EXCLUSIVE: Ofsted data shows early years settings with Covid cases doubling every week

Catherine Gaunt
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Cases of Covid-19 in early years settings have been doubling every week on average since the first week of September, Nursery World can reveal, as early years settings continue to struggle to access tests, despite being classed as essential workers with priority access to testing.

Early years providers are struggling to access Covid tests, despite the Government saying they should have priority access to tests
Early years providers are struggling to access Covid tests, despite the Government saying they should have priority access to tests

Data obtained by Labour, and shared with Nursery World, shows that in a month the number of settings with one or more confirmed weekly cases of coronavirus rose from 14 on 31 August to 181 on 28 September.

Number of registered early years and childcare providers reporting one or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 by week, starting 1 June 2020.

 

31/08/2020

14

07/09/2020

34

14/09/2020

87

21/09/2020

170

28/09/2020

181

 

Source: Ofsted

 

The figures were obtained by shadow early years and children’s minister Tulip Siddiq, who asked the education secretary in a parliamentary question about the number of Covid-19 outbreaks that had been reported in early years settings since 1 June.

The question was then referred to Ofsted for chief inspector Amanda Spielman to respond.

Separately, Ms Siddiq also wrote to ask the education secretary to ask if he would request that Ofsted publish information about the number of Covid-19 outbreaks that have been reported in early years settings online on a weekly basis.

The chief inspector subsequently replied that Ofsted will publish information on the Ofsted website every two weeks from 30 0ctober.

Early years and childcare providers must notify Ofsted within 14 days of any serious accident or illness, and Department for Education guidance states that any confirmed cases should be swiftly reported to Ofsted.

Whereas maintained nursery schools and nurseries in school sites are sent a supply of Covid testing kits, private and voluntary nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are having to source testing kits themselves, and many providers are struggling to do so, leaving them with staff shortages and with no choice but to close their settings.

During education questions on Tuesday, Ms Siddiq asked the children’s minister Vicky Ford whether childcare workers were still qualified for priority testing.

‘Data from Ofsted shows that the number of nurseries and other childcare providers with coronavirus cases has, on average, been doubling every week since the start of September,’ she said.

‘Yet many early years workers can’t access Covid tests or get quick results, forcing them to stay at home.

‘I’ve heard from a nursery in Surrey that has been forced to close, as a result affecting 40 children and depriving their parents of childcare. Will the minister confirm if childcare workers still qualify for priority testing? And if so, why are they not getting it?’

In response, children’s minister Vicky Ford said, ‘I can absolutely confirm that education and childcare workers including those in the early years have priority access via the online booking portal and this has been the case since April this year.’

On Twitter, Ms Siddiq added, ‘More and more nurseries are facing Covid outbreaks, with some forced to shut because staff can't get tests. The Minister just confirmed to me in Parliament that childcare workers should get priority tests, but gave no answer about why this isn't happening. Time to get a grip.’

Nursery World has asked the Department for Education why providers are unable to access tests, despite childcare workers being classed as having priority for testing, and is waiting for a response.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, (NDNA), said, ‘Ministers and national guidance continues to say that early years staff should get priority access to testing, but our members are telling us this just isn’t the case. We’ve had reports of staff waiting days for test appointments and even longer for the results. On top of that providers using the portal tell us they don’t always get a response.

‘Childcare providers have been working throughout the pandemic to provide essential care to children and support parents back to work. Nurseries and their staff deserve to be treated as a priority, not as second-class citizens. That’s why we are campaigning for all early years workers to get priority access to testing now and they should be supplied with testing kits similar to the maintained sector.

‘The facts on the ground need to match up to the Government’s commitments to the early years workforce. Otherwise we will see delays putting staff at risk and more childcare settings having to temporarily close - impacting children and parents across the country.’

The Early Years Alliance is also calling for home testing kits for nurseries and childminders.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, 'It beggars belief that at a time when Covid cases are rising so rapidly, private and voluntary early years providers still aren't being supplied with home testing kits, especially given that such kits have been available to maintained nurseries, schools and colleges for months now.

'We continue to be inundated with reports from nurseries, pre-schools and childminders who have been unable to access tests through the normal channels, despite repeatedly being told they should be able to get priority access. These are professionals who spend all day in close physical contact with young children who don't know how, and are not expected, to socially distance - surely, given this, the early years sector should be at the front of the queue when it comes to such support.'

 

CASE STUDY

A nursery owner in Surrey, who wanted to remain anonymous, had to close their nursery for a week after staff were unable to access tests, affecting 43 children and leaving 96 parents without childcare.

‘We have had to close this week due to testing,’ she said. ‘Three members of staff from the household developed symptoms (manager, deputy and a staff member) on Friday.

‘Daughter had test on Saturday via postal kit, results back Tuesday. We spent 24 hours trying to access tests and secured two slots at the Wandsworth Covid test centre on Sunday at 11am. When we got there, they requested a QR code, which had not been sent. Luckily, I had screenshotted the confirmations, so they allowed us in to be tested. We then received confirmation our tests had been registered.

‘We are still awaiting results after over 72 hours. We contacted 119 [the NHS Coronavirus testing service], which has a pre-recorded message saying they cannot track down results due to high demand and therefore isolation of 10 days should be completed.

‘We were already one member of staff down as she could not get a test for her child who could not attend school due to a temperature and cough.

‘As a result, the whole nursery had to close and had to remain closed all week with huge loses, disruption to parents and depriving children of education.

‘On Saturday 119 advised me that we had no priority to access testing, we were not considered key workers (although we are considered key workers when providing childcare).

‘Our LEA advised they did not have a pool of staff either and understood our frustrations.

‘We also have had parents reporting they cannot get tests at all.’

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