Scotland's Strategic Framework
As set out in the Strategic Framework, to best tackle the virus and protect people, we moved to an approach based on five levels of protection. This allows for a rapid and proportionate responses to be taken – locally or nationally – using a transparent range of measures and options. It also allows us to avoid, where possible, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, where a part of the country with lower rates of infection lives with restrictions designed to suppress the virus in higher rate areas.
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 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. These measures have been augmented in line with scientific and public health advice in the current context of rising prevalence levels. 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.
These standard protective measures represent the full suite of measures required at levels 0-2 of the Strategic Framework. Additional, specific mitigations should be put in place to provide enhanced protection where services are located in areas designated at Protection Levels 3 and 4 of the Strategic Framework. These enhanced protective measures aim to tackle specific areas of higher potential risk as prevalence increases, including for those people most clinically at risk. These measures will be in addition to any specific risk mitigation measures which have been identified through individual risk assessment and risk assessment review processes.
In addition to the implementation of these mitigations, at any protection level, settings may be asked to respond to local issues, and specifically to local outbreaks. 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. However, there may be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, specific settings require either to close, or to implement additional restrictions, 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.
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.
Enhanced and targeted protection in Levels 3 & 4
In addition to the suite of protective measure outlined throughout the core guidance, the following, enhanced protective measures should also be applied for settings within a local area that has been designated as at Protection Level 3 or 4.
These measures have been designed to enhance protections in areas where evidence suggests there may be higher potential risks as prevalence increases, including for those people who are at the highest clinical risk.
It is important to note that these measures are in addition to, not instead of, the protective measures set out in the main guidance.
Protection Level 3 – Enhanced protective measures
- Parents or guardians should discuss with their GP or clinician whether children with the highest clinical risk should still attend.
- The majority of workplaces can be made safer for staff. To ensure this remains the case, employers should ensure that individualised risk assessments for setting staff members with the highest clinical risk are in place and updated appropriately, and staff should speak to their employer to ensure all appropriate protections are in place.
- Decisions on appropriate protections should be informed by individual risk assessments, and may include protective measures in the workplace, mitigations such as working remotely (e.g. at home or in different settings), or carrying out different tasks within their usual workplace. If protections cannot be put in place, they can discuss whether they need a fit note with their GP or clinician.
- Settings should review use of peripatetic staff, to ensure that staff who by nature of their role support multiple settings only attend settings in person where it is demonstrably in support of the health and wellbeing of young children.
- Staff with a single employer should only work across more than one childcare setting or service when it is absolutely necessary. Risk assessments should be carried out where staff are employed by more than one childcare provider.
Protection Level 4 - enhanced and targeted protective measures
- Children on the shielding list have been advised by the Chief Medical Officer not to attend regulated childcare services such as school age childcare settings in person in level 4 areas or during lockdown. However, parents can consult with their child’s secondary care (hospital) clinical team who may advise that an individualised risk assessment could be undertaken with the setting and arrangements put in place which may allow their child to attend when settings re-open.
- If the area where someone on the shielding list is living or working in goes back down to level 4, they are advised to continue to follow the advice about going to work in level 4 areas, regardless of whether they have had 1 or 2 doses of the vaccination.
- Settings should be prepared to engage with enhanced testing responses to COVID-19 outbreaks, where recommended by the Incident Management Team. This may include more testing of people who do not have symptoms or of close contacts to support outbreak management, and address areas where we are concerned about transmission.
- Settings at any level may be asked to implement additional public health measures that may affect capacity. 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 settings to continue to operate. However, there may be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, additional measures will be required. All such decisions will be made in line with the independent advice of local Directors of Public Health.
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:
- Public Health Scotland guidance
- The Strategic Framework for Reopening Schools and ELC, and
- The framework document COVID-19: framework for decision making – Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis
- Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues
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 school age childcare for all children in the future, 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 childcare staff
Alongside the reopening of the ELC sector from 22 February, 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 including school age childcare 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 from 22 February to ELC and childcare staff (including school age childcare practitioners) 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 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 childcare settings attached to schools via Objective Connect. The guidance was developed in collaboration with NHS Test and Protect and the UK Department for Health and Social Care to support schools and childcare settings in the delivery of the Schools Asymptomatic Testing Programme.
All staff, students 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 asymptomatic 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 asymptomatic 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 www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test. 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 school age childcare, 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 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 childcare 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 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, as settings prepare for transition to reopening, that school age childcare 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 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.
High quality play and support in school age childcare services
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 will be published 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 and their families on ways to improve wellbeing;
- advocate preventative work and early intervention to support children and their families; and
- believe professionals must work together in the best interests of the child.
The playwork principles relate specifically to school aged childcare. Principle 1 states that all children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity. It is fundamental to the healthy development and well-being of individuals and communities. According to Principle 5, the role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play. Staff should support children and families to understand the need for the changes and encourage them to help, where possible, to design the delivery of care services.
Physical activity is important for children’s overall health and wellbeing however certain games and activities are not advisable at this time. Consideration should be given to adaptations or alternative activities to ensure children can enjoy their experiences of school age childcare whilst reducing the risk of physical contact.
Support for anxious children, young people, families and staff
The past few months have been a time of considerable change and there will undoubtedly be moments of anxiety. It will be important to take gradual steps in terms of reintroduction to safe practices and intervention with others. It will be important to phase some of this in through family interaction prior to the return to school age childcare, particularly for children and young people with additional support needs. It will also be vital for relevant services to consider mental health awareness.
Consultation with all staff, parents, providers and trade unions 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 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.
Managers and staff in the setting must make themselves familiar with COVID-19 advice available from Public Health Scotland, and regularly review that information. 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.