Early years: Reactive, responsive and open as usual

Date 5.01.2021

Dr Eunice Lumsden, Associate Professor and Subject Leader for Childhood, Youth and Families at the University sums up the thoughts of the early years sector following yesterday’s announcement about the third national lockdown in England.


“Everyone will be able to access early years settings, such as nurseries” the Prime Minister announced yesterday (4 Jan).


At last, recognition that the sector has a vital role to play. What has felt like a ‘Cinderella service’ has actually been mentioned in an address to the nation.

But wait…it was also announced that schools are safe but “vectors for transmission causing the virus to spread between households”. Wider teaching will therefore go online except for children who are vulnerable and for those whose parents are keyworkers.

This comment by the Prime Minster has led to a whole array of emotions, from anger to resigned acceptance that, yet again, the vital role of the early years sector is not understood.

Questions have rightly been asked that, if schools are vectors, surely early years settings are as well? Or does the PM’s announcement mean we are seen as mere ‘babysitters’, providing a place for young children to be while parents work?

Early years is more than just babysitting

It is vital that parents and carers know that early years settings have never been closed nor are they a ‘babysitting service’. Staff work tirelessly to ensure their environments are safe.  The sector takes their work in providing high quality early learning and care seriously, especially in such difficult times.

They cannot socially distance from children, nor would they want to. They know that the early childhood period is crucial in its own right, as well as providing the foundation for what comes next.  They know the importance in working in partnership with parents and other professionals to safeguard all children (most child abuse happens during their early years).

It is vital the sector has the respect and funding that it needs – early years wants to continue to remain open, so at the very least those working in the sector should be prioritised for a COVID vaccination.

The sector knows it has a crucial role to play now and as we move into post-COVID recovery as a nation. As ever, early years staff will remain reactive, responsive and professional whatever the external situation during the pandemic.