Greenwich Council leaders have written to the Education Secretary demanding clarity over how early years settings should operate in lockdown, and have advised nurseries to "revisit their risk assessments with consideration for the new variant."

The Labour council have joined others "urgently" calling for a support package for workers and providers, and "stand ready with other London leaders to help address these vital issues."

Secondary and primary schools were closed to all but key workers and the vulnerable when Boris Johnson announced the third national lockdown on Monday, January 4, but early years settings have been advised to remain open to all children.

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This has led to a bitter row with teaching unions and councils such as Greenwich's who accuse the Government of a "chaotic and inconsistent" approach to closing schools.

And over 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for the government to change their stance in order to protect early years staff.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, council leader Danny Thorpe and Cllr Matt Morrow, lead for children and young people, have added their support for nurseries closing after receiving a number of enquiries from their own residents.

In the letter they state that since the lockdown they have been "anticipating clarification on the expectation for nurseries and early years settings to remain open to all children while primary and secondary schools have been instructed to move to remote learning."

The council, which was last month involved in a row with the Government for closing schools early for due to exponential Covid-19 grow, said it had welcomed the decision to move most students' education online.

"However, we must apply the same safety-first approach to early years provision as well.

"Much of the local and national concern has been around schools reopening, rightly putting the safety of our teachers in the spotlight once again, but what about the safety of our early years practitioners?"

Figures showed a 42% increase in the number of cases from the same point just a week ago, and data gathered from September to November 2020 showed there were 269% higher number of infections in teachers than the rest of Greenwich's population.

In the letter the council "urgently" called for a package of support outlining how early years provision will operate during the rest of lockdown, with financial support for providers, prioritisation of staff for the vaccine, furlough and support for self-employed childminders.

"This Government must reconsider the advice to “return to the normal funding approach” which was due to be in place from 1 January.

"Failing to do so, could significantly damage an already stretched sector on which so many of our residents rely. The detrimental impact on these vital services will be felt widely across our borough, including impacting equality in accessing employment opportunities for local families, as well as early childhood development."

The letter finished with: "Our early years staff have worked incredibly hard over the last year to continue to offer services to local families and sustain their businesses.

"We stand ready with other London leaders to help address these vital issues and protect the sector. We look forward to your urgent response."