Brighton and Hove MPs Peter Kyle, Caroline Lucas and Lloyd Russell-Moyle joined Early Years professionals, this week, at a virtual meeting to discuss mounting concerns over safety and financial security across the sector.
There were representatives from leaders and staff in NEU, UNISON, GMB and NAHT, across maintained nursery schools, schools with nursery classes, council nurseries and, private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries.
The united message was that all nurseries and Early Years settings should be managed in the same way as primary and secondary schools during lockdown, open only for the Critical Worker (CW) and Vulnerable (V) children. To protect the sector, funding allocations should be maintained and emergency funding provided to cover additional costs incurred due to Covid-19. The MPs will continue to press for these measures.
Staff explained how there are inequalities in arrangements for testing between different types of setting. The unanimous view was that all Early Years staff, across all settings, should have the same priority access to testing and vaccination as other school staff. The MPs undertook to raise this matter and the logistical issues with Brighton and Hove Council.
During the first national lockdown, Early Years settings were managed in a similar way to schools and the message was clear: everyone should remain at home, where possible. But for the current lockdown, the government is refusing to publish the scientific evidence for Early Years settings staying fully open. With large groups of children, often in a single space and with no social distancing, there is increasing evidence that staff, children and families are being placed at greater risk, as the more transmissible strain of the virus takes its toll.
Demand for nurseries and pre-schools has plummeted during the pandemic, as parents keep their children at home through safety fears, changing work patterns or financial strain. This is placing the future of many settings at grave risk of financial collapse.
Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion said: ‘It is outrageous that in the middle of a public health crisis, the government should be threatening to penalise nurseries by withdrawing funding when a child isn’t there for a prolonged period.
They do vital work and need assured funding, not to be held to ransom like this, and forced to make an impossible choice between public health needs and their financial survival.
Private nurseries too need financial support from Government to allow them to close to all but vulnerable children, in line with scientific advice from SAGE.’
Anna Watson, Early Years Officer for the National Education Union said: ‘Provision of education and care for young children has always been fragmented and inadequately funded. The pandemic and the government’s dismissive and dangerous response has placed our safety and survival in jeopardy. It is heartening that Early Years professionals, in all types of settings, are coming together to demand parity of treatment and a fair funding system, to support services that are vital for families and essential to social stability and economic recovery.’
Mark Turner, GMB B50 Branch Secretary said: ‘As the largest union representing early years staff in the county, GMB were major orchestraters of lobbying Brighton and Hove Councillors NOT to fully re-open early years settings at the start of the year due to the increased cases and prevalence of Covid-19. Now we call upon East and West Sussex County Councils to follow the same positive and safe action as has been taken in Brighton and Hove and also call for an urgent meeting with East Sussex and West Sussex County Council on this matter. We also thank the 3 MPs for their time attending yesterday’s meeting and their commitment in this campaign.’