Nursery workers feel forgotten in the Covid-19 pandemic

Schools may have closed their doors – but nurseries remain firmly open. 

This is a government decision that has left nursery staff feeling scared, vulnerable and forgotten about.

Nursery nurse Anita* says that while she loves her job, the new measures have left her feeling anxious.

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘For this new lockdown I was rather panicked that nurseries haven’t been closed in line with primaries and secondary schools. 

‘My three-year-old niece along with my sister, her husband and their two school-aged boys all had Covid over Christmas – so the sense that under fives aren’t affected isn’t the case. 

‘We’ve experienced first-hand how poorly she has been and how hard it has been for my sister to care for herself and a toddler at the same time.’

Anita explains that closing nurseries or limiting them to key workers – like schools have – would help other families from having a similar difficult experience.

‘Despite all the safety measures we can put in place, you can only keep under fives sanitised to a certain extent,’ she adds.

She has been put in a difficult position with some parents.

Anita says: ‘Parents have been grateful for us being open but tensions are high as we’ve had both emails to praise our efforts and emails to complain that we are “anti-maskers” and parents withdrawing their children, as is their choice, but still having to pay the fees.’

Anita is not only worried about putting herself at risk, but her mother as well.

She adds: ‘I live with my elderly mother and feel worried I am putting her at risk by working. I have been offered to be placed on furlough again by my manager due to my age but I’m worried my job security would be at risk if I chose to do this. 

‘It’s all very confusing as the government messaging is unclear. I feel proud that I am helping families during this time but can’t see how we can keep nurseries open as they are, without being a contributor to the spread as we enter the most difficult weeks of this pandemic.’

Hannah*, a fellow nursery worker, says the pandemic has only exacerbated the divide between funding and support for schools and for nurseries. 

She tells us: ‘We as a profession are feeling very let down by the government and our local authority (Oldham Council).

‘We have two concerns: the favouritism towards schools and the funding being revoked due to families shielding.

‘Pre-covid there has always been a feeling that schools are more superior to nurseries, pre-schools, Early Years settings etc. Despite the fact we are expected to deliver a curriculum (just like schools), care for the children (just like schools), held to account ability via OFSTED (just like schools).’

Hannah does not understand the logic behind the decision to keep nurseries open. 

She adds: ‘Early Years settings are being treated differently – almost like Covid stops at the pre-school door and it is not transmittable within the building. 

‘We welcome over 90 families a week – this is the same if not more than most primary year group bubbles. We also have ratio amounts that are a lot less than school amounts therefore more teaching and assistant staff are needed within each room.

‘Our emotions were sent even further into disarray after our local council removed funding for children who are shielding or deciding to stay off due to being nervous or scared.’

Hannah says that her local council and the government are not willing to answer any of the staff questions about funding cuts – leaving them all in the dark.

Sarah MacKenzie, the chief academic officer at London-based nursery group, N Family Club, says they feel nursery staff should be added to the key workers vaccination list.

She says: ‘We firmly believe that Early Years Educators should be added to the priority vaccination list as whilst nurseries have been deemed low risk, our teams are in a unique position of being front line workers who are unable to socially distance from the children. 

‘The government must recognise the vital role they are playing in the pandemic and include them along with health and social care workers.’

*Names have been changed.

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