Leading early years organisations the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), the Early Years Alliance and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) are calling on government in England to follow the Welsh Government in making Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) for coronavirus testing available for all registered early years and childcare providers to use at home.
Welsh Government will supply registered settings with LFDs and a small supply of PPE free of charge for asymptomatic testing at home twice a week. Testing is voluntary, but those who are eligible for tests are strongly encouraged to participate to further reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission.
Unlike schools, early years and childcare settings have been asked to remain open to all children during the latest national lockdown in England. However, unlike colleges, schools and maintained nursery schools and classes, private, voluntary and independent (PVI) providers in England have not been supplied with home-testing kits for asymptomatic testing. Instead, these nurseries, pre-schools and childminders have to access tests via community testing centres, which are often only open during working hours.
PACEY, the Alliance and NDNA are calling on the Department for Education to prioritise mass asymptomatic testing for the PVI early years workforce as part of the joint #ProtectEarlyYears campaign. To date, the DfE has argued that concerns around safety, training and distribution make it more challenging to offer asymptomatic home testing kits to PVI providers in England.
In contrast, Welsh Government has committed to engaging with sector representatives such as PACEY Cymru to establish the logistical approach to supply settings with testing kits. The Alliance, NDNA and PACEY are urging the government in England to follow this approach to roll out home testing for early years and childcare providers in England as a more practical and accessible means of reducing transmission in settings.
Liz Bayram, Chief Executive at PACEY, said:
“We are delighted the Welsh Government, working with sector partners, has ensured that childminders, nurseries and pre-schools in Wales can now home test for Covid-19. It will be key to helping them to stay open safely and reassure their staff and families. We are at a loss why government in England cannot do the same?
“It remains impractical to expect practitioners to leave their job, to travel for a community test, whilst their nursery has to find other staff to care for children in their absence. And for childminders, who often work on their own, to only be able to go to a testing centre at the weekend or bring their childminded children with them. Extending the opening hours of community testing sites and giving practitioners priority access isn’t adequate when schools in England can use home tests.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:
"Given that such a high proportion of Covid cases are transmitted asymptomatically, it is clear that lateral flow tests are absolutely vital to ensuring that early years settings are safe environments for both children and practitioners during the pandemic.
"As such, while it is incredibly positive to see the Welsh Government take such an important step to support all early years providers in Wales, the fact that they have been able to do so makes it all the more galling that most private and voluntary nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England still don't have direct access to these vital tests.
"The government has said that settings in England can access 'priority' asymptomatic testing at local community centres, but we know that in many areas, information about such testing still isn't even available and where it is, centres are often only open during working hours and inconveniently located for many providers.
"If direct access to lateral flow tests can be made available to providers in Wales, then there is simply no reason that the same approach cannot be rolled out in England. If the government wants early years settings in England to remain open during this incredibly challenging time, then it needs to provide the practical support that will enable them to do so."
Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said:
“We welcome the approach announced by the Welsh Government that will make it possible for workers in non-maintained early years settings to be involved in mass testing in the same way that schools staff can.
“The safety of staff and children are providers’ number one priority and the better the access to asymptomatic testing, the more confidence everyone can have that risks are being minimised. At-home testing would mean early years staff could know before they set off to work if they present a risk of infection to others.
“At a time when more and more settings are facing periods of partial or full closure due to positive cases or self-isolation of staff and children we have to get this right. Sending staff out to test sites during the day is not ideal when it involves travel, replacing them in ratios and potentially mixing separated groups.
“We know this is a complicated system with competing demands but with processes in place in Wales we need to see a better solution in England, and soon. At a time when early years providers and staff are being asked to go above and beyond, they should be prioritised for the most effective testing approach.”