As the Alliance continues to lobby for greater support for the early years sector, we wanted to provide our members and supporters with another update on the key areas of sector support that we are currently fighting for.
Joint education statement: The Alliance has today released a joint statement in partnership with National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Association of Colleges (AoC), The National Education Union (NEU), NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, Unison, GMB and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), calling on the government to ensure that those working in the early years and other parts of the education sector are given the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible. The full statement is available here.
Vaccination eligibility confusion: Following widespread confusion and misinformation over recent days, the government has now confirmed that the vast majority of the early years workforce is not yet eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations on the basis of occupation (more information on this is available here).
It is our view that the events of the last few days have seen the early years sector treated appallingly. What's more, it is simply unacceptable that no one from government has even apologised for the misinformation and inconsistent guidance being given out by the 119 service which led to many providers booking vaccination appointments in good faith, only to be turned away.
Given the close contact nature of early years roles and the rising prevalence of Covid cases in early years settings, we at the Alliance are clear that it is absolutely vital that the early years workforce is prioritised for Covid vaccinations.
We are in urgent ongoing discussions with the Department for Education to make sure that they make the strongest case possible to the Department for Health and Social Care and the JCVI on this point, as well as continuing to work collaboratively with sector and wider education colleagues.
Children and families minister Vicky Ford has publicly confirmed that the Department for Education is "continuing to work closely with other government departments and local authorities to secure the most effective approach to asymptomatic testing for the whole of the early years sector. This includes ongoing discussions about providing testing via the education testing programme."
The Alliance is clear that the early years sector must be included in the education testing programme - which is currently delivering asymptomatic testing kits to be used at home to maintained nurseries and primary schools, and asymptomatic kits to be used on-site for secondary school and colleges - as a matter of absolute urgency.
We are currently in urgent discussions with the Department for Education on this issue and continue to stress the need to make home testing kits available to all early years providers as soon as possible. It is our view that continued delays on this are completely unacceptable, especially given the continued rise in positive cases among practitioners and children at settings.
As part of these discussions, we have also shared with the DfE each and every experience that our members and supporters have shared with us on the difficulties and challenges involved with accessing community testing centres, to ensure that they are clear that this is not an acceptable approach to asymptomatic testing for the early years workforce.
Funding and financial support
Spring term funding and support for loss of private fees: We have had, and continue to have, regular meetings with the Department for Education on the need for urgent financial support for the early years sector given the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on provider finances.
We are continuing to gather data to help make the strongest possible argument to the Treasury on the need for urgent action - specifically, the reinstatement of early entitlement funding based on pre-Covid attendance levels, rather than the number of children currently on roll - as well as urgent financial support for those providers primarily reliant on private income, rather than funding.
Business rates: We know that for those providers who are subject to business rates, the end of the current business rates holiday is likely to have a significant detrimental impact on already fragile finances. We are continuing to push for, as a minimum, a further extension to the current business rates holiday, and the permanent exemption of early years providers from business rates in the longer term.
Wider underfunding issues: With new funding rates due to come into effect in April, the Early Years Alliance has again written to children and families minister Vicky Ford to ask for the evidence to back up the Department for Education's claim that the £44m additional funding being given to the sector - which equates to a rise of just 1.2% - will "pay for a rate increase that is higher than the cost nurseries [and childminders] may face from the uplift to the national living wage in April".
Speaking at last month's meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Childcare and Early Education, of which the Alliance is a founding sponsor, Ms Ford said that the Department would be providing this evidence shortly - however, none has been published to date and so we will continue to pursue this point.
Freedom of Information request update: We have had a few queries from members and supporters about the outcome of the Freedom of Information request battle we had with the Department for Education which began in 2018. This was a request for the calculations or broader thinking underpinning early years funding levels which prove that the national early years funding rates which came into effect in 2017 and were frozen until 2020 were calculated as being enough to cover rising business costs over that time period.
When the government refused to publish this information, we appealed to the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) which ruled in our favour - however, the government then appealed this decision, which meant that the case was then referred to the First Tier Tribunal, which deals with appeals against ICO decisions.
This case was due to be heard several months ago, but has been be repeatedly delayed due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic - as such, we are still awaiting a First Tier Tribunal date. As soon as the outcome of this process has been confirmed, we will be sure to update the sector.
Baby and toddler groups
We know that our baby and toddler group members have faced incredible uncertainty and significant financial challenges over recent months.
With the Prime Minister due to outline plans for gradual lockdown easing on Monday 22 February, we have already been in contact with the Department for Education to ask that clarity for what any wider rule changes mean for the baby and toddler sector is prioritised in any communications so that we can let you know what this announcement means for you as soon as possible.
Thank you all for your ongoing support and patience as we work hard to try and get you the information and answer you need.
We know that it can sometimes feel as though the early years sector has been completely forgotten - please rest assured that we are working non-stop to fight for the sector, through meetings with the DfE and other government departments and officials; meetings with MPs and other parliamentarians; coordination with other sector colleagues; and our ongoing work to try and raise awareness of the sector's challenges through the national media.
While a lot of this work is often behind-the-scenes, we will always update our members and supporters as often as we can so that you know that there is someone on your side and lobbying relentlessly on your behalf.