Unions call for nurseries to close to keep staff safe, and for emergency funding

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The National Education Union and Unison are calling on the Government to close early years settings in line with schools, to protect staff and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The NEU and Unison say that early years settings should be closed in line with schools
The NEU and Unison say that early years settings should be closed in line with schools

They say that the risks to staff, families and communities are exactly the same as for primary schools which have already closed, except to key worker and vulnerable children, and that nurseries must be treated the same way.

The unions, which represent early years workers and support staff, are calling for ministers to protect and properly fund the sector.

A joint petition launched last night by the unions, ‘Keep early years safe and funded’, has so far been signed by more than 6,000 people.

In addition, more than 2,500 letters have been sent to MPs.  

Nursery schools, and ​nurseries are currently required to remain open to all ​children, ​even though the public is ​being told ​that reduc​ing contacts is essential to bring viral levels down. 

The Government’s insistence nurseries stay open – with parents, staff and ​young children mingling all day and ​potentially taking coronavirus home to their families – is clearly incompatible with efforts to make th​e lockdown work, say the unions.  

Scientific experts on the SAGE committee advising the Government consider education settings to be unsafe for communities if they are left fully open, the NEU and Unison point out. 

Nursery schools, and ​nurseries are currently required to remain open to all ​children, ​even though the public is ​being told ​that reduc​ing contacts is essential to bring viral levels down. 

The unions say that the Government’s insistence nurseries stay open – with parents, staff and ​young children mingling all day and ​potentially taking coronavirus home to their families – is clearly incompatible with efforts to make th​e lockdown work.

They point out that experts from the Sage advisory committee consider education settings to be unsafe for communities if they are left fully open.

The petition states, ‘Scientists tell us we need to reduce contacts so that viral levels fall. Not including nurseries and early years in the lockdown is likely to undermine the safety of our communities as well as that of our members. 

‘The National Education Union (NEU) and Unison ask the Government to take urgent action so that maintained nurseries and the early years sector admit key worker and vulnerable children only, as in other educational settings.  

‘Nursery schools give children the best start in life and provide vital support to local communities. However, after years of chronic underfunding – exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – the very survival of nursery schools and the sector is under threat. Without immediate action from Government, these settings will close.’

The petition calls for:

  • All nurseries and early years settings reduce numbers attending, in the same way and on the same timescales as primary schools. 
  • Immediate provision of emergency funding to the sector to cover extra costs incurred due to Covid-19.  
  • A long-term funding formula for maintained nurseries and the early years sector as soon as possible to maintain funding and cover additional costs. 
  • Funding allocations be maintained for nurseries on 2019/20 pupil numbers until after the pandemic is over. 
  • Parents, who need to, are furloughed so that they can care for their children at home.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said, ‘The decision to keep early years open throughout lockdown makes no sense when scientists tell us we need to reduce the total number of social contacts. It reinforces the very strong feeling amongst our members that their sector is always an afterthought to this Government. Clearly, they should be treated the same as primary schools – and that change must be made urgently, for the good of the country as a whole. Working parents should then receive furlough so they can stay at home for their child.  

‘The early years sector was already under incredible strain before Covid. It is a very challenging environment in which to maintain Covid security, and recognition of that by Rishi Sunak before Budget day would go some way to restore certainty across the sector.’

Jon Richards, head of education of Unison, said, ‘For safety’s sake, the Government has to take action. Last month there were around 700 Covid outbreaks a week reported in early years premises and the true figure was probably far higher. 

‘Recent changes in funding mean that, as things stand, nurseries lose funding if any child is unable to attend because their families are worried or they need to stay away because they’re isolating. 

‘Some nurseries are begging parents to send their children because they can’t afford the financial blow. That completely defeats the purpose of lockdown. 

‘The risks to staff, families and communities are exactly the same as for primary schools which have already closed. Nurseries must be treated the same way.’

The Department for Education has been asked for a comment.

Petition: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/safeandfunded/  

Letter to MP: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/earlyyearsletter/ 

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