Government adviser incorrectly says all early years staff eligible for regular testing
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Frustration around the Department for Education’s decision not to provide regular testing for PVI early years settings has been exacerbated by comments by the Government's deputy chief scientific adviser, Dougal Hargreaves, when he incorrectly stated that they were during questioning by MPs.
In answer to a question by Labour MP Fleur Anderson on why early years providers had not been included, Mr Hargreaves responded that, ‘My understanding is that the plan is that the early years workforce and the primary workforce will all be included in the twice weekly testing programme.’
As we have reported, early years staff in private, voluntary and independent settings are currently only able to access asymptomatic testing for Covid-19 via lateral flow tests in community testing centres, unlike schools which have been sent a supply of testing kits.
His comment, made during an Education Committee evidence session yesterday, is contrary to guidance published by the DfE this week.
The guidance states that the regular lateral flow testing programme will only be extended to maintained nursery schools and primary school nursery classes, not private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings. It states, ‘Staff in other early years settings, including childminders, can be tested through community testing programmes.’
While early years staff in nursery classes and maintained nursery schools will be given access to home testing kits to enable asymptomatic Covid testing, staff in PVI settings will instead be given ‘priority access’ to tests and have to attend community testing centres.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, ‘It is incredibly frustrating to see a representative of the DfE incorrectly state that all early years providers have been included in the Government’s lateral flow testing plans during an important evidence session, when this simply isn’t the case.’
He added that private and voluntary nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are still expected to access tests at community testing centres, despite the fact this often will require travelling long distances during working hours.
‘There is absolutely no justification for this decision,’ he said. ‘All early years providers have been asked to remain open to all families, and so all providers should have equal access to the tests that will help them to do so safely.’
Children’s minister Vicky Ford, speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Childcare and Early Education yesterday afternoon, said that the DfE was currently looking into occupational vaccination to ensure that childcare and early education professionals have access to vaccines as soon as possible.
The DfE were approached for a comment.