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
Self-isolation exemption

Self-isolation exemption for essential public services

The Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Exemption Scheme is ending from 6 January 2022 and being replaced by population wide changes to isolation policy. However, there may be a need for people who were isolating before 6 January 2022 to continue to attend work under the guidance of that scheme that was in place at the time:

  • people who are already daily testing under the CNI scheme from 5 January or earlier should continue to follow the CNI guidance until the end of their isolation period;
  • people who were asked to isolate prior to 6 January but who have not yet been able to return to work under the CNI scheme may engage in daily testing and return to work in line with the rules set out in the CNI guidance, if required.

Guidance on the CNI exemption scheme (for those people who were isolating before 6 January 2022)

The Scottish Government has confirmed that businesses and organisations providing vital public services and Critical National Infrastructure industries can apply an exemption to allow critical / essential workers to volunteer to leave self-isolation and return to work, in certain limited circumstance, to allow vital services to continue. Education and childcare services are recognised as vital public services and therefore are eligible for exemption. This exemption is available as a measure of last resort in prescribed circumstances.

Exemptions are possible where:

  • a childcare setting is impacted by staff shortages as a direct result of the 10 day self-isolation requirement for close household contacts of a positive case
  • those staff shortages are in danger of putting essential functions and services at risk and
  • all other options to address pressures on operations have been exhausted

Given the public health risks involved, settings should only consider applying the exemption in extreme and exceptional circumstances where staff absence would otherwise reach the level where wholescale closure of services would be unavoidable. Where staff are members of trade unions these should be fully consulted and engaged in the decision making process, with protocols being agreed around any staff exemptions and consideration given to other actions which may be adopted to keep the setting open. 

No member of staff should be coerced or put under any degree of pressure to volunteer to leave self-isolation and return to work. There is no requirement for any member of staff to explain or justify their decision not to agree to the exemption. The exemption should be approached on an opt-in rather than an opt-out basis.

Where a member of staff has elected to opt-in to the exemption process, a robust risk assessment should be conducted to ascertain the level of risk and whether this risk can be safely managed by the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures. The risk assessment should take full account of the personal circumstances of the member of staff and of any other staff member or child with heightened vulnerabilities who is accessing the setting. Risk assessments should be kept under regular review and should reflect and be adapted to respond to changes in personal circumstances and local issues, such as local increases in the cases of COVID-19 or local outbreaks. The employer’s duty of care to all their members of staff remains paramount.

The shortening of isolation exemption is for provision for critical services only. Those utilising this exemption should continue to isolate in line with the requirements for the public other than for attending work i.e. household contacts should isolate other than attending work; non household contacts can undertake normal activities but should continue to follow advice set out on NHS inform on staying safe if you’ve ended self-isolation including avoiding crowded places and social events and for the remainder of the 10 day post-contact period.

Who is eligible for exemption

Exemptions apply to businesses or organisations classed as Critical National Infrastructure industries and essential public services that:

  • are impacted by staff shortages as a direct result of self-isolation requirements;
  • are a critical service at imminent risk due to those staff shortages;
  • have exhausted all other options to address pressures on operations.

All registered daycare of children settings are included.

How it works

There are separate arrangements in place for local authority run settings and private, voluntary and independent settings.

Local authority run daycare of children services

Local authorities have been asked to put in place local processes to consider applications for staff to apply the self-isolation exemption from Head Teachers and managers of local authority-run childcare settings. Please contact the education department at your local authority for more information.

Local authorities are responsible for determining how they run local processes but Head Teachers/managers of childcare settings will be required to demonstrate that they meet all of the following criteria:

  • their setting is impacted by staff shortages as a direct result of self-isolation requirements
  • those staff shortages are in danger of putting essential functions and services at risk; and
  • all other options to address pressures on operations have been exhausted

They should also provide detail to their local authority regarding:

  • the impact of no action
  • the scope of the requested exemption – location, number of staff etc; and
  • whether they are currently engaging with their local incident management team regarding outbreak management

Local authorities are required to satisfy themselves that the conditions have been met in full and that staff have volunteered following a robust risk assessment, which takes account, among other things, of the personal circumstances of the member of staff involved. As the decision maker and employer, local authorities must also have due regard to their duty of care to all staff.

As is the case for all Critical National Infrastructure industries, before a staff member who is a close contact of a positive case can return to work, they must satisfy all of the following conditions: 

  • have had their second COVID-19 vaccination more than 14 days before the contact that led to their isolation
  • have a valid vaccination record (You can download the NHS Scotland Covid Status app or get a paper record of your vaccine status from NHS Inform)
  • not have symptoms of COVID-19
  • have evidence of a negative PCR test undertaken since being identified as a close contact
  • register daily negative LFD tests for the duration of their recommended isolation period
  • fully comply with any PPE requirements, hand hygiene and other infection control measures; and
  • have undertaken robust risk assessment with their employer which takes full account of their personal circumstances and those of vulnerable staff and children accessing the setting

Staff who cannot reasonably isolate from on-going exposure to a COVID-19 positive household member should not usually volunteer to return to work.

Local authorities are currently developing local processes and arrangements in discussion with local employers and trade unions.

Daycare of children services in the private, voluntary and independent sectors

Providers in the private, voluntary and independent sectors are responsible for administering the exemption in line with this guidance. There is no application process.

Childcare providers are required to meet all of the following criteria:

  • their setting is impacted by staff shortages as a direct result of self-isolation requirements
  • those staff shortages are in danger of putting essential functions and services at risk; and
  • all other options to address pressures on operations have been exhausted

Under the exemption process, before a staff member who is a close contact of a positive case can volunteer to return to work, the staff member must satisfy all of the following conditions:

  • have had their second COVID-19 vaccination more than 14 days before the contact that led to their isolation
  • have a valid vaccination record (You can download the NHS Scotland Covid Status app or get a paper record of your vaccine status from NHS Inform)
  • not have symptoms of COVID-19
  • have evidence of a negative PCR test undertaken since being identified as a close contact
  • register daily negative LFD tests for the duration of their recommended isolation period
  • make reasonable efforts to isolate from COVID positive household members at home
  • fully comply with any PPE requirements, hand hygiene and other infection control measures; and
  • have undertaken robust risk assessment with their employer which takes full account of their personal circumstances and those of vulnerable staff and children accessing the setting

In considering if the exemption should be applied where a staff member has volunteered, the provider must:

  • consult and fully engage with the staff member(s) concerned and/or, where staff are members of trade unions, the recognised trade unions in considering whether to allow staff to exempt themselves from self-isolation
  • agree protocols with the staff member(s) and the recognised trade unions around the self-isolation exemption procedure, including the completion of rigorous risk assessments
  • consider how the effects of self-isolation are impacting on critical functions and services
  • consider what steps have already been taken to address this pressure
  • consider the impact of no action
  • consider the scope of the requested exemption – location, number of staff etc
  • consider whether they are currently engaging with a local incident management team (IMT) regarding outbreak management

Exemptions should be made on a temporary basis only, and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to vital services operating. Providers should maintain a record of any instances when they use the exemption and the risk assessment undertaken.  

Timing

Local authorities will confirm local arrangements for managing applications from local authority settings.

Exemptions for private, voluntary and independent childcare providers can be considered by employers, with the consultation of staff as outlined above, immediately.


First published: 5 Mar 2021 Last updated: 10 Jan 2022 -