Children’s Minister Vicky Ford responds to Prospect’s concerns on Early Years

19 February 2021

Prospect negotiations officer Claire Dent reports on her correspondence with Children’s and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, about why Early Years settings remain open when all schools had been closed due to COVID-19.

In early January 2021, Prospect wrote to the Children’s and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, on behalf of our members working in all aspects of Early Years.

The Department of Education had closed all school provision (except for key workers and vulnerable children) as part of the latest lockdown measures yet there was no such guidance for Early Years settings, which were kept open.

Prospect put the following questions to the minister:

  1. What is the scientific evidence supporting this decision?
  2. Members are reporting that there is a lack of advice or detailed guidance for early years managers or the Local Authorities supporting these settings. They need further support to stay protected during this new variant and to maintain services. This is causing significant stress and anxiety for our members and the communities they support. When will the guidance be updated?
  3. What financial support, including for the application of furlough will be available to settings already struggling financially?
  4. Given that practitioners within Early Years are placing themselves at increased risk by continuing to deliver services are they considered as ‘key workers’? Will they be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccinations?

The minister’s response

Prospect has now received the minister’s response, which began with a tribute to Early Years professionals and the critical importance of their work.

“The government immensely values the selfless dedication that early years and childcare staff demonstrate in their work every single day. Keeping children and staff safe is our utmost priority,” wrote the minister.

“The earliest years are the most crucial point of child development and attending early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and supports children’s social and emotional development.”

On the specific point of why Early Years settings were not closed, along with the rest of school provision, Vicky Ford made three specific points:

  1. Firstly, early education gives children the communication and social skills which set them up for life. You cannot care for a very small child online and our children cannot get those months back.
  2. Secondly, current evidence suggests that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are unlikely to be playing a driving role in transmission, partly because young children have lower rates of contact with others outside of their household.
  3. Thirdly, the evidence at the moment is that the confirmed case rates of COVID-19 amongst young children remains the lowest of all age groups.

The Minister’s four-page letter to Prospect also touched upon the latest scientific evidence on the COVID-19 risks in young children, funding of nurseries and the government’s help available to early years providers.

The letter can be read in full here.

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Prospect represents professionals in education, children’s services, early years, commissioning and children’s social care.