Following the government announcement at the end of the day Wednesday 18 March that all schools and childcare settings would close at the end of Friday 20 March, there has understandably been a great deal of confusion and panic in our sector. Attempts to extract information from the DfE met with little success. They were clearly inundated with enquiries whilst trying to resolve all the ramifications of the imminent school closure.
But they did manage to publish two key guidance documents, just before midnight on Thursday:
- The first clarifies the thinking behind the school closures, but explains why schools will remain open for a limited group of children: those who are considered vulnerable, and those whose parents are key workers. The guidance explains which children are considered vulnerable, and most importantly, provides a list of the roles that are considered as key workers. The list of key worker roles is quite extensive.
Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision
- The second guidance document gives more information for parents about the effects of closures of schools and childcare settings. This document makes clear that all registered childcare settings must close to the majority of children. They can only stay open in order to care for the children of key workers. It also explicitly states that Easter holiday clubs will be encouraged to stay open - for the children of key workers:
Closure of educational settings: information for parents and carers
This is very helpful information for out of school clubs. It does mean that we have to close our provision to the majority of the children (although the list of key workers is quite long), but we can remain open if we wish. Obviously in some settings the number of children attending will make this unviable. There may the possibility to combine provision for a number of schools although clearly it is best from an infection control point of view to keep the numbers of children as low as practicable.
Before and after-school care
Clubs that run on school premises may find that schools want to cover the whole of the working day (8.00am to 6.00pm) with their own staff. Or they may want you to continue with your normal before and after-school provision whilst their staff cover the hours of the school day. It is essential that you contact the headteacher of your feeder school without delay to discuss what childcare they need you to provide. You will also need to work with them to identify how many children will protentially need caring for and therefore whether it is financially viable for you to open.
If your club runs from separate premises, again you should still liaise with the feeder school to find out what hours they intend to cover. But you can also reassure worried parents that you will still be able to take their children on Monday, so long as they fall into one of the key worker categories.
Anyone who was planning to run a holiday club over Easter will still be able to do so - but only for the children of key workers. You need to contact the parents of any children who are currently booked in to check whether they fall into one of the categories. However you will also need to check with your planned venue to ensure that they are still able to accommodate you. School buildings should be open, but other community spaces may have decided to close.
Reducing the risk
When caring for the children of key workers it is essential that you reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the absolute minimum. We will have more thoughts on this in due course, but as a starting point you should look to having the children outside for as much as possible, keeping rooms well ventilated, having a strict hygiene routine, and discouraging games or activities in which the children are in extended close contact. If there is the slightest doubt about whether a child is ill, or someone in their family, they will need to be excluded.