Little girl at nursery

Lockdown 3: How can early years settings stay open but schools can't?

On 4 Jan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that early years providers will be allowed to remain open as England goes into its third national lockdown. 

But many nursery owners, childminders and parents are keen to know the rationale for early years staying open while schools have been closed.

Below we outline what childcare is available for families now and share the government's reasoning for keeping early years settings open.

Registered and informal childcare still available

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

  • Early years settings (including nurseries and childminders) 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.

We will continue to chase the Department for Education for clarity on whether baby and toddler groups can continue to run.

Early years settings 'are low risk environments'

​On 5 Jan The Early Years Alliance, which runs Family Corner, met Children and Families minister Vicky Ford to ask her why it was OK for early years settings to remain open while schools were being asked to close. Following the meeting, the Department for Education provided the following response:

  • 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.
  • Public Health England 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 childcare 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.

If you are still unsure whether to send your child to their nursery or childminder, it is best to call the setting to discuss your concerns directly.

Informal childcare - childcare bubbles and support bubbles

Childcare bubbles

Childcare bubbles are allowed in all tiers and during the third national lockdown.

A childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to anyone under 14.

All adults in both households must agree to this arrangement. ‘Informal’ childcare means it is unpaid and unregistered.

Members of either household can provide childcare in a home or public place. This includes overnight care.

You can only have one childcare bubble with one other household. This means no household should be part of more than one childcare bubble.

You can only use a childcare bubble for childcare. You cannot use a childcare bubble to mix with another household for other reasons.

If you form a childcare bubble, it’s best if this is with a household who live locally. This will help prevent the virus spreading from an area where more people are infected.

A childcare bubble is different to a support bubble. Being in a childcare bubble does not stop you from forming a support bubble.

Read the government guidance: Making a childcare bubble with another household

Support bubbles

You might be able to form a support bubble to have close contact with another household.

You have to meet certain eligibility rules to form a support bubble.

You must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time, unless otherwise permitted by gatherings limits in your tier.

Find out more about making a support bubble with another household.

Useful links

National Lockdown: Stay At Home - national guidance on what you can and can't do


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