Published: Friday, 8th January 2021

A letter from the Leader of the Council, Cllr Danny Thorpe, and Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Matt Morrow.

Dear Secretary of State,

Since your Government’s announcement of a national lockdown earlier this week, we have been anticipating clarification on the expectation for nurseries and early years settings to remain open to all children while primary and secondary schools have been instructed to move to remote learning. Faced with an exponential growth in COVID-19 cases, we welcome the Government’s decision to move education online for most students, remaining open to only children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils. However, we must apply the same safety-first approach to early years provision as well.

The rate of change in Royal Greenwich, which measures the increase of cases since a week ago, showed a 42% increase and data gathered from September to November 2020 showed a 269% higher number of infections in teachers compared with the rest of our borough’s population.

Much of the local and national concern has been around schools reopening, rightly putting the safety of our teachers in the spotlight once again, but what about the safety of our early years practitioners? While evidence suggests young children are at far less risk of serious illness from coronavirus, we are yet to see evidence that transmission among families or to our early years practitioners differs from those in primary or secondary school.

Throughout this pandemic, our top priority has been to keep our communities safe, and we have taken immediate action when necessary to put residents’ safety first. We are once again standing with our community and have advised our early years providers to revisit their risk assessments with consideration for the new variant, it’s increased prevalence and the increased infection rate. We do not expect them to open to all children until the safety of staff, children and families can be guaranteed.

In the coming weeks, many of our providers, across the private, voluntary and independent sector, will inevitably need to restrict their operations as they try to balance the welfare of their staff with the needs of parents and children, which will unavoidably impact attendance records. In turn, your Government must reconsider the advice to “return to the normal funding approach” which was due to be in place from 1 January. Failing to do so, could significantly damage an already stretched sector on which so many of our residents rely. The detrimental impact on these vital services will be felt widely across our borough, including impacting equality in accessing employment opportunities for local families, as well as early childhood development.

We urgently need a clear plan for a package of support from the Government outlining how early years provision will operate with the ongoing challenges of this pandemic, including:

  • financial support available for providers to cover staff absences, cleaning costs and provision of home testing kits
  • prioritisation of early years staff for a COVID-19 vaccine
  • confirmation that early years practitioners can be furloughed
  • adequate financial support for self-employed childminders who face loss of business.

Our early years staff have worked incredibly hard over the last year to continue to offer services to local families and sustain their businesses. We stand ready with other London leaders to help address these vital issues and protect the sector. We look forward to your urgent response.