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The Government has highlighted the vital role of the Early Years and childcare sector during the coronavirus pandemic.

It says that those who work in the education and childcare sector rightly take their place next to NHS staff and other critical workers as central to efforts in battling the outbreak.

A Government document states: "Nurseries, pre-schools, childminders and providers of childcare for school-age children around the country are taking the lead in supporting families through this difficult time.

"We are keenly aware that the extraordinary measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus present an unprecedented challenge for childcare providers as well as the communities they serve.

"We appreciate the selfless dedication that childcare staff demonstrate in their work every single day.

"During this difficult time, we are asking you to go further still so that we can collectively address the challenges we face.

"You are vital to the country’s response to this crisis, and we offer our full support and gratitude during this difficult time."

All childcare providers, including nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, have been closed to reduce the number of social interactions and hopefully flatten the upward curve of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, providers should try to remain open to support those who absolutely need to attend - children of workers critical to the coronavirus response and vulnerable children such as those with a social worker or EHC plans.

The Government says it understands that this may not be possible for all settings because of staff shortages due to self-isolation or illness.

A package of support has also been announced including:

  • childcare providers, registered with Ofsted and providing EYFS, being eligible for a business rates holiday for one year
  • nurseries in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief benefitting from small business grant funding of £10,000 - including those eligible for a charitable status relief - plus no business rates in 2020 to 2021
  • a 100% rates relief for some settings operating from shared spaces
  • a Government contribution of 80% of an employee's wages - up to £2,500 and backdated to 1 March - for staff not working, but kept on payroll

The Government has also provided answers to frequently asked questions from Early Years providers:

Can childcare providers continue to charge parents during coronavirus-related closures?

All childcare providers are urged to be 'reasonable and balanced' in their dealings with parents, given the great uncertainty they will be facing too. The Government will not be clawing back Early Years entitlements funding from local authorities during closures or where children are withdrawn because of coronavirus - protecting a 'significant proportion' of Early Years providers’ income.

Should providers open for longer to care for the children of critical workers?

Providers should try to be as flexible as possible for critical workers who work shifts or atypical hours.

Will registered childcare providers be open over the Easter holidays for holiday clubs and childcare?

Where possible, childcare providers are encouraged to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.

Does the Early Years Foundation Stage still apply?

The EYFS statutory framework applies in full at this time, with the exception of the EYFS profile which has been cancelled for this year. The regulatory position is being kept under review.

Can providers vary staff to child ratios?

The Government considers the extent of the coronavirus outbreak to be an exceptional temporary circumstance in which staff to child ratios set out in the EYFS can be changed if necessary. However, childcare providers or schools remain responsible for ensuring the safety and security of children in their care.

Do providers still need to meet the learning and development requirements in sections 1 and 2 of the EYFS?

Early years settings are required to deliver the learning and development as set out in the EYFS framework. However, settings have scope to tailor these according to what is appropriate to the children in their care at this time.

What happens if staff need to renew their paediatric first aid certificates?

If requalification training is prevented for reasons associated directly with coronavirus, or by complying with related Government advice, the validity of current certificates can be extended by up to three months. This applies to certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020.

Should providers still take children outside?

Outdoor activity in private outdoor space should continue. However, childcare providers should follow the latest government advice and avoid using public spaces.

What arrangements do providers need to make about meals for children attending the setting?

Maintained nursery schools should continue to provide free school meals to children who would normally receive them. In all other settings, where free school meals do not apply, providers may charge for meals in line with national entitlements guidance, but considering the impact of charges on disadvantaged families.