. I urge the government to publish the scientific guidelines behind treating these services any differently to that of other educational providers.

‘As a group, we will continue to listen to the concerns of our community and do all we can to push for clarity and reassessment on this matter.’

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