Testing times for childcare

The lack of testing and delays in results is leading to pressure on schools and childcare, with a knock-on impact for parents.

child's drawing


Covid-19 continues to cause chaos across education, with the focus over the last few days being on university students. There are reports too of the impact on class sizes if teachers have to self isolate and either can’t get tests or are waiting days for the results. The smaller the school the bigger the impact as smaller schools just don’t have the resources to fill in for teachers who are not there, although many larger schools are also seeing their budget for supply teachers dwindling. That has inevitably led to some school closures already and the return of homeschooling.

And then there are nurseries, which have huge financial problems and have child:staff ratios they have to comply with. Last week saw a report by the County Councils Network which said local authorities believe up to one in 10 providers in England’s counties are at risk of closure this winter, particularly those in rural areas, and an open letter from a range of organisations, led by the Fawcett Society, calling for a major injection of cash into childcare.

The Early Years Alliance has also been highlighting the fact that home-testing kits have been distributed to schools and state nurseries. This comes amid growing reports of nurseries, pre-schools and childminding staff being unable to access coronavirus tests and some settings having to temporarily close and today it calls for the reported  £1.7bn underspend from the Government’s tax-free childcare policy, revealed following a Written Parliamentary Question from Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, to be reinvested in childcare provision.

All of this, of course, has a knock-on impact on parents who are trying to work in the midst of complete uncertainty. It feels like we are right back in March, waiting for everything to close down. Two weeks after being essentially threatened with the sack for not going back to the office, people who can work from home are being told to do so to prevent the virus from spreading.

workingmums.co.uk has had parents complaining about having to pay nursery fees if their child is sent home as a result of having Covid-like symptoms, some of which are very common in winter, although sneezing is not one of them. Parents are reporting that they are being asked to sign revised Parental Agreement forms stating that full nursery fees will still have to be paid even if your child has to self isolate due to Covid-19 symptoms. They ask if this is fair if they are not earning due to having to self isolate and because tests are not readily available.

One parent said they could understand that nurseries need to cover themselves for potential loss of fees, given many children will have coughs and temperatures over the next months. However, they were concerned that the parental agreement they had been asked to sign also said that, in the event of a second lockdown, 75% of the full nursery fee would be charged. They asked if they had to sign the agreement.

Parents who have to look after self isolating children have little leeway, particularly if they work outside the home now that the furlough scheme is finishing. However, unlike in March, they are allowed to access informal care, such as grandparents or other members of the family as long as there is “a consistent childcare relationship”. Otherwise, parents can ask for unpaid parental leave, use any annual leave they may have left over [or ask their employer to bring forward annual leave if that might be possible] or rely on their extended bubble [if they are single parents or have a single grandparent].

The restrictions may tighten in the coming months as infection rates increase. The financial insecurity is also likely to increase, with many parents facing job loss. Even those whose jobs are not under threat will be impacted by the knock-on effect on nurseries. Those in disadvantaged areas with parents working in lower paid, more insecure jobs in sectors deemed ‘unviable’ [purely as a result of Covid-19] will, as usual, be worst hit. Without childcare, finding work – and keeping it – will be much harder and there could be, post-Covid, a big rise in unregulated childcare, with all the risks that carries.

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