It has been widely accepted within the Childcare and Play Sector that partnership working between schools and Out of School Childcare has a huge benefit. Having affordable Childcare on site is a real selling point for a school, with many parents now choosing schools not purely based on catchment area but on their needs and expectations. It also supports the children who benefit from consistency and familiarity.
With schools and Childcare now re-opening following the COVID-19 outbreak, protective measures need to be implemented. Most schools are keen for Settings to re-open. With school hubs being used to provide care for keyworker children throughout the pandemic, school staff should be commended for their adaptability. Now that schools are re-opening, teachers have the inordinate task of adapting their teaching and environments to follow new guidelines and restrictions. With many Critical Workers still needing the extended hours, non-critical workers returning to work and with Childcare staff keen to get back to their roles, it stands to reason that partnership working and utilising the willingness, skills and experience of Playworkers will benefit both schools and Childcare. For this to happen, Childcare needs to be viewed not as an external venture but as part of the school community and team as a whole. A holistic approach to education and care is vital not just for Childcare but for education, children and their families.
The difficulty is that schools have a duty to conform with social distancing and infection control guidelines. Schools are advised to limit external persons on site, as well as a need to limit class sizes. Areas that are utilised by Out of School Childcare Clubs are going to be needed to be used by schools for the duration of the school day. This means that most After School Clubs will be unable to reopen for the remainder of the Summer Term, with many unsure about whether this will also continue into September.
Whilst as a Sector we recognise the difficulties of re-opening within schools at this time, Childcare businesses cannot survive if this continues long term and it is essential that Settings are allowed to commence their services in September. However, there are fears that these restrictions will not have evolved by then and this will have an adverse effect on the Childcare Sector. Social distancing will still be an important factor and After School Clubs will need to plan for this. It will be during this that partnership working will be essential, working together with schools to plan their “bubbles”. This is clearly stated in the Protective measures Guidance where it is highlighted that schools, Settings and parents should work together to ensure children remain in consistent groups to limit contact and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Schools and Childcare need to work together to look at the space available, and what temporary amendments to rental agreements could be allowed. Can Clubs utilise any other room to allow them to provide care for enough children while still keeping to small, consistent bubbles? How will both parties ensure infection control measures are taken throughout the site?
The road ahead is uncertain. The time will come where more people will have to return to work places and when this happens, having sufficient Childcare available is going to be even more essential. If childcare is unable to resume soon, we could lose these businesses altogether. Having a strong working partnership between schools and childcare is going to be paramount to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
Childcare Business Development Officer, South East Wales