PM defends decision to keep nurseries open
Friday, January 8, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was 'very important' to keep early years provision open for key workers, but failed to mention that childcare settings are currently open for all children, during yesterday's Downing Street press conference.
The Prime Minister was asked by a member of the public ‘how early years provision could be safe, when primary schools were deemed a vector for the virus’, and whether keeping settings open 'did not defeat the purpose of this lockdown'.
Mr Johnson responded to the question, from Judith in Leeds, by referring only to the need for early years provision to be kept open for key workers during the pandemic.
That led to the Early Years Alliance to question, ‘Does Mr Johnson really not know his own Government's policy?’
Early years settings have been asked to stay open as normal to all children, with funding being withdrawn if parents choose not to take up their Government-funded place this term.
In response to the question, the Prime Minister said, ‘We believe that schools are safe, and indeed all places of education are safe, including early years provision. It’s just that we have to look at the overall budget of risk – the overall spread that schools can be involved in – but there are other very, very important reasons for wanting to keep early years provision going to help key workers and vital services continue during the pandemic. I hope you appreciate the distinction.’
Mr Johnson then asked Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England to comment, who said, ‘We defer to the advice of the chief medical officer and Sage on these points. A lot of the staff at the health service do rely on having available childcare. And so doing everything we can to keep our schools and early years education safe, nevertheless enables people to continue to come to work as a critical care nurse or as a junior doctor, that is hugely important for the NHS’s effort as well.'
Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said, ‘It is deeply concerning for all those working in the early years sector that when questioned on the decision to keep settings open, the Prime Minister and his advisors could only point to the need to provide childcare to key workers. Providers are being asked to operate as normal, offering childcare for all those who wish to use it. Does Mr Johnson really not know his own Government's policy?
‘Many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders want to remain open, but only with clear scientific evidence that it is safe for staff as well as young children. ‘The Prime Minister must be honest about what he is asking early years practitioners to do, and provide the support they need to do it.’
Vaccinations for early years workers
Yesterday's Downing Street press conference set out more details on how the Government intends to deliver vaccinations. Also in attendance was Brigadier Phil Prosser, the Commander of Military Support to the Vaccine Delivery Programme.
The Prime Minister said that by the end of the week there would be over 1,000 GP sites, 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centres and 200 community pharmacies delivering the vaccine.
On Twitter, June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), said, ‘NHS CEO Sir Simon Stevens @NHSEnglandMedia tells us that nurseries and childcare #earlyyears very important to the NHS staff. So push us up the vaccine list.’
The National Day Nurseries Association, the Early Years Alliance and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) launched a joint campaign yesterday calling on the Government to protect the early years staff and settings it has asked to stay open. They want the Government to provide extra funding for early years settings, mass testing for nursery staff and childminders and priority access to Covid vaccinations for all early years workers.
MPs are due to debate the call for early years workers and teachers to receive priority for Covid vaccines on Monday, after a petition on the Parliament e-petitions website received more than 300,000 signatures.
Sector organisations and nursery groups are asking people to write to their MP in advance of the debate to highlight the issue.