Closing nurseries during lockdown ‘would be a travesty’, says Sheffield children’s centre owner

With lockdown restrictions potentially being tightened further in the coming days, the owner of a Yorkshire children’s centre is issuing a plea for nurseries to stay open. Chris Burn reports.

As hospital admissions for seriously-ill Covid patients continue to rise at an alarming rate despite the imposition of the third national lockdown, there has been much discussion in recent days about what further measures could be taken to reduce the spread of the virus.

Nurseries have been high up on that agenda, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying this weekend they “probably should be closed”, following on from similar remarks from unions who say – like primary schools – they should only be open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers who are unable to keep them safe at home.

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This is an approach some providers have already gone for, with the Early Years Alliance saying some nurseries have opted for partial closures.

Karen Simpkin at Sunflower Children's Centre, pictured in January 2020. Picture by Simon HulmeKaren Simpkin at Sunflower Children's Centre, pictured in January 2020. Picture by Simon Hulme
Karen Simpkin at Sunflower Children's Centre, pictured in January 2020. Picture by Simon Hulme

While Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he does not want to speculate on whether the Government will strengthen the current lockdown measures, on Monday England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty laid out the current thinking on why nurseries have been allowed to stay open for now.

He said: “I think that the reason that nursery schools are open is to allow people who need to go to work or need to do particular activities to do so, and we all do know that children are at very, very low risk of this virus relative to other ages.

“The fact that nurseries are open, it’s not a risk to the children. But what people should be trying to do, and I just can’t reiterate this enough, is just minimise the number of unnecessary contracts they have with other households.”

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One Yorkshire’s nursery school owner who firmly believes the sites should remain open during this lockdown and any future ones that may follow is Karen Simpkin, from Sunflower Children’s Centre, in Sheffield.

After initially closing during the first lockdown and spending thousands on various safety measures ahead of reopening in July, Karen says being ordered to close again would be a “travesty”.

“Our amazing team at Sunflower Children’s Centre are 100 per cent committed to the care and education of the children in our setting,” she says.

“It would be a travesty if this commitment was disregarded and we were forced to close along with other equally committed Early Years Providers in this country.

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“The economy will be affected even further if parents cannot access work. Being able to work from home is a big advantage to stop the spread of the virus. However having children, especially those under five years, to care for and/or home-school makes working and doing a job effectively almost impossible. This puts employability at risk, increases furlough and potentially leaves individuals redundant.

“We know children will be unsupervised to enable work, a form of neglect that is being forced onto parents. The worry that parents/carers in this position are feeling as a result has a detrimental effect on their mental health, impacting eventually on the child.”

Karen says: “In a nutshell, the younger child will always need more supervision and interaction; balancing that with home schooling older children, in many cases will have a massive effect on their ongoing development and attainment. This equally could impact on the parent/carers attempting to work to provide for their family.

“We have already seen a significant difference in our children due to closure of settings in the previous lockdown. This includes social development and wider community understanding. Children of disadvantaged families already show a gap in their attainment which schools are tasked with closing. Attending an Early Years setting starts the process of reducing the gap.

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“As professionals, nursery staff pick up on Special Educational Needs or spot the signs of abuse or neglect at an early stage, offering help, support packages, or appropriate intervention; all of which will be missed should the settings be closed. We are extremely worried about the impact not only for our children but for children across the nation should a closure be enforced.”

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