Dear Mr Williamson,
The Key Leadership provides a voice for thousands of early years leaders and professionals, who currently feel unheard and disregarded. We respectfully request that this open letter is read with the positive and solution focused intent with which it has been written.
We understand that the decision to keep early years provision open is one which has children and families at the forefront, and we applaud this decision. We are in agreement that early years provision must remain accessible in order that children have consistency of care and education, allowing key workers to continue the great work they do and parents who are working from home to be able to do this confidently. Within our community, sector leaders want to be able to provide high quality services and keep their businesses functioning financially.
However, in order for our settings to provide the best care and education possible, we need your further support on two main points.
The evidence shows us that Covid cases amongst children are rising. Moreover, SAGE evidence is clear that transmission rates in early years settings are on par with that in primary schools. As you will be aware, so much of our work in early years requires close contact with children, attending to their personal care, wiping tears and cleaning scraped knees, not to mention the hugs and high fives. Social distancing just isn't achievable with the under 5's, and as you have rightly stated in your guidance, this is not something we should be trying to achieve.
The very nature of the work we love significantly increases our risk of both contracting Covid and transmitting the virus, and therefore we urge you to reconsider your vaccination priority groups to include the early years workforce. By vaccinating our valued and much needed workforce, early years professionals can continue to provide essential early years care and education in a safe and protected manner.
Our second point raises the concern voiced by the sector as a whole in terms of inequality of funding. Many parents will choose to keep their children at home for a period during this time, leaving settings with hugely decreased income, unable to charge parents during this time if they are not accessing the provision. Moreover, huge discrepancies amongst Local Authorities sees some settings able to claim EEE funding for children not attending, where others cannot. This disparity across the country will undoubtedly result in long term closures of settings across some areas of the country, whilst others continue to thrive. This will lead to inequality of early education provision for our most vulnerable children, in clear contradiction of the 'Early education and childcare Statutory guidance for local authorities' which states that LA's should:
'Promote equality and inclusion, particularly for disadvantaged families, looked after children, children in need and children with special educational needs and disability, by removing barriers of access to free places and working with parents to give each child support to fulfil their potential.'
Moreover, Sections 1 to 5 of this document requires local authorities and their partners to improve the outcomes of all children under 5 and reduce inequalities. By withdrawing funding for children who are remaining at home for a short period, not only will children's early education be disrupted, settings will be forced to close their doors, and the service will be unavailable to all. To this regard, we ask you to instruct Local Authorities to fund early years settings based on historical numbers in attendance rather than actual children in attendance. This allows children to return to early education when their parents feel it is right and safe to do so and provides sufficient income for providers to stay open and offer their vital services.
We urge you to provide fair, consistent and equitable funding across the country for early years providers.
We urge you to include the early years workforce in your vaccination priority groups.
We acknowledge that you are as committed to early education as we are, and want to work with you, sharing the voice of the sector to ensure that our youngest children are able to access high quality care and education.
The Key Leadership Community