Information

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

Guidance for early learning, school aged childcare and childminder settings on reducing the risks of COVID-19.

This document is part of a collection


Minimising the spread of COVID-19

It is important that local authorities and providers take account of their own circustances and assessment of risk when implementating this guidance, and take every appropriate step to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and staff. Bespoke risk assessments should be completed for children and staff with particular vulnerabilities and appropriate mitigations adopted.

Contents of this page

Vaccines

Vaccines are the most effective method of reducing the public health impact of COVID-19 and they are highly effective against serious illness.

All settings should encourage and enable staff who have not been fully vaccinated to seek vaccination as soon as possible. NHS inform provides information and FAQs on the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ and eligibility criteria.

Accessing a vaccine

Encouraging staff to be vaccinated

Vaccines are a safe and effective way of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The Scottish Government published a communications toolkit in February 2022 which provides ELC settings with posters, videos and scripts to discuss with staff to encourage COVID-19 vaccine uptake.

Testing

In line with the Testing Transition Plan of 15 March 2022, from 18 April, staff in childcare settings are no longer advised to test twice weekly and the ELC testing programme has ended. Local health protection teams are still able to deploy testing as one of a suite of measures for outbreak management purposes if it is necessary in their expert judgement.

For information on testing visit NHS Inform.

Highest Risk List

People who were on the Highest Risk List

The Highest Risk List ended on 31 May 2022. The success of the vaccination programme and the availability of new medicines to treat COVID-19 mean that the majority of people on the list are at no greater risk from COVID-19 than the rest of the population in Scotland.

The Chief Medical Officer has for some time advised people who were on the Highest Risk List, including children, to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population unless they are advised otherwise by their GP or clinician. This applies equally to household members of people who were on the list and includes going into schools and early learning and childcare settings. He has also advised people whose immune system is suppressed to take extra care and follow the advice of their GP or clinician, as they would have done before the pandemic.

Staff who were on the Highest Risk List

It continues to be the employer’s responsibility to regularly carry out workplace risk assessments and put in place measures to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable to try and minimise the risk to staff including contracting COVID-19. Employees also have a responsibility to comply with safe working practices.

It is essential that employers conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment which will help them to identify measures which can be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace and employers can be asked for a copy of this. 

The Distance Aware scheme includes a toolkit to help those worried about mixing with others as we adapt to living with COVID-19. More information is available online at Coronavirus (COVID-19): distance aware scheme.

Hand hygiene

Ensuring that everyone within a setting carries out hand hygiene practices thoroughly, at the right time, using appropriate facilities and products helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections.

Hand hygiene for staff

Hand washing must be performed after exposure to any blood and or body fluids e.g toileting (including nappy changing), after providing care to a child with a diarrhoeal or vomiting illness, after exposure to respiratory secretions and when hands are visibly soiled/dirty. 

In all other circumstances, hand hygiene can be performed using an alcohol based hand rub (ABHR) provided this is stored securely out of the reach of children. Read best practice on the use of ABHR online as part of the National Infection Prevention and Control advice. It is not recommended that children under the age of 5 use ABHR.

Hand hygiene for children

It is important that children understand why it is important to wash their hands and are supported to do so. They should be taught how to wash, rinse and dry their hands correctly from an early age.

There are a range of resources available from the NHS such as the Children’s Pack to encourage children with handwashing. NHS Education for Scotland (NES) has produced a video to demonstrate the correct way to wash hands with liquid soap and warm water.

Support children with handwashing at the following times:

  • on arrival to the setting
  • before and after eating or handling food
  • after toileting
  • when returning from play outside
  • after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • after contact with contaminated surfaces
  • at regular intervals throughout the day

Best practice for hand washing can be found online as part of National Infection Prevention and Control advice.

The following are good practice points pertaining to hand washing:

  • use warm water, wash hands for 20 seconds and never share water in a communal bowl
  • use liquid soap (there is no need to use soaps advertised as antibacterial or antiseptic) and rub hands in the order described in the link above
  • dry hands thoroughly using disposable paper towels (childminders may use kitchen roll or a designated hand towel, which should be washed every day or more often if visibly dirty). A designated, lined bin that the children can operate easily should be provided for the disposal of hand towels
  • all visible cuts and abrasions should be covered with a waterproof dressing
  • when away from the childcare facility, and if there is no running water available, hand wipes may be used (children and staff should wash their hands at the first available opportunity)
  • encourage children not to touch their face

Hand washing when outdoors

When learning is undertaken outdoors, considerations should be made on how to continue to provide suitable hand hygiene facilities for both staff and children.

We recommend liquid soap and warm water for children under the age of 5 and where hands are visibly soiled.

Respiratory and cough hygiene

Respiratory and cough hygiene is designed to minimise the risk of the transmission of respiratory illness such as COVID-19. We appreciate that it is difficult to follow respiratory and cough hygiene practices, especially when working with very young children. Where possible, we recommend that staff and children should always try to:

  • cover their nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when sneezing, coughing, wiping and blowing their nose. If a disposable tissue is not available, use their elbow to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • dispose of used and/or contaminated tissues and face masks immediately into a waste bin after use
  • wash hands with liquid soap and warm water after coughing, sneezing, using tissues, or after contact with spit or mucus
  • when away from the childcare facility, and if there is no running water available, hand wipes may be used by staff and children and ABHR then applied (over the age of 5). Hands should then be washed at the first available opportunity
  • keep contaminated hands away from the eyes nose, mouth and other people
  • encourage children not to touch their face

Routine cleaning practices

It is important to maintain high levels of cleaning within childcare settings to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and other infections. 

Settings should produce local cleaning schedules which stipulate how frequently cleaning should take place and who is responsible for carrying it out.

A full routine clean should take place at least daily, which includes touch surfaces such as door handles, telephones and keyboards. This should then be followed by a second clean later in the day of touch surfaces only.

General purpose detergent is sufficient for general areas and staff undertaking cleaning should wear apron and gloves. Disinfectants should be used to clean toilet areas and food preparation areas. Surfaces in dining or snack areas should be wiped down and disinfected between use by each group of children. A disinfectant should also be used in any general area of the childcare setting if there is visible contamination with blood or body fluids. Cleaning staff areas should be an integral part of the routine and enhanced cleaning strategy.

Refillable spray containers are not recommended for use for cleaning products as there is a risk of contamination and other associated risks, which will prevent effective cleaning standards. Cleaning products which come in non-refillable spray containers may be used as long as they conform to EN standards

Enhanced cleaning should also be carried out in the event of an outbreak (see the next chapter for information on this).

Equipment cleanliness

All toys and equipment must be safe for use and well maintained to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Advice on general equipment management can be found at: Infection Prevention and Control in Childcare Settings.

We recommend:

  • toys and equipment that children access should, as far as possible, be cleaned daily, if visibly contaminated or if groups of children change during the day, on a sessional basis
  • sand does not need to be changed daily and standard cleaning and changing protocols should suffice if good hand hygiene is carried out prior to and following the use of the sand
  • if soft furnishings (such as throws and bedding) have been used by a child who shows symptoms of COVID-19, they should be removed and laundered as quickly as possible at the highest recommended temperature in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • children are allowed to bring toys from home to the setting, but if visibly contaminated in the setting or shared among other children then the toy should be cleaned appropriately

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak (two or more confirmed positive cases within a 14-day period), regular cleaning regimes should be temporarily enhanced. See the next chapter for more information on cleaning during COVID-19 outbreaks.

Face coverings

Wearing a face covering is one of the ways you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, we recognise the importance of faces being visible to children to aid in communication, and relationship building.

The requirement to wear a face covering in most indoor places and on public transport has been replaced with Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer workplaces and public settings for people who are managing a workplace or organisation.

While wearing a face covering is no longer a requirement it remains strongly recommended if you are 12 years or over in indoor communal areas or on public transport, in line with the workplace guidance.

Any individual who wishes to continue to wear a face covering in a workplace, health and social care or school setting (including childcare) should be supported to do so.

As previously stated, careful attention should be given to the needs of individuals with additional support needs when implementing this measure.

For specific face covering advice see Face Coverings – Coronavirus (COVID-19): staying safe and protecting others.

Face coverings and children's wellbeing

The use of face coverings may have an impact on babies and young children, especially those with additional support needs. The ability to see a person’s face clearly contributes to babies and young children’s communication and understanding. This is particularly the case for children with hearing loss, children who are learning English or another language and those who rely on visual cues to enable them to be included in learning.

Some children may need additional support and reassurance around the reasons for adults wearing face coverings, and the wellbeing and needs of children should remain a priority.

Clear instructions should be provided to staff on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all the circumstances above to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. Advice on face coverings is available in the staying safe and protecting others guide and advice on wearing face coverings safely.

 

PPE - personal protective equipment

The term ‘PPE’ includes single-use disposable gloves, disposable plastic aprons, and fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSMs). PPE should be readily available, and staff should be trained on its use.

The use of PPE by staff within childcare facilities should continue to be based on a clear assessment of risk and need for an individual child or young person, such as personal care where staff encounter blood and body fluids.

Beyond the advice set out on the use of face coverings, no additional PPE measures are required for general use in childcare settings.

Specific advice on PPE in education, childcare and children's social care settings can be found online as part of Infection Prevention  and Control in Childcare Settings advice

Physical distancing

It is important for children to feel secure and well cared for, including through physical contact that is appropriate to their needs, especially when they are receiving personal care, need comfort or reassurance. Therefore, it is not appropriate to ask young children to maintain physical distancing from adults or other children.

Staff and visitors should follow general guidance for safety in the workplace in indoor communal areas and when not working directly with children, and when moving around the building.

Ventilation

Advice published on 3 August 2021 emphasised the need for a renewed focus on the importance of good ventilation to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The primary effective method of increasing natural ventilation remains the opening of external doors, windows and vents. All settings should work to increase natural ventilation where practicable, whilst maintaining appropriate internal temperatures. Guidance on heating, ventilation, lighting, noise and sustainability in ELC settings is available online as part of early learning, childcare and out of school care services design guidance.

Ways to improve ventilation

  • partially open doors and windows to provide ventilation while reducing draughts. Fire doors must never be propped open
  • open high-level windows in preference to low level windows to reduce draughts when weather conditions allow, and it is safe to do so. You may wish to open windows at different sides of the building to get a cross flow of ventilation
  • refreshing the air in spaces by opening windows, vents and external doors at times which avoid user discomfort (e.g. between sessions or when children are outdoors). This may be particularly appropriate during winter periods to balance ventilation and thermal comfort
  • flexible uniform/staff dress policies to help ensure that children, young people and staff can stay warm if/when windows or doors require to be opened
  • maintaining appropriate heating strategies

Settings should consider safety risks when opening windows and doors, and ventilation must be considered as part of local risk assessments.  

The suitability of ventilation solutions will depend on a range of local factors including building type, occupancy patterns and weather conditions. All settings must ensure as a minimum, that adequate levels of ventilation are provided in line with existing guidance, the Care Inspectorate’s Space to Grow design guidance and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Guidance on ventilation is available as well on the webpages of the Health and Safety Executive.

Additional advice on ventilation, heating, temperature control and air cleaners which will also be applicable to childcare settings is available online in the updated Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance on reducing the risks in schools.

CO2 monitors

CO2 monitors can be used to support good air quality and they can be particularly beneficial in enclosed spaces. Local authorities should ensure that all local authority schools and relevant ELC settings have access to CO2 monitoring, whether via mobile or fixed devices. This is to support the goal of all settings being assessed regularly for issues with a view to remedial action being taken when that is required.

Non local authority settings are encouraged to use CO2 monitors and should contact their local authority for advice. CO2 monitors have not been required in childminding settings, and therefore this guidance does not apply to most childminding settings (other than larger settings). 

It is important that local authority advice is sought on the use of CO2 monitors to ensure their proper specification, installation, location, calibration and effective use. Further guidance is avilable online from the Health and Safety Executive on ventilation in the workplace.

 

Outdoor learning and play

Outdoor play-based learning is an integral, every day, part of early learning and childcare in Scotland. It has many benefits for children’s physical and cognitive development, physical health, and mental wellbeing. It improves their social competence and connection with their communities, and helps them develop a connectedness with nature. It is our vision that children in Scotland will spend at least as much time outdoors as they do indoors as part of their ELC experience. The Playwork principles specifically support school age childcare development.

Being outdoors also helps to limit the transmission of viruses and illnesses, including COVID-19. Staff should consider how they can safely maximise the use of outdoor space, as well as the opportunities of day visits and excursions.  

Risk assessments

Infection prevention and control in childcare settings involves carrying out risk assessments and putting mitigations in place to manage any risks identified.

Risk assessments are a legal requirement, and risks and mitigations should be reviewed and updated regularly, including taking reasonable steps to protect staff, children and others from COVID-19.

Managers must ensure that risk assessments take place on a setting and individual basis, where required, and that these include input from staff and assistants, and trade unions. Student placements should also be part of risk assessments. To help with setting-level risk assessments, the Health and Safety Executive has provided an example COVID-19 risk assessment.  

Setting-level risk assessments are expected to consider all risks identified in respect of COVID-19 and other illnesses. These must take account of relevant guidance from Public Health Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive. All risk assessments should be reviewed regularly and as circumstances change.

It is advised that, alongside workplace risk assessments, providers should also undertake individual risk assessments for staff who are at highest risk of COVID-19. Advice about individual risk assessments and the COVID-19 Age tool is available online.

Children with additional support needs

Every child and young person will have different levels of required support. Risk assessments play a key part in considering the individual needs of a child or young person. Risk assessments, which may be integrated into a Child’s Plan, should already exist for children and young people with complex additional support needs.

These risk assessments should be reviewed and updated as appropriate, reflecting current circumstances. Where they are not in place or they have not been updated they must be undertaken or reviewed swiftly. Where there is a need to work in close proximity with adults and children and young people the safety measures to protect adults and children and young people alike should be followed.

Staff should wear a face covering or PPE where a risk assessment has deemed it appropriate (e.g. when carrying out Aerosol Generating Procedures), and regularly wash their hands before and after contact.

Guidance on supporting children and young people with additional support needs is published and continues to apply.

Pick-ups/drop-offs, visits and trips

Head teachers, managers and childminders are best placed to make risk assessments and take decisions for their individual setting about the best approach to movements in and out of settings, including pick-ups and drop-offs, visits, events and trips out. This should be in line with their overall approach to risk assessment and the sections of this guidance on face coverings, physical distancing and hand hygiene. Subject to local risk assessments:

Pick-up and drop-off arrangements

  • arrangements should be decided locally based on the best interests of children, families and staff

Visits into the setting

  • specialist, peripatetic and agency staff, parents, carers and other visitors are welcome to attend settings, recognising the important role that they can play in supporting children’s development and wellbeing. 

In house events and parental engagement

  • in house events such as plays, and activity to support parental and carer engagement such as face-to-face meetings can take place. It should be noted that most childminding settings are small, and it may therefore be difficult for those settings to accommodate large groups of parents and carers at one time.

Visits out, to and from other settings and day trips

  • visits out and day trips can take place. Settings should continue to follow the usual risk assessment processes and ensure that they adhere to population-wide COVID-19 guidance, as well as any guidance that applies at the destination
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