Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): early learning and childcare services

Non-statutory guidance to support the continued safe operation of ELC settings.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): early learning and childcare services
Scotland's Strategic Framework

Scotland's Strategic Framework

We published our Strategic Framework update on 22 June 2021. It sets out a change to our overarching strategic intent, from:

‘to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible’.

to one where we work:

‘to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future’.

Beyond Level 0

Scotland moved beyond Level 0 on 9 August 2021.

We have set out the vaccine milestones we hope to reach over the summer, and the plan to take us out of COVID-19 restrictions. See our proposed timetable for these changes.

Our Strategic Framework update sets out what a move beyond Level 0 looks like. We will ensure that our information is clear and accessible as we enter a period where people need to make personal judgements, rather than rules set by government.

This means everyone playing their part by:

  • maintaining good hand hygiene
  • practising respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette
  • wearing face coverings
  • ensuring there is good ventilation – open windows when indoors
  • continuing to engage with Test and Protect and self-isolate when symptomatic or have tested positive

Keeping our guidance up to date

The Strategic Framework also reiterates that the unique impacts of the pandemic on children and young people, coupled with the necessity to ensure it does not prevent them receiving the best start in life, mean we must prioritise keeping schools and regulated childcare safe, open and welcoming, where it is safe to do so. It is recognised that, to enable this to happen, other mitigations may need to be put in place in the individual settings as well as in wider society.

The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues provides advice to support and inform the development of operational guidance for providers of learning, childcare and children’s services. From the end of September it will be chaired by Professor Professor Linda Bauld, Interim Chief Social Policy Adviser to the Scottish Government and gives detailed consideration of how public health advice can be applied to operational implementation. Members include scientific and public health experts, clinicians and academics, as well as experts in education, early learning and children’s services.

The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues agreed that we align some of the COVID risk mitigations in the suite of guidance for the formal childcare sector to levels of community transmission and that a sensible approach to doing that would be to align to protection levels. Reflecting the impact of the mitigations on reducing risk of transmission, the Sub-Group recommended:

  • retaining a consistent approach to the guidance on: face coverings, ventilation and staff working with the same cohorts of children as much as possible
  • we can align to protection levels the restrictions on: physical distancing between staff, visits by parents, cohort size, visits to the setting by specialist staff, the use of peripatetic staff, blended placements and enhanced cleaning regimes
  • we can align some of the mitigations to protection levels more quickly where provision is outdoors

Unless otherwise stated, the protective measures set out in this guidance represent the ‘core’ or standard protective measures that should be in place in all settings across all five protection levels. Where measures can be aligned with protection level these are set out in tables embedded in this document. It is important to make clear that Level 0 and below is not a return to normal. It is still too soon to specify if and when that would happen. We will keep under constant review the potential to remove any specific mitigations, depending on the data and evidence.

The Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues considered the data and evidence surrounding the school return on Tuesday 7th September. In light of very high case rates and current evidence on the state of the pandemic, the sub-group recommended retaining the mitigations set out in this guidance at this time.  It is expected that this revised guidance will remain in place until at least the October holidays – the position thereafter will be informed by regular reviews of the data and evidence by the advisory sub-group. Implementation and adherence to these measures is essential to ensuring the ongoing safety of children and young people, as well as the staff who have worked hard to keep settings open.

The measures put in place in wider society at different levels of the Strategic Framework have been designed to reduce community transmission sufficiently to allow schools and regulated childcare settings to remain open safely. 

On a regular basis, and particularly where there is a move between levels, settings should review their implementation of this guidance, and ensure compliance with core and additional public health measures.

Community level risk will continue to be monitored and managed by local health protection teams who will advise on how to respond. To allow them to do this effectively local health protection teams rely on cases being reported to them as soon as possible. ELC setting have an important responsibility to contact their local health protection team immediately if there is:

  • any suspicion that there may be an outbreak of cases, i.e. two or more confirmed cases in 14 days
  • or an increase in the background rate of absence due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19

Get information about how to contact your local health protection team. Managers must also notify the Care Inspectorate in the event of a suspected case and all confirmed cases of COVID. Notifications and guidance are available through eForms.

In the event of a local community outbreak and/or an outbreak in an ELC setting, at any protection level, settings may be asked by the local health protection team to implement additional restrictions, beyond those set out in this guidance, for a defined period of time. There may also be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, specific settings require to close for a defined period of time. All such decisions will be made in line with the independent advice of local Directors of Public Health, who will take account of wider public health considerations according to their statutory duties. To keep children and staff in ELC settings safe and to reduce risk in the wider community, it is essential that settings follow any advice from their local health protection team.


First published: 11 Aug 2021 Last updated: 11 Oct 2021 -