Life has been tricky over the past two years for all of us in the Early Years Sector and whilst most of England has had periods of ‘Real Lockdowns’, and many people have been working from home, Shofar has remained open for nearly all of the pandemic.
Shofar closed very temporarily when Lockdown was first introduced; we had intended to stay open for children of key workers, but Covid intervened as some Shofar staff contracted Covid very early on, including both myself and the deputy. Once recovered, we planned our reopening cautiously and followed the guidelines of working in small bubbles, whist prioritising Keyworker children and those children leaving for school in September 2020. We realised very quickly that if we could hire additional space, we could get many other children back to nursery; so we contacted Ofsted and our advisors and were able to hire space in other buildings on our large site as they were closed. Shofar was fully open again within a few months; albeit with adjustments- and yet it was still a happy nursery, with happy staff and children who were thriving and happy to be at nursery.
We bought lots of washable resources, outdoor gazebos and hired railings for every group to keep the bubbles separate outside and we spent a great deal of time outdoors. We are lucky that we have a wonderful large field and forest area on our site and could easily utilize this. Parents were given drop-off and collection timings outside the building to keep people apart, we washed our equipment four times per day. Our washing machines were in constant use, as everything that we could was washed daily; we also paid for a weekly sanitisation spray as well as getting them in whenever we had an outbreak; which sadly was fairly often; but thankfully due to staying in bubbles as long as possible, we were often able to restrict this to only one bubble at a time. Children and families with Covid were offered Zoom sessions twice daily and we conducted meetings with parents via Zoom.
Whilst we are back in normal operation with our four classes, we have retained some of our lockdown measures, which seem to make such good sense. Our parents continue to drop and collect their children off from outside the nursery; this keeps our corridors and exits free and in fact our children settle into nursery so much better than they ever did with their parents dropping them in the classroom. Parents are still very much part of our community and we are pleased to welcome them in to see the classrooms and they have started to join us for music time or come in to read stories, which is lovely. We have also reduced our class sizes as we learnt from our small bubbles that lower group sizes are preferable. We do continue to offer Zooms for meetings and these are welcomed by many of our working parents and Grandparents living abroad have been able to join us for Zoom celebrations and concerts from as far afield as Australia; which prior to Covid would not have been possible.
I realise that this all sounds like a very positive experience; but there have been many truly difficult and stressful times over the past two years and not for a moment can we underestimate the risks that many of the Early Years Staff have willingly taken to provide a loving, caring and fulfilling experience for the little children in their care. We spent over £10,000 on hiring extra staff for bubbles, hiring additional spaces, cleaning equipment, gazebos, barriers and all of the equipment we needed to enable us to stick to strict bubble groups, as well as hundreds of pounds a month on PPE. Unlike schools, we were never given grants/ funding to help with the cost of any of this; aside from a small allowance of PPE twice during the whole pandemic. As a manager, it hasn’t been easy trying to juggle the safety aspects, with parents’ requests and striving to stay open. I wish we hadn’t needed to do this and that Covid-19 hadn’t made it all necessary, yet I am proud of all we at Shofar and indeed the wider sector have endured. Well done to all of us!
Editor's Note: This piece is part of a series shared by BELS recognising and celebrating the hard work and dedication of schools, settings, teachers, and senior leaders across Barnet over the past two years. Continue to visit our site in the coming weeks to read perspectives from other senior leaders across the Borough. BELS would like to thank all who work in the education profession for their tireless work throughout the pandemic to continue providing the best experience possible for pupils.