Childcare and lockdown: deja vu, but with some differences

The national lockdown in England has brought back many of the problems experienced in 2020, but there are some key differences.

Arguing Children


Day one of lockdown in England and chaos seems to rein. There is a sense of deja vu about the whole thing, although some things are slightly different. Early years seems to be staying open, for one, including childcare, babysitters and nannies, although this could change and some nurseries, childminders etc could decide that they cannot open safely. If your child is not going to nursery due to Covid and you are still being charged fees, you should check your contract to see what the agreement is.

Childcare bubbles are allowed so a household with children under 14 can join up with another one to get informal childcare support. There can only be two households in a childcare bubble and it should be the same two, although it is possible to change bubbles after a 10-day gap and providing you do not remain in another childcare bubble. Single parents can also team up with another household and households can join up with a single-person household [such as a grandparent] as part of a support bubble.

Support bubbles can also be used by people with children under one or with a disabled child under five. Different households in support bubbles and childcare bubbles should not mix. There is, however, separate guidance on the clinically vulnerable and those aged over 70 which suggests that you should maintain social distancing or stay away from people in those categories. Shielding is also back.

For schools, we’re back to remote learning, except for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children. At our school, we have been told that these will get the same online lessons as remote learners ie no teaching as the aim is to provide childcare so key workers can do their jobs. More laptops have been provided for those who don’t have access, although the digital divide is about more than possession of devices. Access to wi-fi is also a big problem for many families, for instance.

Anecdotally, there is evidence again of schools turning down children of key workers unless both parents – if there are two parents – are key workers even though the guidance says you only need one parent to be a key worker.
If you live in other parts of the UK, of course, different rules apply. For Scotland click here; for Wales, here; and for Northern Ireland here.

Apart from the general childcare issues, there are concerns about what happens to children in key exam years. We await today’s announcement on this, but, with mock exams due for many this month, many now left in limbo about what they should be doing this week and feeling anxious about the future. Schools have been trying to deal with so many policy changes and addressing the many different challenges individual students are facing.

Our daughter’s school head has been a master of communications through all of this. He sent out an email first thing yesterday to Year 11s. There was no information he could give them, he admitted, but he just wanted to let them know that he had their back, that they would get through this and that he was as upset as they were by all the changes. He ended: “So, this is what we will do – we will take each day as it comes – because that is what we can control. We will be kind, we will be respectful to our teachers, we won’t listen to the media who create so much anxiety and chaos in our brains. We will take all the advice given to us and we will all work our socks off to ensure you get into our sixth form, college or modern apprenticeships. We are right behind you and will be there to catch you if you sometimes struggle with the uncertainty of what’s going on. We will never let you down. I know you won’t let yourselves down.” At times of crisis, good leadership matters in schools as in work and everywhere in between.

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