How the coronavirus reponse has unfolded so far
by Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
These are unprecedented times for early years settings on the front line, caring for children of NHS and care staff, supermarket workers, delivery drivers – all those key workers whom we all rely on every day.
While some nurseries and childminders have already closed, others are staying open to care for ‘critical workers’ and vulnerable children, as the Government has asked those that are able to do.
The ongoing coronavirus crisis has brought the sense of duty, dedication, selflessness and courage of many into stark relief.
Measures of support for the early years sector have been put in place, but providers have been left with many questions about how to run their businesses and protect their staff.
Events have unfolded at an incredible pace since the coronavirus pandemic began.
- Mid-February: The World Health Organization declares a ‘global health emergency’, but UK settings are advised to operate as normal.
- 3 March: Nurseries find they are not covered by insurance for coronavirus closures.
- 16 March: Fears rise about the impact on staff and sustainability and a petition calls for schools and colleges to close.
- 17 March: Ofsted suspends all routine inspections. The Government announces that settings will continue to receive free entitlement funding if they have to close.
- 18 March: Childcare sector says the Government is ignoring it as it is excluded from the business rates holiday.
- 19 March: PVI nurseries exempted from business rates for one year. The Government starts to bring in legislation to force them to open or close.
- 20 March: Schools and nurseries told to close from 23 March except for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
- 20 March: Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces an unprecedented economic plan, including a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, VAT deferral, extension of the business interruption loan scheme, and a £1,000 increase to Universal Credit for 12 months.
- 23 March: Education secretary asks settings to limit places
- 24 March: DfE releases guidance for early years settings.
- 25 March: DfE guidance on social distancing in schools and childcare settings.
- 26 March: More nurseries close completely over health or financial concerns.
- 27 March: Childminders confirmed as eligible for self-employed support.
- 31 March: Education Select Committee is to scrutinise the impact of coronavirus on the education sector.
Read the full stories and follow the latest news and advice on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on early years settings, schools and families at https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/category/big-issues/coronavirus
Life in the pandemic
Here we look at how early years settings are coping with the challenges of helping children, families and their own staff to stay safe, well and supported at a time in history that we are all in together.
The Hospital Nursery
Anna Rixon, senior nursery manager, Taplins Childcare, run by University Hospital Southampton (UHS) NHS Foundation Trust
Two nurseries: 53 and 80 place.
Our parents work in clinical and non-clinical roles so, when the Covid-19 crisis was identified we knew we had a crucial role to play in supporting them.
Our contingency planning included looking at capacity, staffing, quality and environment. In addition to regular attenders, we have set up ad hoc care for children who cannot attend their normal provision, or whose parents need to work extra shifts. We worked with local settings (via Facebook and our local authority) creating a database of additional provision to ensure that all NHS staff can continue to work.
Caring for extra children, while also managing staff absence due to sickness, isolating or shielding, has been challenging. We ran a PR campaign to increase bank staff capacity and redeployed staff, as well as using part-time staff who volunteered to work extra shifts. In addition we set up sub-contracts for surplus staff from local settings to meet our capacity (and therefore reduce their staffing costs).
Our practice is based on Public Health guidance but we also used the expertise of our parents. For example, a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases is supporting us in evaluating practice, including increased cleaning and hand-washing, changes to the environment, routines and activities on offer. Higher-risk activities such as group sensory play are now delivered individually and we have temporarily stopped offering food play. Our aim has been to ensure safety while still providing fun, consistency and normality for the children.
Communication is essential and, to provide as much reassurance as we can, we are sending regular emails to parents and staff explaining any changes we’re making and the reasons. Feedback from parents has been positive; a recent email from one of our parents said, ‘I want to say a massive thank you to you and your team for easing some of the stress and making it possible for all of us to still do our job.’
Working during Covid-19 can of course impact on staff well-being and so we are offering extra supervision, as well as access to UHS well-being resources, including meditation and an Employee Assistance programme.
Contingency planning for Covid-19 has helped us to make changes to our current service, enabling us to adapt as things move on. Working together as a team and with others has been the most important part of this.
Children at Heart Worthing, West Sussex, working two days a week, three children on roll.
I have closed my childminding setting as I do not have any ‘critical worker’ children on roll. I do care for a school-aged child with an EHCP, but her parents are able to cover her care.
I took the difficult decision not to join the LA database for eligible parents looking for care, as my daughter has asthma so is classed as vulnerable; we are carers for an elderly relative with underlying health conditions; and my husband is a designated critical worker.
I offered to refund remaining March fees and not charge any retainers, but I did ask parents to consider paying part of their fees on a voluntary basis.
My families were really understanding, all declining refunds, with one family continuing to pay full fees, plus I should receive 12 hours FE [free entitlement] funding.
I only work part-time and I have some earnings from my other job as a trainer put aside to pay for a holiday that we will no longer be going on.
My husband’s job is safe too, so while we will take a big hit financially, from the setting closure and the cancellation of all my training until September, I am conscious that I am in a significantly better position than many friends and colleagues.
I am keeping in touch with my families through emails and texts and Tapestry memos, sending out group messages and ideas for activities to do at home.
We are planning a Zoom get-together later in the week too.
I am also helping to create a weekly newsletter that Kinderly users can share with their families. It has been a strange week with no little people around, but I am trying to make the best of things: my house will be very clean and my paperwork up to date when they return!
The Large Nursery Group
Clare Roberts, CEO of Kids Planet, which recently acquired Kids Allowed's 2,000 full- and part-time staff caring for 7,000 children (plus 65 at head office). Currently has 450 staff caring for 600 key worker children.
For us the decision was simple. We had to do what we felt was right, and that’s to look after our staff and our families. We’ve faced many challenges over the years. Coronavirus, due to its sudden and savage impact on the world, is certainly testing times. However, from the outset, we vowed to pay our team 100 per cent of their salary. I know not every company can afford to do this, and it will financially impact our business, hugely. But as a family-run business, my father, sister and the entire board believe that in these unprecedented times we must do whatever we can to help.
Providing quality care for our children that are in need is non-negotiable. But what keeps me awake at night is having to ask a large number of our practitioners to do the exact opposite of the Government’s heavily publicised advice. Make no mistake – our amazing teams are the fourth critical service right now.
Many people, outside of the sector or without toddlers in the household, fail to compute that you can’t expect a two-year-old to understand the two metre rule! That’s why I’m in our nurseries every day. My sister Lucy and I would never expect a member of our company to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves.
As a sector, we are consistently overlooked by the Government. Even before coronavirus, the numbers didn’t stack up and many nurseries were on the brink of closure. While the staff retention scheme and loans are undoubtedly helpful, they fall a long way short of bridging the financial gap, so I’m not surprised to hear so many nursery providers are choosing to close indefinitely.
But our key workers’ children need quality care and their parents deserve to have our support. We have been inundated with staff who want to provide this care.
We’ve created tiers that ensure each nursery has the necessary levels of experienced, qualified staff to ensure we can give the quality care we have always done, whether the nursery is looking after 20 children or ten. This has created another cost, as well as the contingency plan to ensure there are plenty of staff to cover those that will inevitably fall ill.
We will wait and see if the flexibility of furloughing allows us to rotate our staff over the coming months. Our interpretation, today, is that we have to furlough any member of staff for a minimum of three weeks, but we’ll continue to keep a close eye on Government changes.
From 1 April, we made the decision to suspend all nursery fees for parents not currently using our nurseries. Many of our families are struggling to keep their own heads above water, some have lost their jobs, some are on sick pay and some are self-employed with no cash until June. Those who are in the position to offer a contribution have already made themselves known and we have invited anyone to do the same, if their circumstances allow. We have been overwhelmed with the many acts of selflessness and kindness from our families and staff.
Every community is stepping up and helping us in our mission to deliver spare gloves to the NHS. Not to mention the many rainbows and paintings our children are sending to those most vulnerable. We’re providing plenty of online support for our families, with activities, tips and an open line of communication.
Undoubtedly it is the ethos of Kids Planet, its strong sense of duty and doing what feels right – shared by our staff, parents, children and suppliers – that keeps us all going. I think this is a period in history we will all reflect upon, and I wouldn’t want to feel that we could have done more.