When is a school not a school? When it is a nursery school. I have been involved in nursery school governance for 15 years and have witnessed the widening gap between the treatment of statutory educational establishments (schools) and non-statutory education provision (such as nurseries). The requirement for early years to stay open while other educational tiers move online is the latest example (Relief amid the ‘chaos’ as Covid-19 shuts down all schools in England, 4 January).
Schools are a potential vector of Covid-19 and the decision to close them is right. Very young people may be asymptomatic and unwittingly spreading the virus. So why are early years providers treated differently? Does infection stop at four? Of course not. While children in statutory schools understand the concept of social distancing, preschool children do not. As a vector, early years may be more potent than the statutory sector.
Government funding for childcare places based on pre-Covid attendance, introduced during the autumn term, has ended. If early years schools close to all but vulnerable and key worker children on safety grounds or reduce numbers of children attending to maintain legal staffing ratios – or parents decide not to send children in – then the income stream for providers will be compromised, which may lead to permanent closure. Closing early years, as in Scotland, would reduce infections but require financial support from the government.
• The third lockdown in England closes schools for most, yet keeps early years settings open, exposing workers in this sector to greater risk. Some will argue that this is because remote learning is impossible in the early years or that early years equates to childcare. I suggest another reason: the early years workforce is largely female and non-unionised, and therefore low-paid and undervalued. The National Education Union should begin a recruitment drive of early years workers.
Dr Tony Rea
• I am a private nursery practitioner with many years’ experience as a primary school teacher. While I understand the need for key workers’ and vulnerable children to be provided for, how can it be right for me to have to look after young four-year-olds in my nursery whereas reception teachers are not having to look after older four-year-olds in schools? Also, in Scotland, nurseries are closed. Where is the science? Where is the “United” Kingdom?
Name and address supplied
• Re your report (Primary schools in England still ‘rammed’ with pupils, say heads, 8 January), many of those children are in school because they have been categorised as vulnerable for lacking the means of accessing online teaching. Had the government kept the promise it made last year to provide every disadvantaged child with the resources needed, those children would not have needed to be in school. Yet another example of this government’s ability to make things even worse than they need to be.
Oban, Argyll and Bute
• No 10 says that “the prime minister believes the education secretary is doing [his job] to his utmost ability” (Report, 6 January). That’s the problem in a nutshell.
• Teachers learn the mantra of the six Ps: “Preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance.”