Last reviewed 14 January 2022

The number of Covid-19 cases reported by early years providers reached record levels in the week before Christmas, according to the latest data from Ofsted.

A total of 3697 settings reported having at least one positive case at their nursery, pre-school or childminding setting in the week commencing 20 December 2021. The latest figures represent a significant increase in cases and in the previous week — commencing 13 December — 2935 cases were reported. This is also higher than the previous peaks in January 2021 (2357) and November 2021 (2707).

Many early years settings in England have reported that staff shortages are forcing them to reduce opening hours, close rooms or, in the worst cases, close entirely due to the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education (DfE) has launched a new weekly “pulse” survey to gain a better understanding of the current impact of Covid-19 on both workforce and child absences in early years settings.

The survey should take around five minutes to answer and it will be run once a week throughout January and February. The DfE has said that it recognises that given the huge pressures that settings are under at the moment, many providers may not be able to regularly respond to the weekly surveys. However, it is asking providers to respond as and when they can, even if they cannot respond every week, so that the Government can gain as much information on the current challenges facing the sector as possible.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said:

"It’s staggering that at a time when so many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are being affected by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the Government has yet to announce any financial or practical support for our vital sector.

"Reports of positive Covid-19 cases in early years settings were already skyrocketing before the Christmas break, but here we are, a week into January, with daily testing for some sectors, a staffing fund and the call for retirees to return to the profession for schools, but not a word about support for early years.

"Given that there is no requirement for under-fives to isolate or take daily lateral flow tests if they have been in close contact with a positive Covid case, many in the early years are understandably deeply concerned about their ability to protect themselves, their colleagues and their loved ones from the virus, especially given that those who ask children to stay home in that instance could face lost fees and funding as a result.”