By VANESSA FILLIS AND GEORGE WILLOUGHBY
Attendance in early years has decreased despite settings staying open according to the latest data from the Department of Education.
Early years settings have remained open despite the lockdown announced by Boris Johnson.
While schools alongside all non-essential retail are closed to try and curb the number of infections, early years staff are being told to continue working.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said: “The government must provide clear scientific evidence that it is safe for them to do so.”
Concerns come from rapidly rising Covid-19 and hospital cases all across England.
In Birmingham, cases reached their highest on 4 January 2021 with 1,691 people testing positive for the virus.
The risk of young children transmitting the virus is low, but without personal protective equipment (PPE), staff could still contract Covid-19.
“Early years professionals are extremely anxious for their health and the health of their loved ones as they continue to work on the frontline at the most worrying time in this pandemic, without support for PPE and in extremely close contact with other staff, children and parents,” said Leitch.
“Since young children are far more likely to be asymptomatic than older children or adults, there is a real risk that many are continuing to attend early years settings while infected with the virus.”
More settings are staying closed
In the first week of January, 72% of early years settings were open. This is the lowest proportion since the end of October.
Data from 7 January showed there were 49,000 settings open — a decrease of 6,500 compared to the previous figure in the middle of December.
Despite being told to stay open, attendance in early years establishments has not returned to the levels expected.
After the announcement of a third lockdown, attendance in early years settings has decreased.
On 7 January 2021, 542,000 children were attending early years settings — 29 percent fewer than on 17 December 2020.
“Many parents are making the understandable decision to keep their children at home,” said Leitch.
“The government must continue to do everything possible to protect those risking their safety to offer care and education to the youngest children. Many early years providers are keen to stay open to support their communities and to ensure parents have access to vital childcare.”
Reluctance to open
Settings are hesitant to reopen given the prevalence of the virus and the risk it poses to staff.
This is shown by the 10,000 settings that had yet to make a decision on whether to open.
Calls have been made to ensure early years staff receive the vaccination if they are to continue working.
Leitch said staff should get priority access to the vaccine.
“We also warmly welcome news that the government is planning to extend mass asymptomatic testing to early years, but details of how this will be rolled out need to be made available as soon as possible.”
Are you a manager of an early years setting or a member of staff? Get your voice heard by tweeting us at @bhameastside