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Early years practitioners struggle to access school places for children

By Rachel Lawlerchildcare children families

The Alliance has called on schools to ensure that early years practitioners are able to access key worker places for their children, after a growing number of reports of childcare staff being refused places.

Early years staff are classed as key workers and as such their children are entitled to continue to attend schools in England. As early years providers have been asked to remain open to all families in the latest lockdown many practitioners require this support.

Places refused
However, a number of practitioners have raised concerns to the Alliance after being refused places at primary and secondary schools if the child’s other parent is not a key worker.

This goes against the government guidance which states: “Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required.”

This has left many practitioners struggling to attend work and needing to take holiday or unpaid leave due to their partners being unable to work from home as they work in sectors such as construction.

Extra pressure on providers
Emma, acting manager at a pre-school in Berkshire and mother of 3 primary aged children, explained: "My children attend the local primary school while I am working, and I am constantly bombarded with emails questioning if they really need to go to school. My children have even been questioned by teaching assistants about my working hours and whereabouts.

"I feel guilty for working despite knowing I am doing nothing wrong. It's draining and disheartening that I am being put under this extra pressure."

Home-schooling around work
Rachael Payne, an early years practitioner based in Norfolk, and mother of a five-year-old and a nine-year-old, said: "Our school originally offered our children a place given I'm a critical worker. My youngest had three children in her class – normally 32 – while my eldest was in class with just one other child in the morning, and a different child in the afternoon.  

“However, the following day, Norfolk County Council sent out guidance for schools to follow if they were heavily subscribed, and that afternoon, I received an email saying that my children can't have their place at school due to the new guidance. 

"My children are now having to spend half of the week with my parents and my husband, who can't do the majority of his job from home, is having to do some work from home two days a week and is working weekends as well as trying to home-school the children."

Lack of school places
A recent joint survey conducted by the Alliance and independent sector analysts Ceeda between 15 and 19 January 2021 found that, at the time of responding to the survey, approximately 8,000 staff working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings were unable to work due to an ability to access school places for their own children.

Blanket approach
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “We completely recognise the challenges that schools are facing in trying to keep the numbers of children attending during national lockdown at a minimum, especially at a time when the demand for critical worker places appears to be rising.

“However, we are concerned that the blanket approach being taken by some schools of requiring both parents to be critical workers to access a school place means that many of those working in the early years sector who genuinely do require – and are eligible for – a school place for their own children, are being prevented from accessing them.

“At a time when those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings are under so much pressure themselves, the ability to access a school place for their own children is often critical to ensuring that they themselves are able to continue the providing care and education that families need. As such, we urge all school leaders to ensure that their admissions policies aren’t inadvertently denying places to eligible parents, including those in the early years, who truly need them.”