PARENTS and early years staff are questioning why pre-school children are able to attend nursery but primary age pupils must now be educated at home during the new lockdown.

Under the rules set out by the government following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday night, early years education settings are asked to remain open, however primary and secondary schools are closed to all pupils except those classed as vulnerable and the children of key workers.

There are now calls to close nurseries, but the government says early years children are less likely to transmit Covid or become seriously ill due to the virus.

However, many parents are asking why the government has effectively said that a four-year-old is safe to attend nursery but their five-year-old sibling would be at risk at primary school.

A number of nursery staff said they believe the government's decision to keep them open was because there was no pressure to close them from unions or education bodies. There is no authoritative body for private sectors nursery care, unlike the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which was lobbying for school closures as coronavirus cases soared.

A manager of a Yate nursery, who wished not to be named, said she believes the reason nurseries are expected to stay open comes from not having union backing.

She also suggested funding could be an issue, after being contacted by local authorities to be asked to remain open for all children, not just those of key workers.

A second manager, who also wished to remain anonymous, agreed that not having a union putting pressure on the government to close nurseries meant they have been overlooked.

She said: "I was shocked by the latest announcement. The government hasn’t provided any evidence for why it is safe to open early years, yet are saying schools must close because it is now dangerous for children to attend, apparently.

“In my opinion the only reason they are still open is because they don’t have a union behind them putting pressure on the government like schools have done the last few days.

“How can it be safe in a pre-school but not in a primary school when children are only months apart in age?

“If we are expected to remain open, it should be under the same circumstances as schools, to key worker children only."

A third staff member said: “Staff are expected to wear PPE during collection and drop off times and changing nappies but they cannot be expected to sit cuddling small children with masks, visors and aprons on- it's not fair on the children. However, these are very young children who can sneeze and dribble on us.

"I think the government needs to consider early years staff on the vaccination programme.”

The head of education for the union Unison, Jon Richard agreed that it was unfair to keep nurseries open during the lockdown.

He told the BBC: “Keeping nurseries and other pre-schools open puts staff and communities at risk.

“Social distancing is impossible with young children and the government has yet to publish the scientific evidence to justify nurseries being treated differently to schools.”

He said the decision to keep nurseries open has been “taken with little regard to the health and safety of employees” and echoed that school and nursery staff should be a “priority” for vaccinations.

However,Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi says there’s “very little risk” from coronavirus to nursery age children and early years settings staying open is “the right thing to do”.

In the House of Commons, Labour MP Paula Barker asked Education Secretary Gavin Williamson why nurseries were staying open, saying she had been "inundated" with queries from concerned parents and staff.

Mr Williamson said evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found that early years education had a smaller impact on transmission rates than primary schools.