Nurseries expected to stay open for key workers from Monday

Catherine Gaunt
Friday, March 20, 2020

Nursery workers and teachers are on the list of key workers whose children will still be able to attend nursery or school during the coronavirus outbreak.

Nurseries and schools will be expected to stay open to provide care for  the children of key workers, and vulnerable children
Nurseries and schools will be expected to stay open to provide care for the children of key workers, and vulnerable children

The Government has announced that schools and nurseries should close from Monday (23 March), but expects some to stay open to provide care for a limited number of children who are vulnerable and children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response, and cannot be safely cared for at home.

Emergency legislation is also going through Parliament, with a second reading of the Covid-19 bill on Monday, which would give local authorities the powers to enforce nurseries to either close or stay open for key workers, as well as the relaxation of some requirements, such as ratios.

While nursery workers and teachers are included as 'key workers', there is no direct reference to childminders (see comment below).

It has been reported that opposition parties are not expected to seek votes on the emergency legislation, and it is expected to become law at the end of the month.

Official guidance published today for schools and local authorities states that ‘the fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread and infect vulnerable individuals in wider society.’

Meanwhile, some sector organisations say questions remain around the definition of  a ‘key worker’, and teaching unions have pointed out that the list is very long and will in practice mean that the majority of children could still be going to school.

What will happen in practice?

For early years settings, while the Government has confirmed that funded hours will continue to be paid, many nurseries are concerned about how they will survive without the money they receive from parent fees.

Sector organisations and Department for Education officials held a remote Covid-19 response meeting yesterday to discuss concerns raised by nurseries and childminders, including their financial sustainability and the practicalities around how to provide childcare for keyworker and vulnerable children, including staffing and paying salaries.

Nursery World understands that updated guidance from the Department for Education is expected to be published shortly.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, ‘While we welcome the fact that the list of key workers has finally been published, and that Government has confirmed that only one parent is required to be a key worker to be eligible, many questions remain.

Given how broad and open to interpretation the list is, who makes the final decision on whether or not someone's occupation should be defined as “key”? The guidance states that workers should confirm whether or not their role is critical with their employer - this makes it very difficult for early years providers to plan for potential “partial closure”, as they still cannot be certain as of today how many of their parents may fall into this category.

The Government has had plenty of time to prepare for this, and many were expecting much clearer, more definitive guidance on which parents and children can expect to receive childcare as of next week. Instead, it seems as though the burden is being passed onto employers and providers during what is already a critical time.’

Mr Leitch added that the early years sector seemed to have been overlooked during the crisis and that it was 'notable that the key worker guidance is described as being for "schools, colleges and local authorities" with no mention of the early years.

'And for childminders, this has been all the more true. As it stands, the guidance states that "nursery and teaching staff" are counted as key workers, with no reference to childminders. We are asking the Government to confirm as a matter of urgency that they too are included in this critical list.'

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, she hoped the list ‘gives some clarity to local authorities who are working with nurseries to decide who remains open over the coming weeks to support these children. 

‘We are urging our member nurseries to be proactive with their local authorities about which of their parents they believe this covers so they can make arrangements as swiftly as possible.’

The NDNA also said the definition of vulnerable children should be broadened to include those who currently access the two-year-old funding and those who receive Early Years Pupil Premium. 

Ms Tanuku said, ’These are the children who most need care and support at this crucial time in their development. We don’t know how long this will last, but weeks and months can make all the difference in a two-year-old’s development.

We do need to work with Government and ministers around the financial challenges nurseries face at this time. The funded hours only constitute a portion of the income which they will need to be able to continue to pay staff and overheads. Nursery businesses and their staff must be protected so they can reopen as soon as they are required to.’

The National Education Union said that the list of key workers was a very long one and that schools could end up with the majority of pupils attending.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said, This will not achieve the goal of slowing the spread of the virus. So it is vitally important that parents follow Government advice to keep their children at home, wherever possible. Schools can only accommodate a limited number of children and the fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread.’

Who is on the Government’s key workers list?

In addition to the education sector, the wide-ranging list includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Health and Social Care

  • Doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; 
  • support and specialist staff 
  • producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.

Local and national government

This only includes those administrative jobs essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits

Public safety and national security

Police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.

Food and other necessary goods

This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

Transport

This includes workers who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport operating during the COVID-19 response.

Utilities, communication and financial services

Staff needed for essential financial services, including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure, the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology.

Key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

  • Read the guidance in full here 

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