“Pitiful” Government support is not enough to keep nurseries safe for young children and staff during lockdown, according to a pre-school manager near Salisbury.
Ruth Owen, manager of Alderbury Pre-school, has criticised the Government’s “disregard” for the sector, calling on ministers to provide Covid-19 tests and PPE.
Alderbury Pre-school, like other nurseries and childminders in the country, has remained open to care for toddlers aged between 12 months and 4 years old.
It will remain open to support parents and families, even after Boris Johnson announced a new national shutdown on Monday (January 4), which closed schools.
However, staff are “anxious” about the current situation and, unlike teachers in secondary schools, have no access to PPE or rapid Covid tests, Mrs Owen said.
She has appealed to schools in the area to donate some of their resources to her staff and argues part of the problem is an ongoing prejudice towards the sector.
But the Department for Education says the decision is based on evidence and down to nurseries being “low risk environments”.
‘Lack of regard’
Announcing a third national lockdown on Monday night (January 4), Boris Johnson ordered schools and colleges to move back to remote learning but said early years settings were allowed to remain open to continue to provide childcare.
Mrs Owen said she and her team are “happy” to keep caring for youngsters.
But when it comes to testing, handing out PPE or rolling out the vaccine, early years staff are being “disregarded”, she argues.
She said: “Partly it is because the risk is lower, but I think it’s also an inheritance thing with early years.
“You talk to any of the staff and they think their job is the most important thing in the world which, on reflection, it probably is.
“People are trusting early years to look after and care for their babies, the most precious thing, to educate them about very basic things that we take for granted so they’re ready for school and their future education.
“But then the government and the Department for Education don’t have any regard for that, they don’t treat a lot of early years as being professionals.
“It’s been ongoing for some time and I’m not surprised [we aren’t being prioritised] because throughout the whole pandemic, funding and support from central and local government has been pitiful.”
Appeal for help
In December, Mrs Owen said she contacted Wiltshire Council to ask whether there were any plans to test staff in early years after the Christmas break.
However, this wasn’t possible, she said.
Now that secondary schools are closed to the majority of pupils, Mrs Owen has appealed to them for help, asking them to consider donating some items of PPE and rapid lateral flow tests to small nurseries like hers.
“Secondary school pupils and staff should be tested but given that the situation has changed, schools have got boxes and boxes of tests and gloves and hardly any children or any staff are in.
“I know for a fact they have boxes and boxes of things so we should be able to distribute them to individual educational establishments that could really do with with them right now because it just seems like a waste of money that they can’t be given to those that really need them at the moment.”
Although Mrs Owen accepts that the risk of virus trasmission among pre-school children is low, testing staff twice a week is a way to make sure workers are “safe and healthy”, she added.
The Department for Education has defended its decision not to roll out tests.
A spokesperson said: “Early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children.
“Keeping nurseries and childminders open will support parents and deliver the crucial care and education for our youngest children.
“We are funding nurseries as usual and all children are able to attend their early years setting in all parts of England.
“Where nurseries do see a drop in income from either parent-paid fees or income from DfE, they are able to use the furlough scheme.
“Working parents on coronavirus support schemes will still remain eligible for childcare support even if their income levels fall below the minimum requirement.”