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Just 45% of parents plan to take up place as providers reopen

By Rachel Lawler

Just 45% of parents whose childcare providers are reopening today plan to take up their place, according to a new survey by the Alliance.

Parent concerns
The survey also found that 69% of childcare providers expect to operate at a loss over the next six months as 65% of providers planned to reopen on 1 June.

Around 4,500 parents responded to the survey. Just over a fifth (21%) of those planning to start accessing childcare on 1 June said that they would be using fewer hours than they did previously.

When asked to rate the clarity of the government's rationale for reopening childcare settings on a scale from one (very unclear) to 10 (very clear), 28% of those surveyed rated it as a "one". The average rating was just 3.9.

"New environment"
Lisa Boyd, Carlisle, parent of a four-year-old, said: "It is too early to expect children to adapt to the new environment. Older children would be able to follow social distancing rules, younger children won't - this will, in turn, have an impact on their wellbeing. Not enough information is available on the transmission of the virus between children. This is putting adults and peers at risk of contracting the virus, causing another peak."

Provider issues
A separate survey of 6,300 providers found that the most commonly cited reasons for not reopenin on 1 June were concerns about safety. 64% said that they didn't think it was safe for families and 62% felt that it wasn't safe for children.

42% of providers said that they were planning to reopen in September while 20% said they would reopen in July.

"Invisible early years"
Claire Kenyon, owner of The Children’s Garden in Norwich, and The Children’s Garden in Stamford, said: “I have been losing money by staying open to key worker families so while I’m relieved to be able to open, I do feel a deep sense of responsibility to the staff and families that come. In Norwich I’m close to the hospital, so lots of NHS staff. We’re putting measures in place, but luckily for us we have five acres to spread out into, and there are indications that being outdoors will help to slow the spread. We’re still struggling to get hand gel, and any PPE is eye wateringly expensive. We have had no help in procuring any of these items. 

"There is the general feeling in the early years profession that we are invisible. Schools are thanked daily, yet they’ve been given extra funding and have been able to claim furlough for some staff. We’ve had no extra money, furlough with financial caveats, no information and no thanks. There’s talk of strikes, people are selling up, and leaving the profession in droves. The pay is poor, the work is hard, exhausting and complex, we are taking on more and more responsibility from other sectors with no financial remuneration. 

"Lots of staff are frightened about coming back to work. We can’t social distance, yet we’ve been told we don’t need PPE. We can’t help thinking that this is unlikely. Children can carry COVID-19. We’ve seen U-turns from the government over the past few months which has compromised our faith in their advice. There is long-term cynicism at a senior professional level that has been exacerbated by the country’s leadership in recent weeks."

Alliance comment
Neil Leitch, cheif executive of the Alliance, commented: “Our survey findings show just how split parents are over whether or not to send their children back to childcare. While this isn’t in any way unexpected, it does highlight the huge pressure that the early years sector in England is facing over the coming months. 

“With most childcare providers limited as to how many children they can care for safely, and many predicting that parental demand for places will be lower still, many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are going to face a real struggle for survival during this incredibly difficult period. It is no exaggeration to say that the very future of the childcare sector is at risk if the government doesn’t get its act together and provide the support that providers need. 

“While early years settings have worked incredibly hard over recent weeks either to prepare to reopen, or to continue supporting their families remotely, the government’s attitude towards them has been frankly appalling: it has refused to reverse its last-minute decision to restrict providers’ ability to access furlough funding; it has refused to offer any financial support to help early years providers meet the additional costs of operating safely during this outbreak, while providing thousands of pounds to schools for the very same purpose; and it has refused to commit to any kind of transitional funding to help the sector get through this period of significantly reduced demand.

“Although much focus to date has been on the reopening of primary schools, with more than a million children normally accessing early years care and education, there is no doubt that early years providers will play a pivotal role in the overall recovery of the economy, and the ability of society to return to some kind of normality.

“It is vital, therefore, that the government takes the steps needed to safeguard the future of the early years sector. That means not only providing the clear, unambiguous reassurance that parents – and providers – need to feel confident that it is safe for children to return to childcare, but crucially, committing to a significant financial support package to help ensure that childcare providers are able to stay afloat throughout this challenging period and beyond.”

Useful links

Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings

Operating during the lockdown and beyond

Business advice Q and A