Publication - Advice and guidance

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

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

49 page PDF

841.4 kB

49 page PDF

841.4 kB

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

49 page PDF

841.4 kB

Supporting the workforce to be confident and safe

We have a collective responsibility to enable all staff to feel confident when returning to the workplace. They should have the opportunity to read and discuss the following:

As settings plan to welcome back children and their families and staff, staff wellbeing must be protected. Staff will need time to re-connect, to meet, talk and 'check in' with each other.

Providers should communicate extensively with their staff to ensure that they are clear and confident in implementing the required public health measures and processes in advance of settings reopening to all children. There must be clearly defined training sessions for staff on the risk mitigations set out in this guidance. To prepare for the return to ELC for all children, staff must be given the opportunity to highlight the need for any further local training to help reassure and protect themselves and their colleagues.

Routine asymptomatic testing of ELC staff

Alongside the reopening of the childcare sector to all children, the Scottish Government is working to make available routine asymptomatic at-home testing using lateral flow devices (LFD), twice a week to all day care of children services. This will not replace the existing procedures for testing of staff who have symptoms of COVID.

The first phase of this testing will be available at the earliest opportunity to ELC and childcare staff based in local authority, independent and grant-aided primary schools as part of the schools-based roll out.

This offer will be extended to regulated day care of children services which are non-schools based (including stand-alone local authority settings) in the weeks following the start of the programme. This extension will be informed by, and dependent upon, close engagement with the sector to ensure effective communications, training and logistical preparations.

Testing will be voluntary and nobody is required to undergo testing without consent, or excluded from a setting if they do not wish to be tested. However, we are asking that staff be encouraged to participate, to contribute to the wellbeing of everyone in their setting.

If staff are working from home, and not attending a setting, they should not participate. This is because the goal of the programme is to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the physical setting environment. Any person who has had a PCR-confirmed COVID diagnosis in the previous 90 days is exempt from further testing unless they develop symptoms, in which case they should stay at home and arrange a PCR test via the usual NHS inform route.

Step by step guidance has been shared with schools and ELC settings attached to schools via Objective Connect. Stand-alone settings will be invited to join Objective Connect and access this guidance in the coming weeks. The guidance was developed in collaboration with NHS Test and Protect and the UK Department for Health and Social Care to support schools and ELC settings in the delivery of the Schools Asymptomatic Testing Programme.

All staff, student on placement, and children and families, should continue to be vigilant for coronavirus symptoms.  The asymptomatic testing programme using LFD testing does not replace the current testing policy for those with symptoms. If their symptomatic test is positive, the member of staff must isolate and access a confirmatory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test as per their usual symptomatic testing channel, even if they are without symptoms. If their symptomatic test is negative, they can remain at work unless symptoms develop but should not consider themselves free from infection and must still adhere to all mitigations.   On the occasion that a symptomatic staff member has used a LFD test and has returned a negative result, they should still self-isolate and arrange a PCR test.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of coronavirus must self-isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test at People with symptoms must not rely on a negative LFD result to continue to attend their setting.

Ahead of the full extension of the programme to all day care of children settings, staff in stand-alone local authority settings and in private and third sector day care of children settings can continue to access asymptomatic testing through the employer referral portal if they are concerned about being exposed to the virus.

Testing – childminders

Reflecting the lower risk in small settings with fewer opportunities for adult to adult transmission, childminders have not to date been included in the offer of access to asymptomatic testing. In the light of the creation of an at home testing offer for nurseries and other larger settings we are reviewing the testing offer in place.

Recognising the importance of reassurance to the sector, and to the families with whom childminders work, we are considering at pace the potential to offer access to a form of asymptomatic testing to childminders who are concerned they may have been exposed to the virus. More information about this offer will be made available as soon as possible.

Staff wellbeing and professional learning support

The Scottish Government is working with partners from across the childcare sector to develop a directory of existing mental health, wellbeing and professional learning support for ELC, and out of school care, practitioners and childminders.  This is updated and shared across the education and childcare sector at regular intervals.

In addition, Scottish Government has worked with Early Years Scotland to develop a new Team ELC Wellbeing Hub, a website which sets out vital information for the sector on maintaining their wellbeing at this difficult time, and creates opportunities for staff to connect with each other.

It is also important that professionals from across the ELC sector are provided with safe and supportive spaces to connect with colleagues from across Scotland in a virtual environment, to allow for professional dialogue and peer support to take place during this challenging period.  The Scottish Government will work with Education Scotland to create such opportunities, for example via further instances of the successful #BeingMeBlethers professional learning events, which have enabled practitioners from across the ELC and childcare sector to engage in shared learning via Twitter.

Practitioners may find it valuable to access support for their health and wellbeing in the lead-up to settings reopening and once they do reopen, given many will be balancing the return to work with managing their own childcare needs and any stressors linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, including potential illness and bereavement within their own families. 

Children’s wellbeing, nurture and experiences

As settings re-open staff will be aware that the pandemic will have had a unique impact on each child and their family, as well as themselves and their colleagues at work. It is important that the child is at the centre of their practice to ensure quality, whilst balancing safety and risk. Staff should support children and families to understand the need for the changes.

It is essential, at this time of transition, that ELC continues to be informed by the principles which underpin high quality provision. While aspects of practice may be delivered differently, practitioners will still be working to meet the needs of their children and their families.

Children have the right to play and learn, as set out in Article 31(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life. 

In Scotland, the Government has enshrined children’s right to play outdoors every day in its national Health and Social Care Standards – “As a child, I play outdoors every day and regularly explore a natural environment” (HSCS 1.32).

Practice that reflects the principles of nurture and the importance of relationships is also key. Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC), with its focus on wellbeing, recognises that children and young people have the right to expect appropriate support from adults to allow them to grow and develop and to have their voices heard. Working in partnership with parents is essential, with two way sharing of information being fundamental to this. The GIRFEC approach is about responding in a meaningful, supportive way which puts the wellbeing of children and families at the heart of any support.

The national practice guidance ‘Realising the Ambition: Being Me’ talks about the crucial role of the environment. This includes the importance of physical spaces; the human, social environment of positive nurturing interactions; and children’s experiences.  Settings need to be confident that they are providing experiences and sensitive interactions in a variety of outdoor and indoor spaces, in ways which best support the needs of children within the context of the recovery period. This will help develop the emotional resilience babies, toddlers and young children need to form a secure wellbeing base.

During the COVID-19 recovery period settings will require to adjust how they provide high quality provision. Some aspects of practice will need to be delivered in different ways to ensure the safety of all. Further information can be accessed through the ‘Realising the Ambition: Being Me’ page on the National Improvement Hub to provide practical support with this. The principles that underpin that high quality however remain unchanged. Best practice will:

  • put the best interests of the child at the heart of decision making;
  • take a holistic approach to the wellbeing of a child;
  • work with children, young people and their families on ways to improve wellbeing;
  • advocate preventative work and early intervention to support children, young people and their families; and
  • believe professionals must work together in the best interests of the child. 


Consultation with all staff, parents, providers and trade unions on the reopening of ELC settings should be carefully undertaken when implementing this guidance, to ensure that all those concerned understand the changes that are required and are confident in the revised arrangements. The Advisory Group and Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues have both emphasised the importance of staff and families being actively engaged in establishing new practices and routines; and of public health (including good hygiene) becoming a core part of ELC processes.  Inductions for new staff must include guidance on the setting’s measures to ensure good infection prevention and control.

National information for parents is available from Parent Club.

Settings will need to communicate any new arrangements to parents and carers in advance of children returning, particularly where there are new routines and procedures that children and families will need to understand and follow. This should reinforce the need for parents/carers to physically distance and wear face covering when dropping off/ collecting children. Settings should also include information risk mitigation measures in information for new families taking up places.

First published: 26 Jan 2021 Last updated: 16 Feb 2021 -