Publication - Strategy/plan

Coronavirus (COVID-19): strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision

This strategic framework "Excellence and Equity During the COVID-19 Pandemic" has been jointly developed by the Scottish Government and local government, with crucial support from key partners across the education system including the Education Recovery Group, established in April 2020.

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23 page PDF

709.8 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision
Section 5 – Implementation in Early Learning and Childcare

23 page PDF

709.8 kB

Section 5 – Implementation in Early Learning and Childcare

The reopening of ELC and school age childcare services must reflect the needs of children at different ages. This framework for re-opening is based upon age-appropriate public health measures and is intended to:

  • Maximise the ability of children and families to access safe, high quality ELC and school age childcare as early as possible to support our young children to develop and learn, to build social skills and networks, and in turn to help reduce the poverty related attainment gap, and to meet families' childcare needs.
  • Support authorities and providers to identify the capacity available to support that provision.
  • If necessary to prioritise access to that capacity.

Age appropriate public health measures

It is not appropriate for young children to maintain the models of physical distancing that would be suitable for older children, either practically or in terms of child development. In particular, it is not desirable or possible to implement strict physical distancing between young children or between a young child and their key worker. Alternative, age appropriate public health measures will be put in place for ELC settings. These build on practice undertaken in other countries where nurseries have already reopened, including Denmark and Norway. They include:

  • Enhanced hand hygiene and cleaning practices.
  • Caring for children in small groups.
  • Minimising contact between those groups.
  • Maximising use of outdoor spaces.
  • Physical distancing between adults in the setting, including parents at drop-off and pick-up times.

The application of these measures and the extent of change they represent from normal practice may differ across different types of childcare provision. For example, childminding services already operate on the basis of caring for children in small groups.

The Critical Childcare and ELC Recovery Workstream will oversee the production of clear operating guidance for ELC and school age childcare services, including bespoke guidance for childminding services, drawing on public health advice and taking a risk-based approach.

Prioritised approach to access

Working in this way may reduce capacity in individual services. The impact on capacity will vary greatly dependant on the individual settings' layout, staffing and delivery model. A framework for assessing impact on capacity will be developed to support providers. Where capacity is limited, providers should ensure that the following three groups have priority access to that capacity:

  • Children who may be provided with access to daycare services under section 2 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995[6].
  • Children eligible for the funded entitlement[7] of 600 hours of ELC i.e. eligible 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Key worker families requiring critical childcare[8].

Local authorities and providers will have discretion over how to allocate overall capacity in line with these principles and the local GIRFEC practice model. Local authorities and childcare providers should work together in meaningful partnership to meet the needs of local children and families.

Any remaining capacity should be used to meet the childcare needs of other working families. This will include provision for children from birth to 3, wraparound care for children eligible for funded ELC, and daycare of children provision for school age children.


Daycare of children services, including nurseries, playgroups, childminding services and out of school care services, will be advised when it is safe to prepare for reopening in accordance with the phases laid out in Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis. As per steps taken at the time of closing provision, the Scottish Government will communicate formally with all local authorities and representative bodies, and providers will be informed directly through the Care Inspectorate. The timing of this communication will take account of the lead-in time required for local authorities and providers to prepare, including the implementation of public health measures and the steps required to bring staff in the private and voluntary sectors off furlough. Services will not necessarily all re-open on the same day – for example, if re-opening commences over the summer, some term time only services may start later in line with normal patterns of provision – and different timetables may apply to different parts of the sector depending on public health advice.

Critical childcare provision will continue until daycare of children's services reopen to ensure ongoing provision for key worker families and vulnerable children.

As identified above, transitions into primary school must be supported, and ELC providers should work with local authorities to develop child-centred means of doing this ahead of August, reflecting local conditions.

Additional considerations

ELC is delivered within a system that meets the wider childcare needs of families. This comprises a mixture of different types of provision (nurseries, playgroups, outdoor nurseries, childminding services, etc.) delivered through a mixed market of local authority, private, and third sector organisations, including childminding services and out of school care provision. A provider neutral approach should remain at the heart of ELC delivery, with parents able to access ELC from a range of high quality providers across the public, private or third sectors, including childminders.

To implement this framework, there are a number of detailed issues that Scottish Government, local authorities, and other partners must work together to consider, providing national guidance to inform local implementation:

  • Quality of experiences and the wellbeing of children and families remain at the centre of decision-making. ELC must continue to be delivered in a way that is consistent with Realising the Ambition, with child-led, play-based pedagogy driving practice. High quality childcare experiences must be age appropriate, rights based and child centred. We will jointly produce practical guidance and examples to support local authorities and providers to incorporate age appropriate public health measures into the delivery of high quality services.
  • The safety and wellbeing of staff working in ELC and school age childcare settings. It is essential that staff are safe, supported and able to feel confident about being in their workplace. We will jointly produce practical guidance to support providers in different types of setting to implement public health and hygiene measures.
  • Clear communication with parents, providers and staff. It is important that there is a clear understanding of what parents can expect from ELC provision, and what providers should offer. Most importantly, everyone involved in ELC provision should feel confident in returning to reopened provision. We will jointly produce clear national communications on ELC and childcare reopening, and local authorities and providers will work in partnership to provide information locally to staff and parents.
  • Engagement with the Care Inspectorate on any regulatory measures or changes required to support a new model of ELC and childcare delivery. These issues must be fully understood and inform the modelling of available capacity. We will work with regulators to ensure that providers have the clear guidance needed before reopening, and time to put changes in place.
  • An inclusive and innovative approach to safely increasing the available capacity which safeguards quality, including greater use of outdoor space, re-purposing 1140 hours capacity and activating 1140 hours contingency plans for critical capital projects. These include making use of community facilities which have been approved for other uses if required for capacity - including town halls, libraries etc. Local authorities and providers will work in partnership to consider all of the options for capacity in the local area, and how best to use these to meet demand.
  • A commitment to designing a model which is financially sustainable for local authorities and private, and third sector providers. The cost per hour of delivering childcare including ELC will increase as a result of reduced capacity, and other potential additional cost pressures (for example, enhanced cleaning schedules). Fee income from privately purchased childcare hours for all age groups is also likely to be adversely affected, affecting the sustainability of childcare providers. Other forms of transitional business support are likely to be required by private and third sector providers throughout recovery (many of whom will have furloughed staff during the closure period). We will work closely with providers and Local Government to understand and address financial sustainability.