Claire Dimpfl, owner and head teacher of Tadpoles Nursery in south-west London, has called on the government to include early years providers in the priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine, as nurseries across the country remain open.
The government has faced criticism for its decision to keep early years education going throughout the new national lockdown, while primary and secondary schools have been ordered to close.
More than fifty thousand people have signed a petition calling for nurseries to be shut in order to protect early years staff.
Ailsa Monk, owner and headteacher of Cotswold Montessori Schools, told ITV News that the decision to keep nurseries open was a ‘hospital pass’, as they had fully expected to be ordered to shut. She added that ‘anxiety levels were through the roof’ and asked, ‘why is it not safe for primary schools to go back and why is it safe for early years to go back? If we had more time, we would have got our heads around it. We do not want to be an after thought.’
However, the government has explained the rationale behind the decision, with children and families minister Vicky Ford laying out the key arguments in favour of keeping nurseries open:
‘The reason schools have been restricted is not that they are unsafe but because additional measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus. The wider restrictions in place as part of the national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus in the community enable us to continue prioritising keeping nurseries and childminders open, supporting parents and delivering the crucial care and education needed for our youngest children.
‘Early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff. 0-5 year olds continue to have the lowest confirmed rates of coronavirus of all age groups, and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children. Evidence shows that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are not playing a driving role in transmission. There is no evidence the new strain of the virus causes more serious illness in either children or adults and there continues to be strong evidence that children are much less susceptible to severe clinical disease than older people.
‘PHE advice remains that the risk of transmission and infection is low if early years settings follow the system of controls, which reduce risks and create inherently safer environments.
‘Early years settings have been open to all children since 1 June and there is no evidence that the early years sector has contributed to a rise in virus cases within the community. Early evidence from SAGE showed that early years provision had a smaller relative impact on transmission rate than primary schools, which in turn had a smaller relative impact than secondary schools.
‘Early years childcare providers were one of the first sectors to have restrictions lifted last summer, in recognition of the key role they play in society. Childminders and nursery staff across the country have worked hard to keep settings open through the pandemic so that young children can be educated, and parents can work. The earliest years are the most crucial point of child development and attending early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and supports children’s social and emotional development. We continue to prioritise keeping early years settings open in full because of the clear benefits to children’s education and wellbeing and to support working parents. Caring for the youngest age group is not something that can be done remotely.’
Speaking exclusively to the Leaders council of Great Britain and Norther Ireland, Claire Dimpfl, the owner and head teacher of Tadpoles Nursery in south-west London expressed her support for staying open but stressed the need for safety.
‘We are very happy to be open and think it very very important for the children,’ she said, ‘but I do think and feel that our importance should be recognised with the vaccine. My staff, in many cases, need to travel by public transport and we cannot help mixing with others in our bubbles and sometimes parents of the children in our care, although we are doing everything in our power to keep the bubbles secure.’
Dimpfl also made a critical point about the long-term viability of early years providers if they are made to close against their will.
‘If we are forced to close, many nurseries would never reopen. Having seen the effect on the children who started in September after the first lockdown, and their delayed milestones, this should not happen. However, as with the NHS Workers we should be given some priority so that we can work safely and continue our important work for the families in our care.’
Dimpfl established Tadpoles Nursery in 1993. It has consistently been rated Outstanding by OFSTED in several areas. Dimpfl was inspired to work with young children because of the widely acknowledged fact that the ages of 0-5 are when a child’s mind is at its most receptive. Her philosophy is that ‘there is a key to each child and that each child is individual and deserves a well-balanced start to education which should concentrate equally on all areas of learning.’