Early years organisations have branded the Government’s 50-page roadmap to lifting lockdown as a ‘vague outline of a strategy’, lacking real guidance.
While the roadmap, published today, states that the Government expects some children to be able to return to early years settings and primary schools from 1 June – and for childminders, from as early as this week – the sector urgently needs more detail on exactly how this is expected to work in practice.
At the Early Years Alliance, Neil Leitch said: ‘Early years providers are going to face significant changes to the way they operate on a day-to-day basis, including a likely reduction in the demand for childcare places as some parents opt to keep their children home rather than returning to their settings. As such, government urgently needs to outline what steps it is planning to take to ensure that providers are able to remain financially sustainable during this period, as well as how it will ensure that both practitioners and the families they care for can best be kept safe.
‘While we understand the government's desire to outline its plans sooner rather than later, publishing the vague outline of a strategy before any detailed guidance is available for childcare providers is unhelpful and liable to create concern and confusion for a sector already under substantial pressure.’
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At the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), chief executive Purnima Tanuku has called for clarity on which workers will be added to the critical worker list, and expects demand for childcare places to rise.
‘NDNA has joined with other early years organisations to call for more practical and financial support for nurseries as they are asked to accept more children. The safety of nursery children and staff must be paramount in any plans to ease lockdown.
‘I will be meeting with the Minister today to discuss these issues and the Government’s plans for nurseries in England.
‘We have seen that in Scotland and Wales the guidance to childcare and educational settings is not changing, so we will need the different national governments to work together to address cross border issues.’
Meanwhile schools are worried at what they see as the government’s ‘cavalier’ approach to safety in English schools.
Unison said that school staff are still in the dark about the availability and use of protective equipment, cleaning products, how social distancing will work when dealing with very young children, and whether track and trace will be up and running to nip any local outbreaks in the bud.
Calls by UNISON, other education unions and the TUC to work with the government to develop a coherent plan to safely open schools have so far fallen on deaf ears.
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: ‘A rushed and chaotic reopening of schools will do more harm than good and could well be dangerous. Children, parents and staff are worried by the government's cavalier attitude. They all need to be confident their safety is at the top of the government's list.
'Valid questions have gone unanswered as schools are pushed to reopen, regardless of whether it's safe to do so. Ministers must pause their plans and work together with unions to create safe schools.’