Last reviewed 6 January 2021

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a national lockdown in England from 5 January 2021, the Government has confirmed that registered early years providers can remain open.

Government guidance states that there are several ways that parents and carers can continue to access childcare as follows.

  • Early years settings (including nurseries and childminders) will remain open.

  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities (including wraparound care).

  • Parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is under 14. This is mainly to enable parents to work, and must not be used to enable social contact between adults.

  • Some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble.

  • Nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home.

The Department for Education (DfE) has since shared it’s rationale for keeping childcare open following concerns raised by the early years sector on continuing to work during the new lockdown. The DfE stated that:

  • the reason schools have been restricted is not that they are unsafe but because additional measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus. The wider restrictions in place as part of the national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus in the community enable us to continue prioritising keeping nurseries and childminders open, supporting parents and delivering the crucial care and education needed for our youngest children

  • early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff. 0-5 year olds continue to have the lowest confirmed rates of coronavirus of all age groups, and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children. Evidence shows that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are not playing a driving role in transmission. There is no evidence the new strain of the virus causes more serious illness in either children or adults and there continues to be strong evidence that children are much less susceptible to severe clinical disease than older people

  • PHE advice remains that the risk of transmission and infection is low if early years settings follow the system of controls, which reduce risks and create inherently safer environments

  • early years settings have been open to all children since 1 June and there is no evidence that the early years sector has contributed to a rise in virus cases within the community. Early evidence from SAGE showed that early years provision had a smaller relative impact on transmission rate than primary schools, which in turn had a smaller relative impact than secondary schools

  • early years providers were one of the first sectors to have restrictions lifted last summer, in recognition of the key role they play in society. Childminders and nursery staff across the country have worked hard to keep settings open through the pandemic so that young children can be educated, and parents can work. The earliest years are the most crucial point of child development and attending early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and supports children’s social and emotional development. We continue to prioritise keeping early years settings open in full because of the clear benefits to children’s education and wellbeing and to support working parents. Caring for the youngest age group is not something that can be done remotely.

The early years sector in England is now calling for additional financial support for settings that are staying open with reduced numbers of children and asking for the Government to prioritise testing and vaccines for early years staff.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:

"The Government is putting a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a sector they have, to date, provided with shamefully little support. If early years providers are expected to continue operating, it is vital that government takes the steps to enable them to do so as safely as soon as possible: that means priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations, and the establishment of a comprehensive mass asymptomatic testing regime in early years settings as a matter of urgency.”

"Adequate financial support - both for those providers who are reliant on 'free childcare' funding and those reliant on private parental fees - also remains critical, especially given that early years settings are likely to see an even greater fall in the demand for childcare places as a result of the heightened restrictions announced today.”

"Now is the time for the Government to do what it has failed to do throughout this pandemic and make early education and childcare a priority."