Lockdown 2.0:
What Are Early Years Settings Doing?

Four owners and managers explain what (if anything) has changed - and what’s next
  • As England heads for a new national lockdown, we spoke to voices in the Early Years sector about what they’ve changed so far, and where they’ll be looking next.
  • We spoke with: Ruth Pimentel, CEO of Kindred Education; Sharon Rea, Owner of New View Nursery School; Simone Carter, Senior Director of Operations at Bright Horizons; and Sharon Thompson Senior Operations Manager at Spring Nurseries.
  • We discuss what’s changing for the second lockdown, how they’re supporting staff wellbeing, how they’re handling parents and payments, and what the future might hold.

In 2020, we’ve all taken on a few extra jobs.

Amateur epidemiologist? Check. Crisis communications? Yep. A counsellor (if you weren’t already) for your staff, children, parents — sure. A commercial-grade cleaning expert? Definitely.

The announcement of a second lockdown in England might seem like the last hurdle that anyone needs.

But as we head into it with a not-so-new set of guidance for Early Years settings from the government, we wanted to reach out to four of the UK’s top early years managers, owners, and operations teams to talk about how they’re handling it, and what we’ve learned.

Why? Well, as we cover staff wellbeing, handling parents, what’s new for this lockdown and what might be on the horizon, we hope you might pick up a few new ideas and thoughts to take into your practice.

But most importantly, we hope you’ll be reassured that in a year of constant change, endless uncertainty, and plenty of new expertise, you’re already heading into this new stage of lockdown with the tools, procedures and policies you need.

Let’s get into it.

Ruth Pimentel, Kindred Education

Ruth is the CEO at Kindred Education, which manages 450 staff across 19 settings in the UK.

What’s new for Lockdown 2.0?

For Ruth, the second lockdown doesn’t change much for the day-to-day happenings at her settings. They’re open as usual, and practicing the same COVID safety measures they’ve been doing since the early summer.

“Nurseries have become such a well-oiled machine in terms of coping with all the different safety measures, and supporting children and families through all this. It’s business as usual, at least within the scope of this pandemic,” Ruth says.

The big difference this time around is that she hasn’t got to face the stress of closing her doors, and turning children away. Having permission to continue operating for all children relieves that threat of closure, which defined so much of the stress of the UK’s first lockdown.

Supporting staff wellbeing

This lockdown came just as Ruth’s administrative team was getting used to having in-person meetings again. For the team members not working in the settings, going back to working from home was a bit tough. So to help stave off the lockdown blues, Ruth’s gotten the whole team outside.

“I set a company-wide decree for the central team — between 12 and 1, the whole team closes our computers and goes out to get some air,” Ruth says. “It’s early days, but we think it’s going to be good. We know it’s hard to stop when there’s always so much to do, but we can get out and get our bodies moving when it’s still light and warm.”

Handling parents and payments

Just after Boris Johnson announced Lockdown 2.0, Ruth used Famly to put out a message to all the families at Kindred Education, just letting them know that their doors are still open, and they’re still here.
She says parents have been extremely positive about still being able to send their children to child care — but she also recognizes that the new lockdown could create difficult decisions for some families.

“We’re working out what we do if parents come in and want to withdraw their child during this lockdown. We obviously want parents to bring their children back, so we’re being as flexible as we can, in terms of how we can keep children enrolled,” she says. “Keeping children in child care is just good for everyone — it’s good for the nursery to keep busy, for the children to learn and have those interactions, and for parents to have a bit of a break.”

Looking ahead

Ruth hopes that at the end of all this, we’ll see a boost in funding for the Early Years sector.
“People realise the absolute value of child care when they’re working from home and looking after a little one,” she says. “We’ve had so many positive comments from parents when their children are back in nursery, and how they see them developing so quickly through their interactions with other children and the staff. So we’ll see how this changes government support in the future.”

Sharon Rea, New View Nursery School

Sharon is the owner of New View Nursery School, directing 8 staff and caring for 46 children at their setting in Horsham, England.

What’s new for Lockdown 2.0?

For New View Nursery School, it hasn’t been Lockdown 2.0 that’s caused changes, so much as the weather.
“We’ve been doing the same safety precautions we’ve kept up since June. But all summer, we had outdoor play only — we’ve just got to rethink what we’re doing a bit, now that the weather is changing,” Sharon explains. “We’re bringing children indoors to play now, but we’re keeping all the doors and windows open for ventilation — so we’ve still got the children dressed warmly.”

Supporting staff wellbeing

Sharon says her staff are in better spirits during this lockdown. While we’re not back to normal, we’re a little bit closer to it — and that’s been a big help.
“The good thing about this lockdown is there’s an end date. When we first closed in March, we had absolutely no idea for how long — I had to furlough the entire staff, so it was just little old me on Zoom, sending out activities to parents. I thought we could be doing that until Christmas, so it’s good that at least we’re open and running again.”

Handling parents and payments

“When this lockdown started, I said to parents, if anyone is vulnerable and feels like they need to stay home, they can — but nobody has,” Sharon says.

At the end of September, Sharon updated her nursery’s withdrawal policy, modelled after their emergency evacuation policy. In the case of a closure due to potential COVID exposure, her setting would collect fees for the week of that closure, so that she can pay her staff.

But as government policies flip-flop, she’s had to play catch-up with her own policies.

“Just when you think you’ve ticked off a box, it’s all different again,” she says. “But I wrote my closure policy before they announced furlough was still available — so now I’ve got to review that, because I wrote it thinking furlough was off in September.”

Looking ahead

Moving forward, one of Sharon’s biggest considerations is how to connect the gap she’s noticed between the children who have been in childcare these past few months, and those who have stayed home.

“There’s such a noticeable difference in children’s confidence and independence. Just things like putting on their own shoes — some children who have been fussed at home, come back to childcare and decide they can’t put their own shoes on,” Sharon says. “We’ve got to reintroduce children to a play environment, to teach them how to play with friends and share toys. It might mean a bit of a return to basics.”

Simone Carter, Bright Horizons

Simone Carter is the Senior Director of Operations at Bright Horizons, helping coordinate 7,600 team members across 300 settings in the UK.

What’s new for Lockdown 2.0?

Simone says that Lockdown 2.0 hasn’t required any big operational shifts for Bright Horizons, so much as reinforced the safety measures they’ve been practising since the first lockdown lifted.

But compared to their experiences this spring, she’s felt that her team has become more confident in their ability to safely operate through the pandemic.

“Over the past few months though, we realised we really can manage all this in a safe way, and carry on with a lot of our normal tasks. And I’ve felt like we’ve all become more motivated to come back and keep our doors open — I think a lot of us are tired of feeling stuck at home, so it’s nice to come in and feel some sense of normalcy.”

Supporting staff wellbeing

Because this new lockdown introduces more shielding precautions for the clinically vulnerable, Simone has had to send some team members home. To help everyone make it through some tough weeks of isolation, she’s drawing on a lot of the measures her team used to stay in touch at the start of the pandemic.

“We’ve found our isolated staff really dread having to spend these next few weeks at home, especially if they live alone. They’re asking if they can come in somehow — but they can’t, for their safety. We know it’s hard at home, though. We’re reintroducing the one-on-one and group Zoom check-ins that we used during the first lockdown, just to make sure everyone knows they’re not alone.”

Handling payments and parents

In Simone’s own experience, Lockdown 2.0 didn’t cause a spike in parents looking to withdraw their children from childcare. Still, it’s given her some opportunities to dust off the old Lockdown 1.0 playbook.

“Most parents want to carry on with childcare, because they’re mostly working from home, so that’s just easiest for them,” Simone says. “But we’re also re-introducing ideas for what to do with children when we’re stuck at home, and can’t go out. It’s been such a huge switch to go from children’s busy active lives, back to being at home again.”

Her team is still shaping their policy for families who do need to disenroll their children from Bright Horizons, and how they can best support them. As she puts it, it’s a balance of doing right by the families, while making sure that her settings can keep their doors open.

Looking ahead

As we work through each day in this uncertain future, Simone’s got an eye on how the big-picture experience of this pandemic means for children’s development.

“Our children are at such a crucial age when they’re just learning to socialise and interact with others, and then suddenly having to readjust to all these new parameters — like don’t hug and don’t touch your friends,” she says. “I know we’ll be living with this for some time, so we’re focused on how we might need to adjust to best help children work through this.”

Sharon Thompson, Spring Nurseries

Sharon is the Senior Operations Manager at Spring Nurseries, which operates 38 settings across England, Scotland and Wales.

What’s new for Lockdown 2.0?

For Sharon, the toughest bit of Lockdown 2.0 isn’t the day-to-day duties — it’s keeping up with the ever-changing government policies.

“It feels like we’ve got constant changes in the official guidance, so we’re forever reviewing and updating our policies and procedures, and sending them out to managers. These feelings of uncertainty are like it’s Groundhog Day, and we’re back March in some ways,” Sharon says.

For her and her team, Lockdown 2.0 means the same COVID-safe practices they’ve had in place since the summer. The work now is clearing up the confusion for parents, and reassuring everyone that child care is as safe as ever.

“We’ve heard a lot of uncertainty from parents about sending their children to childcare, or keeping them home. We want them to know it’s alright to come in — we’ve got all these safety measures that just feel like the new normal at this point,” she says.

Supporting staff wellbeing

Because Spring runs settings across England, Scotland, and Wales, they’ve got to manage COVID procedures to suit each country’s requirements. While they try to keep it consistent, certain policies can differ greatly, which Sharon says has been tough for support staff coming in over the border.

“In Wales, for example, the staff in our settings need to get changed into new clothes when they arrive, and they’ve got to store their outside clothes in a bag. Plus at the moment there’s limited travel between England and Wales, which can make it hard if we’ve got to bring staff between settings to help out.”

Handling payments and parents

In cutting through all the confusion surrounding Lockdown 2.0, Sharon says that Famly has been a great way to keep parents in the loop. It’s where they upload copies of the new covid safety procedures, coordinate daily drop-offs, and send out important news.

“Because we’ve been able to keep parents updated from the start, we’ve avoided a lot of worries parents might have about how things will work under this new lockdown,” Sharon says. “Famly’s been really good for that — we’re able to upload documents directly instead of emailing them out, and we can use group notifications to make sure everyone gets important messages. It’s been really useful, and we got a lot of positive feedback from parents.”

Looking ahead

While Sharon sees a lot of potential futures ahead, her focus at Spring is dealing with the challenges of the here and now. That, she says, has been key to keeping control of things.

“We don’t know if this lockdown will last longer than December, or whether it will change parents’ demand for childcare over time,” she says. “At Spring, we’re taking it a day at a time. We’re focused on addressing this month’s lockdown, and if need be, we’ll see how we need to change in the future.”

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly transformed Coconut Nursery, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

“Now we’re using Famly it’s much more of a slick operation! It makes communicating with parents, invoicing, room planning and learning journals very simple.” – Katie, Manager
“Now we’re using Famly it’s much more of a slick operation! It makes communicating with parents, invoicing, room planning and learning journals very simple.” – Katie, Manager

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