Childcare settings and schools to 'partially' close
By Rachel Lawler
Childcare providers and schools will 'partially' close from Friday afternoon until further notice in an escalation of the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak in England.
Vulnerable children and families of key workers, such as NHS employees, will still be able to attend.
The announcement applies to both group settings and childminders.
The government has said it 'expects' childcare providers to partially close on Friday, but legislation is currently going through Parliament that could allow the Prime Minister to force providers to do so.
The DfE must confirm if this will be an obligatory position going forward.
Many settings and schools have struggled to keep their businesses open in the past week as staff members took time off to self-isolate as instructed.
Public health concerns
Secretary of state for education Gavin Williamson said: "The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster rate than anticipated. [...]The public health benefits of schools remaining open as usual are shifting."
Williamson also thanked staff in settings, colleges and schools for their hard work in recent weeks.
The news comes shortly after both Scotland and Wales announced that schools would close in the countries on Friday 20 March and Northern Ireland announced that schools would close at 17.00 today.
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."