There’s no question that the government’s message of ‘stay at home’ was successful; so successful, in fact, that now we are all reluctant and nervous to return to work. However, as a vaccine still seems a way off, gradually unlocking parts of our society is the only way of saving our economy, businesses and livelihoods. The opening up schools, nurseries and childcare settings has been a controversial topic and one that has come with a lot of guidelines from the government. As we all try and get our heads around the impact this will have on our settings, SCA reflect on what needs to be considered before we can open our doors.
1. The Government’s guidelines
The guidelines may be lengthy but there is a lot of helpful information to help us set up the protocols ready for June. It is important all settings read the documents found at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/education-and-childcare. The guidelines do dispel some of the myths about what will be expected at childcare settings, for instance, face coverings are NOT recommended when working with young children and are only suggested if a child falls ill with symptoms of Covid-19. It also states, “we know that, unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff”, and it goes on to outline measures that consider this.
2. Risk assessments, policies and procedures
The Government’s guidelines should inform your new risk assessments, policies and procedures. In early years settings, established cleaning routines, washing hands and good respiratory hygiene are vital parts of keeping children safe and this should be reflected in your documents. Discuss with parents any children with a condition that might place them on the vulnerable list, such as asthma, and evaluate whether it is appropriate for them to attend your setting in the short term. If you have any concerns, ask for a doctor’s note before they start attending. Review your medicine policy – in this current situation, should any child who is unwell and in need of medication be attending a childcare setting?
Take time to consider those toys that children frequently put in their mouths and how you can minimise the risk of spreading germs. The use of fine motor resources, such as playdoh, should feature on your risk assessments – should each child have their own tray of resources to use, can you put a hygiene routine in place before using certain resources, are the risks too high that it’s best to put it away for now? Consider also, the transition of paperwork between you and parents and, where possible, share daily diaries and the like via email or text. Just remember, if you are emailing accident forms you must ask parents to reply as confirmation that they have received it.
At the centre of our practice lies the well-being of our children and the curriculum we provide should always reflect this. Some children may be unsettled leaving home after lock down, some may recognise the changes in our settings or routines, and children do tend to pick up on adults’ anxieties. The curriculum you offer the children should first and foremost support the mental well-being of the children and it would be a good idea to speak to parents over the phone to gain an understanding of how their child is coping before they return to your setting.
4. Parent partnership
It’s fair to say that most parents will be anxious about their child being one of the first in society to be venturing back into the world and many will still be undecided about whether to keep them at home. Talk to parents and gauge their thoughts about the situation and where possible offer support. Direct them to the government information on the reopening of schools and childcare settings on https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers/reopening-schools-and-other-educational-settings-from-1-june. Talk to parents about the plans and procedures you have in place to keep their child safe.
5. Impact on your own family
For those childminding in their own home, reopening your setting may have an impact on your own family. Include a point in your risk assessment to show how you are planning to prevent the spread of the virus between households. Setting out procedures, such as children washing hands as soon as they arrive at the setting, will help to minimise the risks. If you have a vulnerable person living with you who is shielding, it may be that you are not able to reopen – if this is the case, it’s an idea to try to support parents in finding an alternative childcare provider for the short term.
6. Well-being of your staff
There will certainly be varying views about whether or not reopening educational settings is the right thing to do but as a leader you are required to follow the government’s protocols unless there is a palpable risk to the health of children, staff or a member of your household. This is not an easy position for any leader. Gain the trust of your staff by listening to their concerns – be mindful that attached to us all are worries of all different shapes and sizes. We all have varying situations and this will reflect how we feel about returning to work. Include your staff in the preparing of risk assessments and procedures, taking into account (where possible) their opinions and preferences. This will enable staff to gain an understanding of what to expect when they return to work, how they are being protected and what will be expected of them. Take some time to consider provision for any staff members who are vulnerable; is it appropriate that they return to work and if so, how will you keep them safe? For those workers who should not return to your setting, could you delegate work for them to do from home, such as preparing resources?
7. Using your space
The government guidelines suggest being outside as much as possible so it would be a good idea to think about making your outdoor area enticing for children and ensuring they have access to activities that develop all 7 areas of learning. Of course, the indoor space will still be in use but some thought needs to go into spreading out activities as much as possible to minimise the risks of infection. In larger settings, it may be necessary to limit the number of children using an activity at one time. For those settings with additional staff, consider creating ‘bubbles’ where one group of children remain with a designated adult in a particular part of the setting – activities can be swapped between ‘bubbles’ but only after thorough cleaning.
8. Managing the liaison with other settings or school
Consider carefully whether you will be able to still do school runs or nursery pick-ups. What will be the implications of this for you, the other children at the setting, your staff and your own family? Before you agree to liaising with other settings, ensure their procedures for minimising the risks of infection are in place. Ring settings directly if you need information and be sure to include this in your risk assessments. Ensure you have procedures in place for when a child enters your setting directly from another setting and discuss these with the child’s parents.
9. Keeping up with absent children
Some children will not return to their educational setting next month and some settings will not be able to reopen. It is vital we keep in touch with children and families who are still isolating. Phone parents regularly and offer support. It can be very helpful for parents to have activity ideas for their child to do at home. If you can, send or deliver resources to those families that may be in need. Video messaging is a great way to communicate with young children – read a story or ask them to complete a challenge for you. Most importantly, remember your safeguarding training and any concerns about a child needs to be logged or reported – it is these children who will count on your support the most.
There is information about reopening your setting on the government links above, however, if you would like any support or advise please get in touch with us at SCA on 01728 746970 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.