It comes after the Government’s Coronavirus Bill was given royal assent last night. Under the emergency legislation, the education secretary has the power to force childcare settings to close or stay open. However, he will have to decide whether to devolve this power to local authorities.
Writing on social media, nursery owners/managers and childminders say they have made the decision to close to vulnerable children and those of key workers because they either don’t have enough staff, due to them being classed as ‘vulnerable’ to Coronavirus (COVID-19), ‘high-risk’ or in self-isolation, or because they feel that the risk of catching the virus is too great for their employees. This is a particular issue for many when households where just one parent is a key worker are continuing to send their child in.
It appears to signal a change from the beginning of the week when a Twitter poll by Nursery World revealed that 80 per cent of respondents' settings were open on Monday.
Government guidance, published this week, states that ‘every child who can be safely cared for at home should be', to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
Some settings have also reported seeing a reduction in the number of children attending throughout the week, leaving them questioning whether it is still worth them remaining open, especially if other arrangements can be made, such as attending another nursery with more children.
The same guidance also says, ‘Providers should try to remain open to support vulnerable children and those of key workers’, however the Department for Education understands ‘it may not be possible for all settings, for example due to staff shortages or illness.’
One nursery owner said that she closed yesterday and is continuing to pay staff in full using the Government’s Furlough scheme, under which employees receive 80 per cent of their pay up to £2,500 a month, and continued funding for the 15-and-30-hour childcare entitlements.
Another said she had closed, as she didn’t want to ‘risk anyone’s life.’
Ian Morgan, director of Little Ducklings Nursery in Berkshire and Puddleduck Nursery in Oxfordshire, has today made the decision to close one of his settings.
He told Nursery World, 'By Friday we will have no key children and 15 members of staff willing to work. We have done the right thing and convinced key worker parents to consider their working patterns and try and keep their children home. I am only financially incentivised to close at this moment in time and that's what many of my friends and colleagues are doing.
'I know in the coming weeks things are going to change and the demand for childcare, albeit adhoc care, will increase. But we will all be closed.'
He went on to say that his other setting remains open.
Mr Morgan explained, 'As of tomorrow, we will be the last nursery open in that area. We have five key children which still does not make financial sense to stay open. I should close but we have a duty to care, but it's likely to be at my expense.
'Schools who are part of this are full funded but as nurseries we are not. Although the Government believe our package of support, the early years entitlement, is enough, it is not.'
- For more see our Big Issue on the coronavirus