Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): school age childcare services guidance

Non-statutory guidance to support a safe and supportive environment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): school age childcare services guidance
Scotland's Strategic Framework

Scotland's Strategic Framework

We published our Strategic Framework update on 22 June 2021. It sets out a change to the our overarching strategic intent, from:

‘to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible’.

to one where we work:

‘to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future’.

Beyond Level 0

Scotland moved beyond Level 0 on 9 August. We have set out the vaccine milestones we hope to reach over the summer, and the plan to take us out of COVID-19 restrictions. See our proposed timetable for these changes.

Our Strategic Framework update sets out what a move beyond Level 0 looks like. We will ensure that our information is clear and accessible as we enter a period where people need to make personal judgements, rather than rules set by government.

This means everyone playing their part by:

  • maintaining good hand hygiene
  • practising respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette
  • wearing face coverings
  • ensuring there is good ventilation – open windows when indoors
  • continuing to engage with Test and Protect and self-isolate when symptomatic or have tested positive

Keeping our guidance up to date

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 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues provides advice to support and inform the development of operational guidance for providers of learning, childcare and children’s services. From the end of September it will be chaired by Professor Linda Bauld, Interim Chief Social Policy Adviser to the Scottish Government and gives detailed consideration of how public health advice can be applied to operational implementation. Members include scientific and public health experts, clinicians and academics, as well as experts in education, early learning and children’s services.

The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues agreed that we could align some of the COVID risk mitigations in the suite of guidance for the formal childcare sector to levels of community transmission and that a sensible approach to doing that would be to align to protection levels. Reflecting the impact of the mitigations on reducing risk of transmission, the Sub-Group recommended:

  • retaining a consistent approach to the guidance on: face coverings; ventilation; and staff working with the same cohorts of children as much as possible
  • we can align to protection levels the restrictions on: physical distancing between staff; visits by parents; cohort size; visits to the setting by specialist staff; the use of peripatetic staff; blended placements; and enhanced cleaning regimes
  • we can align some of the mitigations to protection levels more quickly where provision is outdoors. 

Unless otherwise stated, 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. Where measures can be aligned with protection level these are set out in tables embedded in this document. It is important to make clear that Level 0 or below is not a return to normal. It is still too soon to specify if and when that would happen. We will keep under constant review the potential to remove any specific mitigations, depending on the data and evidence.

The Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues considered the data and evidence surrounding the school return on Tuesday 7th September. In light of very high case rates and current evidence on the state of the pandemic, the sub-group recommended retaining the mitigations set out in this guidance at this time.  It is expected that this revised guidance will remain in place until at least the October holidays – the position thereafter will be informed by regular reviews of the data and evidence by the advisory sub-group. 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.

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. 

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. 

Community level risk will continue to be monitored and managed by local health protection teams who will advise on how to respond.  To allow them to do this effectively local health protection teams rely on cases being reported to them as soon as possible.  Childcare settings have an important responsibility to contact their local health protection team immediately if there is:

  • any suspicion that there may be an outbreak of cases, i.e. two or more confirmed cases in 14 days
  • or an increase in the background rate of absence due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19

Information about how to contact your local health protection team can be found at the HPS website. Managers must also notify the Care Inspectorate in the event of a suspected case and all confirmed cases of COVID. Notifications and guidance are available through eForms.

In the event of a local community outbreak and/or an outbreak in a childcare setting, at any protection level, settings may be asked by the local health protection team to implement additional restrictions, beyond those set out in this guidance, for a defined period of time. There may also be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, specific settings require to close 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. To keep children and staff in childcare settings safe and to reduce risk in the wider community, it is essential that settings follow any advice from their local health protection team.

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 after holidays or periods of absence, 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.

COVID-19 checklist for the early learning and childcare sector

We have published a checklist that summarises the COVID risk mitigations for SAC settings. This should not be used as a substitute for reading the full guidance. This is especially true for managers of settings who must read the full guidance to understand the measures that they should implement in service planning.

Routine asymptomatic testing of childcare staff

We have made 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 does not replace the existing procedures for testing of staff who have symptoms of COVID.

Testing is 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 encouraging staff and settings to participate, to contribute to the wellbeing of everyone in their setting and community. Adherence to the risk mitigations is key to controlling transmission but if the easing of risk mitigations in lower protection levels make staff and parents nervous, participation in the testing programme may offer some reassurance.

All participants are encouraged to report their results through the digital portal – whether the result is positive, negative or void. This enables us to monitor effectiveness of the programme and understand the level of demand for this kind of testing offer.

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 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 via NHS Inform. People with symptoms must not rely on a negative LFD result to continue to attend their setting.

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.

Practitioners may find it valuable to access support for their health and wellbeing 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

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 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.

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
  • believe professionals must work together in the best interests of the child

The playwork principles relate specifically to school age 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.


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, 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.

COVID-19 guidance

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.

First published: 5 Mar 2021 Last updated: 11 Oct 2021 -