Coronavirus: the New Government Guidance for Nurseries Explained

Coronavirus has had a significant impact on all of our lives, especially if we have children in early childcare settings. Now that lockdown has eased, nurseries and other childcare providers have received new guidance in England to help them open safely. What is it and how will your child benefit?

Do Nurseries Have to Reopen?

No. Nurseries and early years providers have been able to reopen since Monday 1st June. However, the guidance states that the government understands that in some areas this may not be possible, or some nurseries may not be able to open to their full capacity. If there are not sufficient numbers of parents wanting their children to return to a particular nursery, or the nursery hasn’t made the changes they wish to their setting, they do not have to open. Nurseries may also struggle with staff numbers due to illness or the necessity for self-isolation, and pressure will not be put on them to open if this is the case.

Some nurseries may choose to close again due to local lockdowns, like those that have happened in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire. However, the guidance makes clear that parents can still use registered childcare provision, so nurseries are under no obligation to close.

Do Children Still Have to Attend in ‘Bubbles’?

The government relaxed the requirement for children to have to attend nursery in small, consistent groups (known as bubbles) on 20 July. This update was made due to the continued progress on slowing the spread of coronavirus within England, which saw the coronavirus threat level reduced from Level 4 down to Level 3. However, providers are being encouraged to minimise mixing where possible. The guidance says, ‘Setting should still consider how they can minimise mixing within setting, for example, where they use different rooms for different age groups, keeping those groups apart as much as possible’.

Will All Members of Staff Return?

If any member of staff is clinically vulnerable the guidance advise that they work from home if possible. If this is not possible, then they are required to take extra care to ensure social distancing is practiced within the workplace. Staff members with clinically vulnerable people in their household can return to work, but those with clinically extremely vulnerable people at home should work from home.

What Safety Measures Are in Place for Children?

The government and the NHS have outlined actions that children and parents should take to help control the spread of the virus. There are as follows:

  • Contact with people who are unwell should be minimised by ensuring that people with coronavirus symptoms, or those with people in their household who have symptoms, do not attend childcare settings
  • Hands should be cleaned more often than usual. Wash them for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly, or use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser, ensuring that all parts of the hand are covered.
  • Ensuring good hygiene by encouraging the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
  • Cleaning frequently touched surfaces often using appropriate cleaning products
  • Minimising contact between children by altering, as far as possible, classroom layout and timetables, such as staggered break times.

Additional cleaning and hygiene measures can be put in place at the discretion of the nursery, as can additional social distancing measures. The guidance recognises that there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to safety measures. It says, ‘Setting leaders will be best placed to understand the needs of their settings and to make informed judgements about how to balance delivering high quality care and education with the measures needed to manage risk.’

All nurseries are advised to thoroughly review their health and safety risk assessment and draw up plans to make sure they can open up safely. They should have active arrangements in place to monitor that their controls are effective, working as planned and updated as appropriately when there are changes in public health advice. Hopefully you have a relationship of trust with your nursery and know they will be doing their very best for your child but if you are unsure what measures they have put in place, talk to staff.

Will Children Be Allowed Outdoors?

Yes. The government guidance suggests that nurseries maximise use of outdoor areas as much as possible. Coronavirus spreads much less easily outdoors, making outside learning and play environments safer for both children and staff. If the nursery doesn’t have an outdoor space of its own, nursery staff may take small groups of children to outdoor public spaces, for example parks. This is provided that a risk assessment has been done that demonstrates they can stay a 2 metre distance away from other people at all times. Taking children out should be done only in small groups and remain in line with the government guidelines on the amount of people who can meet outdoors in a public place.

Can Children Attend More Than One Setting?

Your children may attend another childcare setting as well as nursery, for example a childminder. The government guidance says: ‘Parents and carers should be encouraged to limit the number of settings their child attends, ideally ensuring their child attends the same setting consistently. This should also be the same for staff.

It may not be practical or possible for your child to only attend one setting. If they need to attend more than one, it is advised that they are discussed with all childcare providers on an individual basis and with a risk assessment in place to minimise infection risks. Due to the varied nature of every child’s circumstances and needs different nurseries will need to take different approaches, so talking to your childcare provider is always recommended.

Conclusion

The government guidance has been put in place to make your child’s return to nursery as low risk as possible for them and your whole household. If you have any concerns or queries, talk to your nursery so that they can talk you through their plans and put your mind at ease. It’s important that you and your child feel calm and confident about returning to nursery and starting to get things as much back to normal as possible.

Coronavirus: the New Government Guidance for Nurseries Explained