It has been announced today that schools are to close after Friday and this includes Childcare provisions – i.e. nurseries and childminders. 
However, provision must be made for vunerable children and children of key workers such as NHS workers, employees involved in the food chain supply and emergency services. How this is to be implemented is still to be decided and the full list of keyworkers is to be released later in the week.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivered the news in his daily press conference and he said, 

“I can announce today and Gavin Williamson making statement now in House of Commons that after schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils – for the vast majority of pupils- until further notice. I will explain what I mean by the vast majority of pupils.

The objective is to slow the spread of the virus and we judge it is the right moment to do that.

But of course, as I’ve always said, we also need to keep the NHS going and to treat the number of rising cases. So we need health workers who are also parents to continue to go to work. And we need other critical workers with children to keep doing their jobs too – from police officers who are keeping us safe to the supermarket delivery drivers, social care workers who look after the elderly and who are so vital. We will be setting out more details shortly about who we mean in these groups.

So we therefore need schools to make provision for the children of these key workers who would otherwise be forced to stay home. And they will also need to look after the most vulnerable children.

This will mean there will of course be are far fewer children in schools and that will help us to slow the spread of the disease. And these measures are crucial to make sure the critical parts of the economy keep functioning and public services keep functioning.”

So we are simultaneously asking nurseries and private schools to do the same, and we are providing financial support where it is needed. We are making provisions to supply meals and vouchers for children eligible for free school meals. And where some schools are already doing this, I want to make it clear we will reimburse the cost.”

The news, although not unexpected after the announcement of the closure of schools in Scotland and Wales, has sent a shockwave throughout the early years sector, with many providers wondering how they will cope, if they will need to close completely, how they are covered, how to pay staff etc. and the wider effect is for those supporting the provisions such as the many trainers and consultants. 

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented:

“We recognise that these are very unique circumstances and that the government must do all it can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, and we know that today’s decision will not have been taken lightly. That said, the monumental impact that this will have childcare providers across the country cannot be underestimated. Many now face a significant loss in revenue while still being required to pay mortgages and rents and other fixed costs. There can be no doubt that this move will have a huge detrimental financial impact across the sector.

While the recent commitment from the Department for Education on the continuation of the ‘free entitlement’ funding during these difficult times are welcome, these alone are not enough to ensure that the childcare sector can survive these difficult times. Most providers also rely on private fees from parents as a key source of income, and so the inevitable loss of revenue once these measures are implemented will be significant. And of course, all this comes at a time when many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country were already struggling financially as the result of years of government underfunding.

From a practical perspective, it remains to be seen how this proposal can or will be implemented in practice. Early years providers now face the prospect of having to identify which of their parents are ‘key workers’, and then making incredibly difficult decisions on how many staff members will be needed to provide to deliver this care, and what happens to those staff who are no longer required to work. This is going to be a huge undertaking, and all at a time when providers are worried about how and if they are going to survive this situation.

The Chancellor has outlined in detail a number of measures aimed at supporting the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. It is now imperative that he commits to a dedicated support package for the early years sector, to ensure that they are able to weather this storm, as indicated by the education secretary during his statement today.

At the same time, the Department for Education must urgently provide guidance to the sector on how the government’s plan can work in practice, and we will be working with them on this as a matter of urgency.”

 

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