Covid: Nurseries ‘forgotten by government’ as cases soar among staff

Nurseries and pre-schools are demanding more support from the government as cases of Covid-19 soar among staff in England, ITV News has learned. A survey by the Early Years Alliance given exclusively to ITV News has found an estimated 31,000 staff working in nurseries and pre-schools have tested positive for coronavirus since December 1. That is one in every 10 workers in the sector in seven weeks. A further 3,000 childminders also contracted the virus.

'We've been told it's safe, but that's a lie' says Jo Godbold - owner of Sunny Kids Preschool

Unlike schools, nurseries and early years settings in England have been told by the government to stay open to all children. Yet private nurseries and childminders have been left out of the government’s mass lateral flow testing programme and have not received any extra financial support. As a result, 48% of nursery and pre-school staff and 54% of childminders say they don’t feel safe at work.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of nurseries and pre-schools say that there is a moderate to high risk that their whole setting may need to close in the coming weeks due to staff shortages brought about by Covid-19. The sector is now demanding access to testing for staff and to be a made a priority for the coronavirus vaccine.

'I've just sat in bed and cried' says Carolyn White from Sunny Kids Preschool 

“These shocking findings should, without a doubt, be cause for serious concern,” said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance.

“While we know that early years settings are low-risk environments for children, it seems that no one has been asking whether or not the same is true for those working in the sector. “With Covid rates among early years practitioners so high, it is no wonder that so many in the sector don’t currently feel safe going into work every day.

Tanya Williams from London Early Years Foundation says nurseries 'must have tests'

“It is clear from these findings that the government must, as a matter of absolute urgency, roll out regular lateral flow testing directly to all early years providers, and ensure that the early years workforce is given priority access to vaccinations in Phase 2 of the roll-out.

"Anything less would be reckless and irresponsible.”

ITV News has contacted the Department for Education for comment.