Nursery staff are "cannon fodder" in battle against Covid claims Lancashire nursery owner

"Nursery nurses are completely overlooked. We’re working with small children – wiping noses, bottoms and tears every day. We get sneezed on, coughed at and give cuddles to our precious charges all without the protection of masks or screens. "

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 7:00 am

Nursery owner Sarah McGladrigan believes she and her staff are front line workers in the current Covid pandemic.

But the owner/manager of Cliff House Nursery on Lambert Road, Ribbleton, near Preston, maintains they are being treated as "cannon fodder".

She is calling for the sector's staff to be included in the priority groups receiving early vaccination and for recognition of their role in the education service.

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Sarah McGladrigan, owner/manager of Cliff House Nursery on Lambert Road, Ribbleton

She said: "As a profession, nursery nurses have been very let down by the Government’s attitude to our safety throughout the Covid pandemic but particularly during the current lockdown.

"We are the only level of the education sector being asked to accept all children – making our staff feel like the Covid equivalent of cannon fodder! It’s as if our lives matter less than teachers.

"Frontline NHS staff and care workers are rightly praised and given the highest level of protection possible. They’re being prioritised for vaccine and testing. However, nursery nurses are completely overlooked. We’re working with small children – wiping noses, bottoms and tears every day. We get sneezed on, coughed at and give cuddles to our precious charges all without the protection of masks or screens. Many of the children we care for are the children of frontline workers themselves."

She continued: "We’ve been lucky at Cliff House. We haven't had any positive cases amongst our staff but there have been many occasions when staff have had to isolate pending test results."

The garden at Cliff House Nursery

She welcomed the move by Lancashire County Council (LCC) to offer the lateral flow Covid tests to nurseries. She said: "LCC have emailed us to say that they are going to extend the Government’s offer of Lateral Flow testing to nurseries in the private sector. That will help somewhat but the tests are only around 40% accurate – so that comes with it’s own problems.

"The thing is when you listen to reports and they talk about frontline workers nursery nurses never get a mention. It's like we're completely overlooked - invisible."

Sarah questioned the logic of the distinction between most primary school children studying at home, and nursery schools remaining stay open as usual

Sarah described the impact of this decision on staff, noting: "I've noticed there's a definite drop in morale this time. I think it is definitely because of the way we've been isolated from every other area of education. It's like we're disposable ...like we must protect teachers and front line workers. Why aren't we getting that kind of protection? "

She claimed: "The government won't publish evidence. Their argument is it helps parents - I think that's true of all schools."

She said the NDNA (National Day Nurseries Association) and Pre School Aliance as well as some MPs had regularly asked the Government to publish their evidence for keeping nurseries open.

She said: "All they've said is the evidence is that children of that age are unlikely to be passers on/carriers of Covid. Yet roughly 10 per cent of all Covid outbreaks in education in the last year were in nurseries. Statistics don't back up Government statements. "

Although nurseries are not getting the financial support from Government they got in the first lockdown her nursery had not been hit too hard as attendance had remained high. She said: "We're not being match funded. I think a lot of nurseries are affected more."

Sarah added that nevertheless she had faced increased costs due to the pandemic - having to pay overtime and fund cover to maintain staff/child ratios when staff had had to self-isolate.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, who lives in east Lancashire and is the chief executive of The National Day Nurseries Association charity said that since the beginning of the latest lockdown some 99 per cent of nurseries had remained open. She said: “Nurseries in Lancashire find themselves in an impossible position, working to remain open so that children and families can access vital early education and childcare, while facing increased costs and reduced income at the same time."

The organisation has joined with Early Years Alliance and Pacey (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) to form the #ProtectEarlyYears campaign which is calling jointly on the DfE (Department for Education) to reverse its decision to fund nurseries on their actual head count this month rather than pre-Covid attendance.

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