Coronavirus - Staying open

Many settings are remaining open throughout the pandemic. How should operations change? Melanie Pilcher, quality and standards manager for the Early Years Alliance, has a guide

Nurseries are staying open for vulnerable children as well as children of key workers
Nurseries are staying open for vulnerable children as well as children of key workers

If your setting is currently open, it should only be offering places to the children of parents who are classed as key workers and children who are defined by the Government as vulnerable. A full list of key workers and for guidance on vulnerable children is available on (see Further information).

The guidance from the Government states ‘every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading’. It is vital we all remember that these measures are in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Providers can take a decision not to provide a place where they are confident that a parent does not meet the definition of a critical worker.

The DfE has released more guidance for providers covering the offering of prioritised places, the rationale behind the partial openings, role of local authorities, funding, and other operational considerations. It states, ‘We are expecting the majority of settings to stay open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children.’

Which children?

Create a checklist for parents based on the guidance to ensure only the most vulnerable children, and the children of critical workers, can attend your setting. For example:

1. Are you or your partner classed as a critical worker according to the Government’s definition? (If the answer is no, we are unable to offer a place to your child during this time).

2. If you have answered yes to the above question, are you or your partner able to work from home? (If yes then we are unable to offer a place to your child during this time).

Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with Education, Health And Care (EHC) plans, though there is flexibility in the guidance (e.g. children who have not yet formally been recognised as vulnerable by a local authority could be offered a place, while some children with EHC plans ‘can safely remain at home’).

Some staff will be also be vulnerable due to pre-existing health conditions, so it is vital that their health and needs are taken into consideration. Any staff who display any of the symptoms related to the coronavirus should be self-isolating as per Government advice and should not come into work. It is not business as usual.

The Government has put in place financial support measures including changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and other benefits. If you are unable to offer prioritised places for any reason, speak to your local authority to ensure that care for vulnerable and key worker children can still be provided. The Government expects local authorities and childcare providers to work together on this, according to the guidance: ‘Childcare providers are responsible for caring for vulnerable children, and the children of workers critical to the coronavirus (Covid-19) response. Providers should try to remain open to support these children. However, we understand that this may not be possible for all settings, for example, due to staff shortages or illness. Childcare providers should work with local authorities to agree the provision needed locally to support the needs identified.’

A risk-assessment approach

Providers should take a risk-assessment approach that incorporates the unique circumstances the sector is facing. For example:

  • Have you got enough staff to operate safely? The EYFS allows for a relaxation of ratios ‘exceptionally, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained’. The extent of the coronavirus is considered by Ofsted and the DfE to be an exceptional temporary circumstance in which staff-to-child ratios can be changed. Even so, if your risk assessment indicates the risk of doing so is high and cannot be minimised or removed, you must ensure the safety and security of children in your care and, if needs be, limit the number of prioritised places to the number of staff you need to operate safely.
  • Consider suspending activities that pose a high risk of cross-infection: sand and water play, playdough, face-painting and cooking activities are not advisable.
  • Avoid having parents gathered in your entrance hall/lobby at drop-off and collection. Ask parents to ensure they maintain at least a two-metre distance during drop-off and pick-up times. Think about whether you can stagger peak-flow times.
  • Review your procedures for responding to illness. You should think about how you would isolate a child who is showing symptoms of coronavirus until their parent/s can collect them (at the soonest opportunity). You will also need to consider how you will notify other parents that a child has been sent home with symptoms and how you will carry out a deep-clean of the premises.
  • Follow the current guidelines for ‘social distancing’ (see Further information) and do not plan any off-site activities. Make sure though that children get access to the outdoors for fresh air and exercise throughout the day.
  • There will be other considerations that you will identify through risk assessment based on children’s individual needs. These will include, but are not limited to:
  • Meeting the medical needs of vulnerable children who are eligible for a place. This does not include those children who are at a higher risk from coronavirus, who should be cared for at home.
  • Maintaining the essential key person role for children whose key person is not working, particularly for those children who are vulnerable or newer to your setting.

The requirements of the EYFS remain in force, the only exception being the EYFS Profile, which has been cancelled for this year.

Information for parents

It is essential to do whatever you can to maintain those important relationships between your setting and home. If you are able to, share a summative assessment with parents that will enable them to see what their child has achieved recently, what they are on the cusp of achieving and what they need a little more support with.

Offer suggestions and ideas for activities they can do at home to promote learning and development. Keep the lines of communication open wherever possible. This could include setting up a WhatsApp group if you do not already have one.

Further information


Supporting Mental Health in Primary and Early Years: A Practice-Based Approach
By Jonathan Glazzard and Sarah Trussler (Sage, £21.99)

Following two academics’ action research, this practical book aims to help settings and schools create a culture of inclusion. With a series of case studies for learning theory, it covers mental health awareness in schools, children’s mental health support in practice, and different mental health approaches, with an assessment tool for settings to profile children’s mental health, which should be used by teachers and used as a comparative tool across individuals and groups. The aim is to identify teaching and communication strategies that emerge from applying the tool to individuals and carrying out related activities.

Disrupting and Countering Deficits in Early Childhood Education
Edited by Fikile Nxumalo and Christopher P. Brown (Routledge, £35.99)

‘Children are born into a world in which they are often defined as lacking across a range of developmental, cultural, linguistic and individual domains…those involved in children’s lives, be it their families or early educators… are often framed as lacking as well.’ A US-focused text, which covers flagship programmes such as Head Start (the inspiration for its Sure Start UK equivalent), this is nonetheless fascinating, covering race, disability, culture, gender and gendered care and children’s rights, among other big themes. This series of scholarly essays is suitable for students and those with an interest in early years academia.

A Critical Guide to the SEND Code of Practice 0-25 Years
By Janet Goepel, Jackie Scruton and Caroline Wheatley (Critical publishing, £18.99)

Published five years after the introduction of the SEND code, this book aims to help the reader understand the role of all agencies and practitioners, critically interpret the code, and reflect on their practice and understanding. It is structured in three parts, with an introduction that includes the historical context, which begins with the Mental Deficiency Act 1913; a chapter devoted to getting to know the child or young person; and the final chapter on education, health and care plans, including from a parent and child’s perspective.

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