Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Once again there have been some updates and changes to government guidance and once again the amendments come after the horse has bolted. Nevertheless, the amendments appear to be tweaks rather than huge changes, so shouldn’t be too much of a concern as we welcome more and more children back into our settings.
The main document we will be addressing is ‘Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak’.
Updated 2nd June, the document has been restructured, so it’s well worth every early years leader familiarising themselves with this document. The advice to work together with your LA and other settings is still prevalent, clearly the government missed the memo about the disparity between Local Authorities. Throughout this period, the lack of response and action from the majority of LA’s has been disappointingly clear, albeit a handful of LA’s have been extremely supportive. Nevertheless, it’s the LA’s that hold the funding purse strings so it’s important to work together with your LA and ensure you fully understand their guidance and how they plan to issue funding.
The guidance is clear that we must continue to follow the EYFS framework, as professionals in the sector, we would expect nothing less. It’s also our responsibility to keep our children safe in terms of how we manage the setting, parents and other visitors. Some settings will have new drop off points, hand washing before entry and some are even still taking temperature of child and parents on arrival – although the guidance clearly states this is unnecessary - , do what you need to do to make the setting safe, but please, we urge you to consider the impact of these changes on the children.
For many children, just returning back to their setting after this wonderful period of being home with their families 247 is going to be a huge wrench. Now add this to the fact that they can't bring their favourite teddy or comforter, mummy can’t come in and play for 5 mins like she used to, the environment looks different, there’s temperature checking on the door and this is now a very surreal picture for a 3 year old. Limit the changes to only the ones that are absolutely necessary, to ensure that we really are looking after the emotional wellbeing of your children. This is addressed in section 7.4 of the guidance and considers the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children in more detail. As early years leaders, we will always be puting the health of our little ones first and foremost. Our advice is to engage with the children, you know them well and are best placed to spot any changes in wellbeing or behaviour. Similarly, there will be children for whom your setting is their safe place. Do not be too hasty to dismiss changes in behaviour and put it down to changes at your setting. Now is the time to keep your safeguarding hat firmly in place and ensure that children are able to express any worries or concerns to you. In section 7 of the guidance, there are suggestions on possible updates to child protection policies. These are really important to consider and having an annexe means the whole policy doesn’t need to change. Of course its important to ensure that any updates are clearly communicated to your whole staff team and that they acknowledge they have read and understood the changes. It will be useful to consider how you will monitor the impact of the changes and check understanding in practice. Moreover, you may wish to issue training updates across your team to refresh their knowledge on the most important policies such as child protection, wellbeing and behaviour management.
Moving on to funding, the guidance has been updated to remind us that LA’s are in control of who and where the funding is issued. It is clear that redistribution of funding should only be in ‘exceptional cases and only when all other options have been exhausted.’ The main issue here is ensuring there are enough places in some areas and this may mean a re-distribution of funding. Again, remaining in contact with your LA is essential as each will be doing things their own way – not helpful we agree, but it is what it is. However, it is worth remembering that if your funding is redistributed to another setting for whatever reason, you may then be able to ‘increase the proportion of their salary bill eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in line with CJRS guidance.’ Furthermore there will be additional guidance coming in the weeks ahead regarding future DSG funding.
Parent applications for funding have also been mentioned, with some changes to eligibility to ensure parents aren’t disadvantaged. For example, a critical worker who has worked many more hours that usual may have found their increased salary pushes them over the boundaries for a funding claim. Subject to parliamentary approval of a temporary amendment, these parents will still be eligible. Moreover, parents who no longer meet the 16 hours threshold because of covid-19 will also still be eligible. Again, check in with your LA for further support.
Financial support for early years settings remains in place, however, this update confirms that nurseries which are ‘eligible for charitable status relief are not eligible for small business grant funding’, but will continue to pay no business rates in 2020 to 2021. This is frustrating for settings with charitable status and we have seen an increase in calls to The Key Leadership from these settings, looking for guidance and support. Please do reach out should you need to.
We know many settings across the sector have felt hugely let down by their insurance providers and this is something that has been recognised by the government. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules state that insurers must treat customers fairly, ‘including handling claims fairly and promptly; providing reasonable guidance to help a policyholder make a claim; not rejecting a claim unreasonably; and settling claims promptly once settlement terms are agreed.’ The guidance states that the government is working with insurers to ensure that settings are not unfairly disadvantaged in this process and we urge you to keep pushing on where insurance claims are concerned. If you feel that you have been let down by your insurer, take it further and make a formal complaint. Moreover, if you feel that your complaint has not been dealt with satisfactorily, you can refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service. It may feel like there are a million barriers in your way, but you can make a difference!
One clarification that we are pleased to see is around children’s group sizes. The initial confusion over groups of 8 or 16 has been explained as ‘no more than 16 children in a single group in an early years setting. Providers can have several groups of 16 children if EYFS ratios and EYFS space requirements allow. While 16 children is the maximum in a group, keeping groups to 8 children, while adhering to EYFS ratios, is preferable so groups are as small as possible.’ So, you can fill your setting as long as group sizes remain below 16 and EYFS guidance is met. However, if separate groups cannot be maintained over the course of the day due to changes in children’s attendance between the morning and afternoon, additional children can be added to groups in the afternoon. This is another example of doing what works for you and your setting.
It’s great to see confirmation around testing for under 5’s – weyhey! This means you are more able to manage outbreaks in your bubbles and get on top of staffing quickly. The 5th section of the looks at attendance into settings and there’s nothing new there. Try and stick to one setting, limit movement of staff and only attend if symptom free – no brainer really and it’s what we’ve already been doing…..well done to us!
In terms of the EYFS, we discussed the temporary disapplication’s in our managers guide. These changes have a long end date of 25 September 2020, with monthly reviews. Whilst we appreciate the amendments are there to make life a little easier, we have found that the settings we are working with are carrying on as normal, following the EYFS as was without using the disapplications, for the full benefit of the children. Again, this is where you do what you need to do for your setting. PFA certification has also had some amendments. Previously, there was a 3 month extension on certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020. However, in exceptional circumstances, if requalification training is still unavailable, a further extension is possible to no later than 30 September 2020.
Finally, its good to see the involvement of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Their COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up to ‘identify, monitor and respond to competition and consumer problems arising from coronavirus (COVID-19) and the measures taken to contain it’. The sector in general is a caring and supportive one, but there will always be the odd setting or business that takes advantage and this CMA will be there to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Overall, this guidance serves to reinforce the great work that most settings are already doing. We are a sector that cares about our children and we provide the very best services for them. Pandemic or not we will continue to do our absolute best to keep our youngest members of society safe, happy and loved.