Before early years settings were green lighted to re-open, the UK was required to meet 5 scientific tests to ensure that the reopening was appropriate and would not lead to further spread of COVID-19.
Almost 2 weeks on from schools opening their doors to more students, many are feeling more comfortable with returning to both educational and shared environments. This means that the numbers of children attending their early years schools or nurseries have gradually increased.
This also correlates with other sectors re-opening and many relying on their primary sources of childcare; schools.
Health and safety regulations within schools and nurseries have been thoroughly reviewed to get to this stage. However, the biggest challenge occurs when applying new measures because each setting operates differently.
Health & Hygiene Preparation
Before schools and early years settings were able to open, they were required to complete a full health and safety check. This is standard practice even in normal times if a facility has been closed for an extended period of time.
Although it is not specifically government-recommended, compliance checklist software will ensure that all checks and safety measures are recorded and saved. When inspections of settings resume, this may be something that is called on.
This should include daily (enhanced) cleaning sheets, risk assessments and any changes to protocols in light of COVID-19 safety measures, such as fire drills, meeting points, eating spaces and handwashing schedules.
Nurseries and pre schools should also add auxiliary risk assessments wherever deemed necessary to comply with government recommendations.
The government has recognised that it is unrealistic to expect under 4s and practitioners to stay 2 metres away from one another. As such, the recommendation is to maintain closed groups wherever possible.
This means that children that may have previously mixed with other age brackets throughout their day are now unlikely to do so. Practitioners are likely to be assigned specific rooms or spaces and will stay there, to minimise contact with other groups.
This also includes minimised sharing of toys or resources. If this is unavoidable, items should be thoroughly cleaned and recorded before another group comes into contact with them. This is to make sure that any contamination is limited and traceable.
Within the early years setting, this is going to be a battle with ratios, staff availability and space allowance. Providers must meet the following indoor space requirements to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures:
Children under 2 years need 3.5 m² per child
2 year olds need 2.5 m² per child
Children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 m² per child
If you operate within a single, large open space and cannot keep groups separated (as many council-run facilities do), it’s recommended that dividers and floor markings are implemented.
Update & Share Policies With Parents and Carers Whilst Minimising Contact
As well as every setting being different, early years providers also have the challenge that their charges cannot communicate illness or symptoms effectively. This can mean that coronavirus infections could go unnoticed.
Government advice is to stay in regular communication with parents and to outline clear policies on illnesses or absences. This should include:
Parents being aware of symptoms to look out for
Parents remotely contacting professionals regarding any symptoms as soon as possible
Ensure staff that show symptoms adhere to quarantine guidelines
Settings should also update their policies and procedures documents and make this accessible to parents.
It will be extremely difficult to completely eradicate contact between parents and educators, especially for young children. Returning to the school environment after many weeks at home is likely to cause a lot of stress and potentially even separation anxiety between parents and their children.
This would typically call for enhanced contact which is not currently possible. The government recommendations encourage pre schools and nurseries to consider technology that is safe to use to share all of this information, including regular updates on child habits, behaviour and wellbeing.
If this is not a possibility for settings, they should implement strict physical distancing during handovers or whilst they communicate with parents.
To Take Away
Growing confidence in the safety of returning to school, as well as the need to return to work, is encouraging more children to return to their school environment. Compliance with health and hygiene regulations as well as maximised physical distancing will keep these settings safe.
Professional judgement is expected to be applied due to the individuality of each early years setting, but technology can help track and trace records, absences, illnesses and more.
It can also remotely communicate urgent notices to ensure everyone is kept safe and infections do not resurge. These settings are doing everything they can to make it safe for children to return to their environments.