Ensuring young children can access the care, support and social interaction they need during these critical early years, is crucial to their development. This is why early years settings have remained open to all children throughout the current national lockdown.
To make sure this vital work continues, to protect the early years workforce and to continue to break the chains of transmission in the community we are supplying nursery staff with enough kits to test themselves twice a week.
Here is what that will mean in practice.
So, what’s new?
Up until now early years staff have been accessing testing through local community testing programmes. But now, by providing the majority of early years staff with home testing kits, we will be able to better meet the needs of our early years workforce and identify positive cases more quickly to break the chains of transmissions.
Nursery staff will be supplied with lateral flow device (LFD) test kits to self-swab twice a week, with test results provided in 30 minutes. Testing will help to identify positive cases, particularly those who may have the virus and do not have symptoms.
This is important as up to one in three people who have the virus have it asymptomatically and show no symptoms. This means people could be spreading the disease unknowingly. Staff who test positive will then self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus.
The asymptomatic testing programme does not replace the current testing policy for those with symptoms. Anyone with symptoms (even if they recently had a negative LFD test result), should still self-isolate immediately according to government guidelines. Those with symptoms should follow guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and book a test.
For parents, carers and early years staff, we have outlined what to expect and how the early years testing will work.
When will early years staff receive vaccinations?
Early years staff in the most vulnerable groups are already receiving their vaccinations, in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations’ advice.
The first priorities for the COVID-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of mortality and the maintenance of the health and social care systems. As the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases with age, prioritisation is primarily based on age.
Under the priority groups for the first phase of vaccine rollout, those over 50 years of age, and all those 16 years of age and over in a risk group, will be eligible for vaccination within the first phase of the programme. This prioritisation captures almost all preventable deaths from COVID-19 and will include thousands of those in the education and childcare workforce.
The Department for Education is working with the Department for Health and Social Care to explore the evidence for prioritising staff in the education, childcare and children's social care workforce for in the second phase of vaccinations.
I’m a nursery worker – does this mean I have to self swab twice a week?
While testing is voluntary, it is recommended that early years staff participate in the testing programme because it is so important that we are able to break chains of transmission in the community.
Will early years providers be required to pay for tests?
No. These tests will be provided to early years settings free of charge.
I’m a childminder - why am I not included?
Childminders can still access asymptomatic testing through local community testing programmes, and we are continuing to work closely with colleagues across government and local authorities to secure the most effective approach to asymptomatic testing for childminders.
Anyone who displays symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can and should get a test.
Critical workers, such as early years staff, are being prioritised for community testing. Community Testing programmes are currently being rolled out across the country. We have encouraged local authorities to prioritise appropriate testing for childminders via the Community Testing Programme, which is now available to all local authorities, wherever possible. To support this, we have produced guidance for LAs to help them support a more accessible offer for this sector under community testing, which we have shared with all LAs.
Essential workers, which includes anyone involved in education or childcare such as a childminder, have priority access to testing. Tests can be booked online through the NHS website, or ordered by telephone via NHS 119 for those without access to internet.