DfE survey shows 13 per cent of early years staff off work due to Covid

Katy Morton
Tuesday, January 25, 2022

New statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) show that 13 per cent of staff working in nurseries and childminder settings were absent from work due to Coronavirus mid-January.

The DfE has published figures on Covid-related staff absences in early years settings, PHOTO Adobe Stock
The DfE has published figures on Covid-related staff absences in early years settings, PHOTO Adobe Stock

The figures from the DfE's first weekly ‘pulse’ survey of early years providers on Covid absences show the number of staff off work due to Covid-related reasons, including a confirmed or suspected case or caring for dependants for Covid-related reasons, fell from 14 per cent on 5 January to 13 per cent a week later.

More than 2,000 providers, including nurseries, school-based settings and childminders, took part in the survey for 5 and 12 January, which collected data on the workforce absence rate due to the virus and its impact on settings, the child attendance rate and open rates of settings. The survey will run weekly up until February half-term, at which point it will be reviewed.

Other key findings from the latest data (12 January) include:

  • 93 per cent of early years settings who responded to the survey were fully open – slightly down from 94 per cent a week prior.
  • 5 per cent reported to be partially open, while 2 per cent were temporarily or permanently closed.
  • 85 per cent of children who were booked to attend settings did so.
  • 91 per cent of open group-based and school-based providers reported there were no days when they were unable to offer their regular or usual provision because of staff absences, slightly down from the previous week.
  • Of the fully or partially open providers responding to the survey, 4 per cent said their provision remained open but with restricted attendance because of workforce absences, compared to 3 per cent in the previous week.

The figures from the early years pulse survey are published within the wider statistics for education and early years settings during the Covid pandemic.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said,We know the early years sector is working hard to support children and their parents. Thanks to their resilience against this latest wave, the vast majority of providers who responded to our survey are fully open and providing their regular childcare offer for families despite clear pressures on staff. 

‘We have provided extensive guidance on the measures to take to reduce the spread of Covid-19, as well as significant financial support to protect providers from the impact of the pandemic. Providers can also use existing flexibilities set out in the Early Years Statutory Framework to manage short-term workforce pressures, so long as children continue to be cared for safely.’

The Early Years Alliance said it was ‘clear the pandemic is still having a major effect on staffing levels.’

Chief executive Neil Leitch commented, ‘With nearly one in ten settings closed, and others restricting attendance, it’s clear that the pandemic is still having a major effect on staffing levels. Given that early years settings work to tight adult-to-child ratios, small fluctuations in staff numbers can have a significant impact on their operation. Even those providers who have managed to remain open may have to turn children away due to a lack of sufficient staff -this means disruption for both parents and children that rely on consistency and continuity in their early education and care. 

‘Providers are doing their utmost to try to deliver a normal service to families, but they need Government support to do so, and so we once again urge the Government to look at tightening self-isolation rules for under-fives to reduce the risk of preventable outbreaks in early years settings.

‘It is vital that ministers now look to address the long-term recruitment and retention crisis that put settings in such a precarious staffing position in the first place if we are to avoid such a dire situation ever arising again.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'The DfE’s findings mirror what childcare providers are telling us in the absence figures we are collating, with higher staff absence levels in the first week of January, dropping slightly in the second week. It is a credit to settings that with high absence rates the vast majority have found ways to remain fully or partially open for their children and families.

'High staff absence rates are putting a huge amount of pressure on early years settings as managers and owners are faced with the daily task of making sure they fulfil adult to child ratios as best they can. We are also seeing that absence rates in early years settings are even higher than schools, yet the majority of government support has been directed at the school sector. This data shows why that must be addressed.

'When so many children are absent it puts nurseries under financial pressure too, so it’s vital that local authorities do not withdraw funding for children who are unable to come into nursery.'

School Covid figures

The DfE has also published school attendance figures, which reveal an increase in the number of children absent due to Covid. As of 20 January, 5.1 per cent of pupils in all state funded schools were absent (415,000 children), up from 3.9 per cent (315,000 children) on 6 January. The main reasons for absence was testing positive for the virus.

The same data also shows more teaching staff were off due to Covid last week. On 20 January, 9 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent, up from 8.6 per cent on 6 January.

A total of 99 per cent of state schools were open on 20 January.

The National Education Union warned as cases continue to rise among school children, disruption would get worse over the coming week.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said, ‘A quarter of schools now have at least 15 per cent of teachers and school leaders absent, causing further disruption as we move into 2022.

‘The DfE could have avoided much of this disruption by investing in ventilation and air filtration to suppress case numbers whilst vaccination is rolled out and these measures would have been made more effective by maintaining mask wearing. 

'In primary schools, Covid disruption once again raises questions about the usefulness of the government's plans for bringing back SATs in May. The Government should recognise the problem and cancel statutory assessment in primary schools in 2022.’

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) urged the Government to closely follow pupil absences and consider whether targeted additional financial support is needed for pupils who have missed the most school.

Chief executive Natalie Perera commented, ‘While there are signs that the current wave of Covid may be slowing, today's pupil absence data show that the disruption to schools is far from over. 

‘The Government must continue to closely follow pupil absences this term and consider whether it needs to target additional financial support to pupils who have been out of school the most. It must also keep its approach to summer exams under review, and ensure that the current adjustments in place for pupils are a proportionate response to the disruption they've faced.’

  • The DfE figures are available here 

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