‘Nearly half of childcare workers don’t feel safe at work’

A survey shows nearly one in 10 childcare workers has tested positive for Covid since December and that nearly half don’t feel safe going to work.

Nursery worker with children


Almost half of childcare workers say they don’t feel safe in their working environment, according to a news survey.

The survey by the Early Years Alliance found 48% of nursery and pre-school staff and 54% of childminders say they don’t feel safe in their current early years working environment.

It also found 9% of nursery and pre-school staff and 8% of childminders have tested positive for Covid-19 since 1 December 2020 and that 63% of nurseries and pre-schools say that there is a moderate to high risk that their whole setting may need to temporarily close in coming weeks due to staff shortages brought about by Covid-19.

The online survey, which was conducted jointly by the Alliance and independent sector analysts Ceeda between Friday 15 January and Tuesday 19 January, received 3,555 responses from those working in the early years and childcare sector.

Ceeda analysis of the survey findings estimates that around 31,000 staff working in nurseries and pre-schools and almost 3,000 childminders have tested positive for Covid-19 since 1 December 2020. In comparison, the survey suggests that, on average, less than one child per early years setting has tested positive during the same time period.

The survey also found that:

Around 9 in 10 early years practitioners (94% of nursery and pre-school staff and 87% of childminders) believe that the early years workforce should be prioritised in the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation is currently considering whether to include occupations with a higher risk of exposure to the virus in the next phase of Covid vaccinations. While the education secretary is calling for teachers to be vaccinated, the early years sector has not been mentioned even though, unlike schools, they are still open in England.

The survey additionally found that 65% of both nursery and pre-school staff and childminders would prefer to be included in the Department for Education’s mass lateral flow testing programme, which has been made available to maintained nurseries, schools and colleges and involves testing kits being sent directly to education settings.

Respondents to the survey also raised serious concerns about the financial impact of Covid-19 on their long-term sustainability. It found that:

  • Early years occupancy levels are currently 58% in nursery and pre-schools compared to 86% in January 2020, and 54% in childminding settings compared to 92% in January 2020.
  • 51% of nurseries and pre-schools and 35% of childminders expect to be operating at a loss at the end of the spring term based on current levels of government support.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report this week criticising the Government’s response to the financial challenges facing nurseries over ‘free’ childcare for three and four year olds and disadvantaged two years olds.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, called on the Government to take urgent action to ensure the safety of those working in nurseries, pre-school and childminding settings in England during national lockdown.  He said: “With Covid rates among early years practitioners so high, it is no wonder that so many in the sector don’t currently feel safe going into work every day. We know that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have worked incredibly hard to ensure that they offer a safe environment for those children still accessing care and education – but someone needs to be doing the same for them, and so far, the government has failed to do so…

“For weeks now, the government has been talking about how important the early years sector is, and what a valuable role providers play in supporting both children and parents. There is no excuse, then, for the government to drag its feet in taking the action needed to ensure that all providers are able to operate safely and sustainably, both now and in the future.”

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