Exclusion of early years settings from new Covid fund a 'slap in the face'

Katy Morton
Monday, November 30, 2020

The sector has accused the Government of disrespecting early years providers by excluding them from new Covid workforce funding.

The Government's new Covid Workforce Fund is only open to schools and colleges
The Government's new Covid Workforce Fund is only open to schools and colleges

On Friday (27 November), education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the new fund to support schools and colleges with staff absences throughout the pandemic.

The fund, which is not open to nurseries, pre-schools or childminders, will be backdated to 1 November and cover the current half term. It forms part of the Government’s national priority to keep educational settings open.

The Early Years Alliance called the move by the Department for Education (DfE) a ‘slap in the face’ for providers, while the the NDNA branded it ‘a kick in the teeth’.

It comes after research by the Alliance found that one in six nurseries could close by Christmas.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, said, ‘Time and time again schools have been given access to funding and support that has been denied to early years educators, whether on cleaning products, PPE and now staffing pressures.

‘This approach shows a total lack of understanding from the Department for Education of the pressures on early years providers. It also shows a lack of respect for providers and practitioners facing financial hardship and a lack of recognition of their importance to our children.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented, ‘Early years educators too are facing huge staffing pressures, with staff contracting Covid or having to self-isolate. What’s more, with so many small settings, a staff absence often means closure for that period of time.

‘These are the providers who have made it possible for parents to go out to work throughout the pandemic and they have been offered a paltry settlement. They have had no help to pay for cleaning and were allocated pennies-per-hour in the Spending Review, failing to cover even the mandated increase to the National Minimum and National Living wages to come. Now they are told they will receive no help to stay open as they deal with staff shortages.

‘Early years settings cannot be left without help any longer. They cannot wait to find out if they will have their autumn funding arrangements extended into spring. They are making impossible decisions now about whether they can keep qualified staff on the payroll, and ultimately, if they can keep open the valued settings that their communities so rely on.’

Early years providers also expressed their disappointment on social media, with many saying they weren’t surprised the sector has been excluded from the funding. One user on Facebook called the early years a ‘forgotten sector’.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We know the pandemic has brought challenges for all education and care staff, which is why nurseries, preschools and childminders have received significant financial support over the past months. They will also benefit from a planned £3.6 billion of funding in 2020-21 to provide free childcare places and the Chancellor has confirmed we will invest £44 million in the next financial year to allow for an increase in the hourly funding rate for early years providers.

'The Covid workforce fund is responding to pressures schools and colleges face due to staff absences. Attendance in early years settings has been rising over the autumn term and we will continue to monitor this.'

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