Alliance writes to Gavin Williamson over "appalling" exclusion of EY from schools reopening debate

Leading early years membership organisation the Early Years Alliance has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson and children and families minister Vicky Ford to criticise the complete omission of the early years sector from discussions around whether or not it is safe for education providers to remain open in light of rising Covid-19 rates in some areas of the country.

While primary schools in some areas of the country have been instructed to close to all but critical worker children and vulnerable children as of Monday 4 January, early years providers have been advised to remain open.

In the letter, Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch, writes:

"Early years providers have been on the frontline through this crisis. They have put themselves, and their loved ones, at risk to do what the government has asked and provide vital care and education to the children and families that need it. It cannot be that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are treated as education providers when they are needed by the government, and dismissed as private businesses who have to fend for themselves when they are not. 

"The early years is an integral part of the education sector in England and must be treated as such...

"What is being asked of the workforce – to continue operating in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic with little support, even less information and no acknowledgement from the Department that is supposed to represent them – cannot continue."

The letter also calls on the Department for Education to reinstate early entitlement funding support for early years providers during the spring term, in light of the fact that heightened restrictions are likely to result in a significant reduction in the demand for childcare. During the autumn term 2020, the government provided funding to nurseries, pre-schools and childminders for 'free childcare' places based on pre-Covid attendance levels - however, this support is being removed as of the start of January.

The full letter is available here.

Commenting, Neil said:

"Since the very start of the pandemic, the education secretary has treated the early years as a complete afterthought.

“Throughout this crisis, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have been on the front line, educating and caring for children while putting their own well-being at risk - and yet, they have had to fight to be given anywhere near the same level of treatment as schools every step of the way.

"If the government is this concerned about the spread of the virus in primary schools, it must provide clear, scientific evidence for why the early years should be treated differently. If it cannot provide this vital reassurance, then it surely has no choice but take the necessary decision to close early years settings and provide the financial support providers will need to remain viable during such temporary closures.

"Those working in the early years are understandably extremely anxious about the safety and wellbeing of themselves, their colleagues, their families and the children they care for, but have sadly been made to feel that their safety simply does not matter. 

“For providers to have any confidence in the decision to keep early years settings open, government must address the sector’s concerns directly, and demonstrate that it considers the safety of those taking care of our youngest children a top priority."