In England, from today childcare settings and schools can move to their next stage of opening. Outdoor markets and car showrooms will reopen, groups of six people can meet outdoors and some sports will resume behind closed doors. This is meant to be a moment of optimism, a green recovery, centred on the health of the population and backed by an efficient and effective system of testing and contact tracing.
Instead, in England in particular, there in a state of utter confusion. The public’s confidence in the official lockdown advice is shaken. The Covid-19 response is short on testing, uncertain on contact tracing and reliant on unreliable apps. are defying the instructions from the centre and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking their own path through the crisis.
Furthermore, more than 30 early years experts, parent groups and sector organisations have criticised the Department for Education’s guidance on reopening early years settings and schools, saying it does not provide a safe return for children and threatens their wellbeing and education.
We at PACEY know it’s been an incredibly tough time for you with financial insecurity, inconsistencies in public policies and mixed public messages.
The state of that muddle is reflected in the findings of PACEY’s recent research amongst parents. The survey showed that 48% are either not planning on sending their child back to a childcare setting or haven’t yet decided. The survey also uncovered high levels of anxiety amongst parents with 60% saying they are worried about their child’s health and 70% concerned that social distancing measures can’t be enforced with children
The Covid-19 pandemic and the measures taken to tackle it have exposed serious flaws in how the works, and how neglected our public services have been.
This crisis has also shown who really keeps the country going, how poorly paid many of our key workers are and the scale and depth of existing inequality in this country, with women, disabled people and BAME workers more likely to be affected because they are disproportionately represented in insecure jobs on low pay. In many ways there are parallels here between the childcare sector and the world of adult social care. We must have public policy solutions to the problems in each sector if we’re going to build a resilience going forward.
That is why PACEY’s submission to the Education Select Committee calls for urgent action to address the already threadbare childcare infrastructure. We want to see pro-active political investment to ensure that when the pandemic is over, we don’t return to the old hand to mouth existence. As a society we must learn from the experience of the last few months, that, where there is the political will, we have an opportunity to do things differently and to do things better. Not least, we know that solid fiscal investment for the future can be made, when the situation demands it.
For example, the programme that brought homeless people off the streets in days shows us that social and economic problems are not intractable but can be solved through political will.
However, PACEY knows that the current scenario, today remains perilous for many. So, with this submission and a further letter to the Chancellor, we will continue to fight for an immediate improvement in the financial support that is available.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the frailties in the early years sector. Both maintained and PVI providers will need urgent and focussed government support to remain part of the UK’s critical infrastructure and to ensure all children, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, are supported in their emotional needs and to catch up with their education over the coming year.
The situation is particularly stark for childminders. Already in decline, PACEY is deeply worried that many of you that have closed since March will not re-open and that the financially precarious nature of the role, alongside the long hours and anxieties over Covid-19 infection entering their family home, will mean that far fewer people will register and train to join the profession in the future.
We fear that we are witnessing ‘a perfect storm’ for childminders, with the current fragility compounded by a likely reduction in demand for the conventional childminder model. In the recent PACEY survey, when parents were asked how they would manage childcare going forward, 85% said they would continue to look after them at home themselves.
We therefore need to look towards a long term remodelling of the service that childminders provide.
In the short term it is imperative that government sets out now how it will mitigate the danger of losing many of the 250,000 childcare places that childminders provide, by adapting current regulations and requirements; improving existing funding programmes and establishing transition support.
PACEY believes that the Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for government action that can make transformational changes to early years education and childcare. The hand to mouth existence cannot go on when so many children, particularly disadvantaged children, will need concerted, fully resourced care and education to restore their development and alleviate the impact of their months of isolation.
PACEY wants to work with the government in reframing the childminder model, but for now there are urgent interventions that we want to see actioned and we will work relentlessly to achieve that on your behalf.
The future of childcare, and the allied outcomes for children, needs robust leadership and political vision now.