Why is the government making early years staff beg?

Government policy has left early years staff clamouring for funding and essential Covid tests, says Jane Pescow
22nd January 2021, 11:00am
Jane Pescow


Why is the government making early years staff beg?

Early Years: Why Our Broken Eyfs System Is Failing

Every 30 seconds, someone in the UK is admitted to hospital with Covid. But still the early years sector is shamefully locked out of lockdown.

Outrage and helplessness and the need for answers now run through the whole sector.

To add insult to proverbial injury, we now find that this government is creating an artificial divide between those settings that are in the maintained sector - preschools that are part of a primary school - and settings in the private voluntary sector, known as PVI settings. The latter are preschools, day nurseries and childminders that are unattached to a school, some of which charge fees in order to exist.

This means that, while the maintained sector could take the decision to close altogether, or to open only to vulnerable children and those of key workers, PVIs simply could not. For PVIs it is business as usual, as the nation must have childcare.

Coronavirus: Threats to EYFS funding

The government then threatened not to fund places at PVIs for those families who chose not to send their children there during a lethal pandemic - when the official advice was to stay at home.

It has since reversed this decision, but what's unbelievable is that there was ever a suggestion of withdrawing that funding in the first place. A lot of managers of early years settings are also the owners: their businesses were being threatened by the withdrawal of funding. People were losing sleep over this.

But the funding threat is not over. This week, the government sent out its early years census, to record attendance figures in order to calculate future funding. At the moment, approximately 52 per cent of preschool-age children are attending their settings. So when settings declare their attendance figures, they could lose funding if their numbers are low.

People have begged the government to wait until everything has returned to normal before issuing the census - but it has refused. This is at best extreme penny-pinching, and at worst an assault on PVI settings - and on maintained nurseries, too, which also need the same level of financial support.

A lack of Covid testing kits

Another bitter pill for the sector to swallow is that PVI settings are not entitled to essential Covid test kits. At a public health meeting last week, an official confirmed that the risk to nursery staff is very high, from staff-to-staff transmission, as well as parent-to-staff transmission. Covid is rife in early years settings - absolutely rife. We all know settings where whole rooms or whole bubbles have had to self-isolate.

The official recommended asymptomatic testing at least twice a week for nursery staff - as the education secretary has now recommended for teachers working in schools.

Some - though by no means all - in the maintained sector are going to be offered twice-weekly lateral flow Covid tests on site. Meanwhile, PVI staff are being sent for "priority access" to community testing centres. These are often open only during working hours, so we have to attend in our own time. Twice a week.

If this situation wasn't so appalling, it would be laughable.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has told the nation that all nurseries are "Covid-safe". (Just as all schools were Covid-safe, until suddenly they weren't.) How convenient. By making this declaration, Priti Patel immediately avoids the question of whether it's acceptable for so many households to mix under one roof - even though it is her responsibility as home secretary to enforce the rules that say this is dangerous and illegal.

Insulted and demoralised

The intelligence, creativity, compassion and love of those who have chosen to work with early years children is evident at every gathering of educators I have ever been involved in, no matter whether in maintained settings or PVIs.

But now, at gatherings of early years educators, what I see instead is hurt. People feel insulted and they feel demoralised.

The sector has been made to beg for the level of financial support that we received before Covid, just to see us through a window of time before families feel confident to return. And we've had to beg for essential test kits, which would prove that the government takes our health seriously.

I have lost count of the number of petitions, surveys and letters that have been signed and shared, in the hope that we will be granted these basic requests.

Early years educators are angry. Of course, we are: our life's work and our health has been ignored by this government, for the sake of money and political gain.

Jane Pescow is the manager of a preschool in North London

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