Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Non-statutory guidance for early learning and childcare (ELC) providers in the local authority, private and third sectors to support a safe reopening of these settings during Phase 3.

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



The decision to close Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings has had an impact on the lives of children and families throughout Scotland. There was little time to prepare, or scope to explain, the changes to our youngest children. Their relationships and friendships were abruptly interrupted as well as their learning.

We know there will be challenges in returning to services after a turbulent break. In line with Realising the Ambition, our focus must be on supporting children when they are in settings, to form a secure and emotionally resilient attachment base which will stand them in good stead as they grow and develop.  Nurturing and attached relationships are essential to creating the conditions for children to flourish in early learning and childcare. 

All children have a right to play, to learn and to access experiences that meet their physical, social, emotional and cultural needs, and they have a right to associate with their peers. In line with Scotland's commitment to Getting It Right For Every Child, children also have the right to the best possible health, with their best interests a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect them. Adults, of course, also have fundamental rights in relation to their health and wellbeing. These important rights and considerations have all been factored into the development of a framework for reopening and delivering ELC services.

The coronavirus continues to be suppressed to a low level in Scotland. In addition, we now know that young children are less likely to be affected by or transmit the virus. Advice from the advisory sub group for education and children’s issues states that:

"Children in the age groups accessing early learning and childcare have a low susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, they also have a low likelihood of onward transmission."

Therefore, subject to continued suppression of the virus and to surveillance and mitigations being in place, we are able to reduce some of the restrictions on ELC delivery laid out in previous guidance. However, we cannot yet return to normal ELC practice – we all need to ensure that we continue to manage services and mitigate risks. This guidance provides principles to help you make decisions based on the best available evidence to help you operate in a changed context.   If the prevalence of the virus increases again, further changes to public health measures may be required and will be clearly notified to the sector.

Please be aware that public health advice may evolve over time and you should check online to make sure you are working to the most recent version of this guidance. 


This non-statutory guidance has been developed for early learning and childcare (ELC) providers in the local authority, private and third sectors to support a safe reopening of these settings, and ongoing delivery of ELC, during phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s Route Map in line with the Strategic Framework for reopening schools and ELC provision, published on 21 May. 

This guidance supersedes the guidance issued on 15 June 2020, and comes into effect from 10 August 2020. This guidance applies to all providers of registered day care of children’s services, including nurseries, playgroups, family centres and crèches who provide care to children under primary school age.  Bespoke guidance has already been published for fully outdoor services, school aged childcare and childminding services. Updated guidance for these services will published and will also come into effect on 10 August 2020.

This guidance has been developed by the Scottish Government with input from key partners from the Education Recovery Group, including local authorities, trade unions, Care Inspectorate, Education Scotland and representatives of ELC providers, and in collaboration with Health Protection Scotland (HPS). It has been informed by judgements based on the scientific and public health advice available at the time of writing.

This guidance is based on a set of principles for all services across Scotland that recognises that safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the child, and adults who work with them, must be central to any plans to reopen and deliver services.  The principles in this document supports reviewing the delivery of ELC for those settings already open and assists for those planning to reopen in a manner which is consistent with wider efforts to control transmission of the virus and protects the health of children, their families, and the staff group.

It is not appropriate for young children to maintain physical distancing, either practically or in terms of child development. Scientific advice shows that given the continued suppression of the virus; the mitigations described in this guidance; and the emerging evidence on transmission in young children, physical distancing is not recommended between children. In addition, it is not desirable or possible to implement physical distancing between young children or between a young child and their key worker. This guidance puts in place age appropriate public health measures for ELC settings.

The core public health measures that underpin reopening of services are:

  • enhanced hygiene and cleaning practice
  • limiting children’s contacts
  • maximizing the use of outdoor spaces
  • physical distancing between adults in the setting including parents at drop-off and pick-up times
  • active engagement with Test and Protect


The aims of this guidance are to:

  • provide clarity of expectation with regard to practical approaches to a safe, reopening and reviewing current provision of ELC; and
  • to provide key principles for consideration. This guidance is not intended to promote a “checklist” approach. Providers should exercise their judgement to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff, children and families is paramount, taking account of local circumstances.

Where this guidance states that providers: 

  • “must” do something, there is an expectation that it is done
  • “should” do something, this is strongly advised
  • “may” or “may wish” to do something, this is optional

Where this guidance refers to parents, this includes carers or family members who may be involved with children attending the setting. 

This guidance is not exhaustive, and providers must continue to operate within the relevant legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure the health and wellbeing of children and parents while they are using their service. Measures put in place within the setting to comply with this guidance must not contravene health and safety legislation, for example, fire doors must not be left ajar to increase ventilation.

Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of providers with regard to health and safety and public health advice. Providers must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, they must have regard to any advice relating to coronavirus from the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland. 

This guidance should be read alongside:

COVID-19 guidance

Managers and staff in the setting must make themselves familiar with COVID-19 advice available from HPS before the service reopens and regularly review once their setting is operational. It is important that the most up-to-date guidance is used, and that managers and staff are knowledgeable about current guidance. Always access guidance online wherever possible and check regularly for any updated advice.

Update service status – services closed as a result of lockdown

Prior to recommencing their service, the manager must contact the Care Inspectorate to advise them of their updated operational status. 

To do this they must complete a “Changes to Service Delivery due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)” notification. This is a new notification that services must use to inform the Care Inspectorate about operational changes that are specifically related to COVID-19. This is only available through eForms. If you do not update your status, the Care Inspectorate will consider your service closed.

First published: 21 Aug 2020 Last updated: 21 Aug 2020 -