Unlike schools, early years settings have remained open during the current lockdown. Reports of COVID cases to Ofsted increased from 1,267 for the week commencing 4th January to 2,357 in the week commencing 11th January. Reports of cases decreased slightly to 2,279 in the week commencing 18th January.
Each report to Ofsted is a notification by a setting of at least one positive COVID test. It may be the case that one report notifies Ofsted of a number of positive tests, however, data is not published on the number of individual cases and therefore these could be higher than the figures set out above.
Providers of early years settings must notify Ofsted of any confirmed cases in the setting, whether this is a child or staff member, via Ofsted’s ‘Report a serious childcare incident service’. As a part of the report, Providers must inform Ofsted when COVID cases were first suspected; when they were confirmed as positive; and when/whether the setting is closing and when they intend to re-open. In addition, providers must include details of the number of children attending and number of staff working at the setting at the time of the suspected case. The report must be made to Ofsted as soon as possible and in any event, within 14 days of a confirmed positive test for COVID.
There have been calls throughout the sector for further clarity from the government as to evidence on the risk of transmission in early years settings, as well as renewed calls for lateral flow tests to be sent directly to providers and for early years workers to be prioritised for vaccinations. Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:
“Early years providers have been asked to continue providing care and education at a time when the majority of population has been instructed to stay at home. The very least the government can do is ensure that they are given the practical support to do so as safely as possible."
At the press conference on 8th February, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that regular workplace testing was being expanded to all companies with more than 50 employees. Whilst this will be a welcome announcement to the providers who are eligible for the workplace testing, there is no doubt the concerns and frustrations will remain for those early years providers with less than 50 employees, who do not qualify for regular testing.
A Department for Education spokesperson made assurances that they are working to secure the most effective approach to testing for the sector and discussions are continuing. In addition, the spokesperson sought to highlight that current evidence suggests that preschool children under the age of five are less susceptible to infection and are unlikely to be playing a driving role in transmission.
The government have up to date guidance for early years and childcare providers during the COVID outbreak, which can be found online. It is important that providers are fully appraised of this guidance in order to reduce the risks of transmission. In addition, providers must ensure they are aware of their reporting obligations.
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