The public health measures described above may have an impact on capacity, and that impact may be different depending on the physical layout and staffing approaches in each setting. Providers will need to assess whether there is a capacity impact for each available space in their setting, and how this affects the number of children that can be safely provided for in the setting. Providers should assess what capacity is available before making offers of placements to parents.
Key principles to consider in assessing capacity impact are discussed below. As stated previously, public health advice may evolve over time and you should regularly check online to make sure you are working to the most recent version of this guidance.
The physical capacity of the setting may be affected by public health measures, including the option to work in small groups, the need to minimise contact between groups as far as is possible, ensure physical distancing for adults, and ensure enhanced hygiene practices. Providers should review the layout of settings and consider how many children can be accommodated safely at any one time. This may be below the normal Care Inspectorate registered capacity of the setting based on current floor space requirements.
Where the availability of premises has been compromised, for example where school estate is not available due to deep cleaning or school session times, you are advised to communicate with your local authority in order to ascertain the availability of alternative indoor or outdoor premises. If you are considering use of alternative premises, you must discuss this with the Care Inspectorate who will advise if you require to apply for a variation to your conditions of registration.
The staffing requirements may be affected by public health measures. Small groups may require additional staff for example to ensure groups remain separate, to accompany children to the toilet, to cover breaks, holidays or self-isolating absence. Staff may also need to clean play equipment etc. on a much more regular basis as well as monitoring and supporting children’s hygiene practices. Potential absence and reduced staff availability due, for example, to self-isolation, may also affect a setting’s capacity to delivery services. Consideration should be given to the impact on vulnerable staff as discussed above.
Providers should review staffing models and consider how many children can be safely accommodated throughout the day.
Hours of opening
Settings across the country operate a range of models, including term time only or all year models, holiday provision, wrap-around care or breakfast club. Providers may wish to consider what hours of opening are required to meet the needs of parents while responding to public health measures, and to offset reduced physical or staffed capacity.
If appropriate and deliverable, extending the opening hours of a setting each day or across more days of the week or weeks of the year may offer more capacity to enable more children to attend.
We recognise that any restrictions on operating may affect the cost of delivery of services per child. If the number of children that can be accommodated in a setting, or within a given staffing model, is reduced, there may be an increase in the cost per hour of childcare. However, the extent of this impact will vary from setting to setting, and will be closely linked to capacity. There may also be additional costs, relating to implementation of public health measures for cleaning and hygiene requirements. These increases in cost base may apply throughout the period where these public health measures are in place.
The period since March 2020 and the onset of the impacts of COVID-19 has been challenging for the childcare sector, as it has been for many other sectors of the economy.
The Scottish Government has undertaken a Financial Sustainability Health Check to collect evidence on the sustainability of the childcare sector in Scotland, in particular in light of the impacts of COVID-19. The exercise have also captured information on the impact of the range of financial support that has been made available.
The Health Check has been informed by evidence and analysis from:
- detailed surveys of childcare providers;
- in-depth case study interviews with a range of providers;
- discussions with childcare provider representative bodies; and
- analysis of trends in Care Inspectorate registration data.
The findings were published on 31 August 2021 and set out in Financial Sustainability Health Check of the Childcare Sector in Scotland.
Alongside this a supporting Analysis and Evidence paper has also been published.
We are working with the sector and delivery partners to progress the series of actions set out in the Health Check to enable recovery and to support the long-term sustainability of the sector.
Further details on the Financial Health Check Report and the Sustainable Rates Report is provided on the Scottish Government’s information pages on Early Education and Care.
These pages will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.
Assessment of the impact on cost of childcare provision while these public health measures are in place must be based on an open, transparent approach. Providers should consider carefully what the impact of restrictions are on cost of delivery in their settings, and how this can be demonstrated.
Advice on the application of Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard for ELC Providers includes guidance on the payment of sustainable rates for the delivery of funded ELC. Interim guidance was published in March 2021 regarding the requirements on ELC settings and local authorities from August 2021 for delivery of Funding Follows the Child. This includes updated interim guidance on the setting of sustainable rates for the delivery of funded ELC in the context of the impacts of COVID-19.
As part of the Health Check exercise we have also collected updated information from all local authorities on: the sustainable rates that they have set for their funded providers in the private, third and childminding sectors; rates paid for the delivery of the free meal commitment; their approach, in-line with guidance published in April 2019, for setting sustainable rates; and any additional support that has been offered to their funded providers during the pandemic.
The information provided by local authorities is set out in Overview of local authority funding and support for early learning and childcare providers, which was also published on 31 August 2021.
Allocation of places
If capacity is reduced, careful consideration must be given to the allocation of places within a setting. Before making offers to parents, providers should consider the capacity within settings, and ensure that there is a clear and transparent approach to how allocations will be made. Where capacity is limited, settings should have regard to the principles for prioritising access to childcare set out in the Strategic Framework.