Supporting the early years sector

As a sector, we are adept at reacting and quickly responding to change, whether that be in terms of government policies, workplace changes or education updates. We are also all too familiar with dealing with challenging circumstances outside of our control. However, at times it can be hard to comprehend the scale of the uncertainty and challenge currently faced by the sector and wider society in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Since our last communications to you, government guidance has stated that education and early years settings must close their doors and remain closed for the foreseeable, except for those providing care for vulnerable children, and the children of workers critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. 'Vulnerable children' includes children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

The impact that this has had on our sector cannot be underestimated, with all early years settings now either in partial, or full closure. As a result many settings have had to scale back their staffing numbers with thousands of practitioners up and down the country now in furlough and facing an indefinite period out of their settings.

The complexity of this is different for every setting but all face various challenges. Some are experiencing high demand for places, especially in areas with high numbers of vulnerable children, and some are faced with severe staff shortages, due to illness and self-isolation.

Government guidance states that while as many providers as possible should try to stay open for eligible children, this will not be possible for all settings and the local authority should coordinate pooling of resources so children are able to access provision elsewhere. The full guidance for local authorities, early years settings and childminders about childcare provision following the outbreak can be found on the government website.

Early years professionals are now classed as key workers, playing a significant role in the UK’s fight against coronavirus and are vital to keep the country going. This highlights how fundamental our sector is to society and how integral it is that we have a strong workforce on which it can rely upon. 

It’s now more important than ever for all of us to work together to support the sector and the early years workers who do a fantastic job every day and are now on the frontline of the coronavirus response. This includes effectively attracting and retaining talent in the sector, which feeds into the work that the Early Years Workforce Commission has been set up to do.

The main aim of the sector-led commission is to ensure that the early years sector is recognised and offers a rewarding and attractive career path. The commission will be looking at the future of the early years workforce, funding, and challenges in the sector, and the launch of the group couldn’t have come at a more suitable time.

For more information on the Early Years Workforce Commission, Nursery World published an interview with Julie Hyde, which can be found on their website.