Letter to Children's Minister Vicky Ford MP

Letter to the Minister for Children at the Department for Education (DfE) from General Secretary Roy Rickhuss, raising concerns about COVID-19 testing and vaccination in early years settings in England.

Vicky Ford MP
House of Commons
London  SW1A 0AA

11 February 2021

Dear Minister Ford

I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister for Children to raise an issue which has affected our members in the Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) education sector, particularly within early years, and to seek your intervention.

We have seen a significant difference between the access to coronavirus testing and vaccines between the maintained sector and the PVI early years workforce.  

These workers are essential workers who have been on the frontline of the pandemic. Particularly in early years, social distancing and use of PPE when caring for very young children is simply not possible. These groups therefore need to be kept safe at work. Supporting them will ensure that they can continue to support the children in their care and to allow parents to continue to work.

Testing

In relation to testing, although the early years workforce has been prioritised for access to community coronavirus testing facilities where available, “local” test facilities may be a significant distance away, particularly in rural areas. The fact that such facilities are typically only open during working hours, prevents staff from accessing testing. Clearly, smaller settings are most badly affected as sites cannot release their staff to travel and get tested. This raises the risk of increasing the spread of coronavirus in the community.

While we recognise that your officials are exploring the provision of home test kits and ‘on-site’ testing, the timescale to achieve testing for the PVI early years sector leaves the workforce further exposed. 

We believe that there are some relatively quick and simple ways that the early years workforce could be supported to work safely with access to testing and keep themselves, their families, and the children in their care safe. For example, if it is for logistical reasons that PVI early years settings cannot become testing hubs, then could such centres receive deliveries of home test kits? Alternatively, a “click and collect” style service for PVI settings could be offered to allow them to pick up home test kits or on-site kits for staff from local community hubs/schools.  

Vaccination

We are also deeply concerned that given that early years settings have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, they have not yet been identified as a priority occupation to receive the coronavirus vaccination.

Whilst the evidence shows that children do not tend to suffer severe symptoms of coronavirus themselves, it is clear that they can spread the disease to their families, teachers and other staff who support them. To protect these groups, the PVI workforce must be brought forward for the vaccine as part of phase 2 of vaccinations, ahead of their wider age groups, and we ask that you make representation to the JCVI on this matter.

Our members tell us that they feel as though the early years sector is being treated as less important and less valued than education for those aged five and over.

I would ask that you raise this issue and help to ensure that the early years PVI workforce are treated equally with the rest of the education sector. 

Yours Sincerely

Roy Rickhuss CBE
General Secretary
 Community Union

Update: 22 February 2021

Testing

The DfE added a section on asymptomatic testing to its guidance confirming that it is expanding home testing kits to staff in all private, voluntary and independent nurseries, who should start to receive deliveries of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) home testing kits to offer to all their staff for twice weekly testing from next month. This is will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmissions.

See: Letter of thanks to early years from the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson (pdf)

Community Assistant General Secretary (Voice) Deborah Lawson commented: 

“We welcome the news that all staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will have access to tests to use twice weekly at home from 22 March, as we have raised concerns about the lack of testing for early years staff."

 

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