Operating during the coronavirus lockdown and beyond

Rainbow chalks

We have produced the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide below to help providers during the pandemic. 

This FAQ page will be regularly updated as we get more information and clarification from the DfE.

The below information is accurate as of 16 June 2021 and is primarily based on:

A printer-friendly PDF of the below FAQs is available here.


Who is able to operate?

Early years settings (including nurseries and childminders) remain open to all children of early years age. Wraparound childcare (including childminders) can open for school-aged children where it is needed to enable parents or carers to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.

As of 29 March: parent and child groups will may take place outdoors with a limit of 15 attendees (children under five years of age and the group leader do not count towards the attendee limit).

As of 12 April: Parent and child groups of up to 15 people (not counting children aged under five years old, or the group leader) can restart indoors.

As of 17 May: Parent and child groups can operate with up to 30 people (not counting children aged under five years old, or the group leader) both indoors and outdoors. 

The full roadmap out of lockdown is available here.

Are we allowed to charge for parents who choose not to or are unable to take up their childcare place? 

Department for Education guidance states that “The general principle is that providers should not charge parents or carers for services that cannot be provided. If there is a barrier to accessing childcare, based on government guidance or the law, the provider should not charge the parents or carers for this period. For example, from 28 September people in England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Accordingly, if a child is self-isolating having been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, the provider should not charge the parent or carer for this period.” 

However, the CMA has advised the Alliance that: “The CMA is unlikely to object to the parties seeking to reach an arrangement that is mutually acceptable in the circumstances, provided that consumers are not left in a worse position where they have sought to find a resolution in this way.” 

Bubbles and attendance

Do we need to keep children in “small groups” or "bubbles"?

Registered early years providers are no longer required to keep children in these small groups within settings. The Department for Education says this is because “the overall risk to children from coronavirus (COVID-19) is low” and “early years settings are typically much smaller than schools”.

DfE guidance states that: “Providers should still consider how they can minimise mixing within settings, for example where they use different rooms for different age groups, keeping those groups apart as much as possible.”

All other protective measures must remain in place.

The guidance also states that: “While in general groups should be kept apart, brief, transitory contact, such as passing in a corridor or when moving to a different part of the setting, is low risk."

Are children allowed to attend more than one setting?

Yes, although this should be avoided where possible. The DfE guidance says: “Parents and carers should be encouraged to limit the number of settings their child attends, ideally ensuring their child only attends the same setting consistently.”

The guidance adds that children may need to attend more than one setting, for example, children attending a childminder before their nursery opens so that their parent or carer may go to work.

It says: “Settings, parents and carers should work through the ‘systems of controls’ collaboratively, to address any risks identified and allowing them to jointly deliver appropriate care for the child.”

Can children who have underlying health conditions or who live with someone who is vulnerable attend the setting?

As of Thursday 1 April, clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer advised to shield.

The DfE has advised that as of this date, clinically extremely vulnerable children can attend early years provision, wraparound care and out-of-school settings, as well as schools and colleges, "unless they are one of the very small number of children under paediatric or other specialist care and have been advised by their GP or clinician not to attend".

A child attending the provision has a cough but their GP / 111 / 119 has told their parents that they are fine to attend the setting. Should I / we allow them to attend?

It depends who has given the medical advice. The Department for Education has told the Alliance that: “A GP’s confirmation regarding whether a child has COVID-19 would be valid evidence for deciding on whether a child should attend a setting, however, a telephone helpline would not be able to provide evidence that someone does not have COVID-19.”

The guidance also states that: “In the event that a parent or carer insists on a child attending the setting, the setting can take the decision to refuse the child if in their reasonable judgement it is necessary to protect their children and staff from possible infection with coronavirus (COVID-19). Any such decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and the current public health advice.”


Are members of staff who have underlying health conditions able to work?

Shielding guidance ends on 1 April 2021. The DfE has advised that early years staff "who are clinically extremely vulnerable" should "continue to work from home where possible, but if they cannot work from home should now attend their workplace".

Government guidance also states that: “If staff are concerned, including those who may be clinically vulnerable or who believe they may be at possible increased risk from coronavirus, we recommend setting leaders discuss any concerns individuals may have around their particular circumstances and reassure staff about the protective measures in place”. 

NB: More detailed guidance on who is considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ versus ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ is available here.

Are pregnant staff able to work in settings?

Yes, pregnant staff are classed as clinically vulnerable and can continue to attend early years settings, though while in settings they should follow the sector-specific measures in the Actions for Early Years guidance to minimise the risks of transmission.

This guidance now also advises that  “employers should carry out a risk assessment to follow the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW). More information is available on workplace risk assessment for vulnerable people. Information contained in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment. Pregnant women of any gestation should not be required to continue working if this is not supported by the risk assessment. 

New guidance has been added which states that: “If you are notified that an employee is pregnant, breastfeeding, or has given birth within the last 6 months, you should check the workplace risk assessment to see if any new risks have arisen. An assessment may help identify any additional action that needs to be taken to mitigate risks. Any risks identified at that point, or later during the pregnancy, in the first 6 months after birth, or while the employee is still breastfeeding, must be included and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment. You must take appropriate sensible action to reduce, remove or control the risks."

It adds that: Women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, or are pregnant and have an underlying health condition that puts them at a greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) at any gestation, should take a more precautionary approach. Employers should ensure pregnant women are able to adhere to any active national guidance on social distancing or advice for pregnant women considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable.”

National lockdown guidance updated 5 January 2020 adds that ”Employers should be aware that… although pregnant women of any gestation are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health, for those women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill, and of pre-term birth, should they contract coronavirus (COVID-19). This is also the case for pregnant women with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Can staff who live with someone who is vulnerable attend the setting?

Yes. DfE guidance states that “People who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can attend the workplace.” 

Are we still allowed to use agency staff?

Yes. The DfE guidance states that: “Supply staff and other temporary workers can move between settings but setting leaders will want to consider how to minimise the number of visitors to the setting where possible.”

It adds that such staff should take particular care to maintain distance from other staff, and that “to minimise the numbers of temporary staff entering the setting and secure best value, settings may wish to use longer assignments with supply staff and agree a minimum number of hours across the year”.

The presence of any additional members of staff “should be agreed on a weekly rather than a daily basis, where possible, in order to limit contacts”.

What happens if a staff member has to self-isolate after returning from abroad?

DfE guidance states: “It is recommended that setting leaders discuss leave arrangements with staff to inform workforce planning.

“There is a risk that where staff travel abroad, their return travel arrangements could be disrupted due to factors arising beyond their control in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19), such as the potential for restrictions on travel in the place they are visiting.

“Where it is not possible to avoid a member of staff having to self-isolate when they are due to return from leave, settings should consider if it is possible to temporarily amend working arrangements to enable them to work from home.”

Are staff allowed to work two jobs, and if so, do they need to change clothing in between?

The DfE guidance says: “Parents and carers should be encouraged to limit the number of settings their child attends, ideally ensuring their child only attends the same setting consistently. This should also be the same for staff.”

Where staff do attend more than one setting, the DfE has confirmed to the Alliance that changes of clothes is “something for individual settings to consider and to include in their risk assessment”. The Department added that “There is no need for anything other than normal personal hygiene and washing of clothes following a day in a childcare setting.”

Are early years students still allowed to attend settings for the purposes of student placements? 

The Department for Education has told us that the decision on allowing students to attend work placements rests with employers, who are responsible for meeting the safe working and other requirements. 

They stated that: “We recognise that there are likely to be challenges for the training and assessment of EYE and EYP qualifications in 2020/21 academic year due to COVID-19. We have worked with awarding organisations to agree that for level 3 EYE and  level 2 EYP training and qualifications:

 Placement hours will be managed pragmatically with the overarching consideration being that the EYE criteria or EYP criteria, as appropriate, have been met during the learners time on the programme

In order to ensure the EYE or EYP criteria have been met, internal assessments may be adapted; appropriate alternative assessment methods will be evidenced i.e. direct observation where possible or professional discussion, witness testimony, etc.”

Updated DfE guidance states that: “Students completing Level 2, Level 3 qualifications, including the T Level in Education and Childcare, and early years initial teacher training (EYITT) trainees, are included in the definition of critical workers. This means that students and trainees can continue to go into their early years setting on placement.”

It adds that: "private, voluntary or independent settings which offer placements may be able to apply for a financial incentive worth £1,000 to help with the cost of the placement until 31 July 2021 (this does not include T level placements).”

What do early years practitioners who are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace payment and have to self-isolate due to a close contact with a young child attending the setting need to do to apply for the payment?

Staff identified as close contacts of a positive case will require an NHS Test and Trace Account ID number (CTAS number) to be able to claim a Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment. Parents and carers of self-isolating children should be provided with a letter to support their application for payment, but will not require an NHS Test and Trace Account ID number (CTAS number).

The Department for Health and Social Care has launched the self-isolation service hub (020 3743 6715). The phone line is open 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm, allowing a school to provide contact details of any staff who have been asked to self-isolate and are likely to be eligible for the Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment.

In order for any of your staff who may be eligible for a payment from the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme to be able to claim, you must follow these steps.

  1. Ensure that you collate a list of appropriate close contacts for the person who has tested positive within your establishment and inform these close contacts that they now need to self-isolate.
  2. Call the service hub on 020 3743 6715 as soon as you have the 8-digit NHS Test and Trace Account ID (sometimes referred to as a CTAS number) of the person who has tested positive.
  3. Provide the details of the person who has tested positive, along with the details of the relevant staff members you have identified as close contacts. If you do not have NHS Test and Trace Account ID for the person who has tested positive, Hub staff will assist in tracing the person in order to register their contacts on the Test and Trace system (CTAS).
  4. NHS Test and Trace will then contact individuals to formally advise them of their need to self-isolate and provide them with an NHS Test and Trace Account ID.
  5. Following this, individuals who are employed or self-employed, on a low income, unable to work from home and losing income as a result may qualify for the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme through their local authority.

Minimising risk of infection transmission

What steps should we take to minimise the risk of infection transmission?

The DfE guidance on protective measures outlines steps providers can take to deal with direct transmission (e.g. via coughing and sneezing) and indirect transmission (e.g. through touching contaminated surfaces).

The key steps the government says providers should take to reduce the risk of transmitting an infection are:

  • minimising contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend settings
  • cleaning hands thoroughly more often than usual
  • ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
  • introducing enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often using standard products, such as detergents and bleach
  • minimising contact between groups (for example, children of different age groups who are in different rooms) where possible
  • where necessary, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – this is when either where an individual child has become ill with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms while at a setting and a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained; or where a child already has routine intimate care needs that involves the use of PPE, in which case the same PPE should continue to be used.
  • Keep occupied spaces well ventilated.

The DfE guidance says: “Some children with complex needs will struggle to maintain as good respiratory hygiene as their peers, for example those who spit uncontrollably or use saliva as a sensory stimulant. This should be considered in risk assessments in order to support these children and the staff working with them It is not a reason to deny these children a place at the setting.”

Additional guidance produced at the start of national lockdown also states:

“For individual and very frequently used equipment, such as pens, it is recommended that staff have their own items that are not shared. Resources, such as books, toys and equipment, can be used and shared within the group; these should be cleaned regularly, along with all frequently touched surfaces. Resources that are shared between groups, such as sports and art equipment should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between groups or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles."

“Outdoor playground equipment should be more frequently cleaned. This would also apply to resources used inside and outside by wraparound care providers.It is recommended that children limit the amount of personal belongings they bring into setting each day, to essentials such as lunch boxes, hats, coats, and books. Bags are allowed. Children and staff can take books and other shared resources home, although unnecessary sharing should be avoided, especially where this does not contribute to the child’s welling being and development. Similar rules on hand cleaning, cleaning of the resources and rotation should apply to these resources.”

Do I / we need to wear masks / face coverings at the setting? 

The government recommends that face coverings should be worn by staff and adults, including visitors, in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). Children in early years settings “should not wear face coverings”.

Government guidance also states that “those who rely on visual signals for communication, or communicate with or provide support to such individuals, are currently exempt from any requirement to wear face coverings in settings or in public places”, adding that “transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn.”

Face visors or shields can be worn by those exempt from wearing a face covering but “they are not an equivalent alternative in terms of source control of virus transmission”.

Do we need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)?

The government guidance states that: “Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended” and that: “Schools and other education or childcare settings should … not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings.”

It adds that: “Children, young people and students whose care routinely already involves the use of PPE due to their intimate care needs should continue to receive their care in the same way”.

The guidance also states that if a child develops coronavirus symptoms while at a setting, a “fluid-resistant surgical face mask should be worn by the supervising adult” and that “disposable gloves, a disposable apron and a fluid-resistant surgical face mask should be worn” during any contact with the symptomatic child.

It adds that: “If a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes, for example from coughing, spitting, or vomiting, then eye protection should also be worn.”

With regard to obtaining PPE, the guidance states that: “Education, childcare and children’s social care settings and providers should use their local supply chains to obtain PPE”, and that: “Where this is not possible, and there is unmet urgent need for PPE in order to operate safely, they may approach their nearest local resilience forum.”

Resilience forums are partnerships made up of representatives from local public services such as local authorities, the emergency services and the NHS.

More information, including regional contact details, are available here.

What do we need to do to keep the setting well-ventilated?

The Actions for Early Years guidance states that good ventilation can be achieved by a variety of measures, including:

— mechanical ventilation systems: these should be adjusted to increase the ventilation rate wherever possible, and checked to confirm that normal operation meets current guidance (if possible, systems should be adjusted to full fresh air or, if not, then systems should be operated as normal as long as they are within a single room and supplemented by an outdoor air supply).

— natural ventilation: opening windows, when it is safe to do so. In colder weather, windows should be opened just enough to provide constant background ventilation and periodically opened more fully when it is safe to do so to purge the air in the space

The guidance also states that to balance the need for increased ventilation while maintaining a comfortable temperature, the following measures should also be used as appropriate:

  • opening high level windows in preference to low level to reduce draughts
  • increasing the ventilation while spaces are unoccupied
  • re-arranging furniture where possible to avoid direct draughts.

It adds that “Heating should be used as necessary to ensure comfort levels are maintained, particularly in occupied spaces.”

Do I / we need to take children’s temperatures regularly throughout the day?

No, this is not a requirement. The DfE guidance states: “PHE is clear that routinely taking the temperature of children is not recommended as this is an unreliable method for identifying coronavirus (COVID-19).”

If a child has a temperature following a routine immunisation, can they attend the setting?

Yes, if there is no reason to suspect they have contracted Covid-19. DfE guidance states that: “Vaccines may cause a mild fever in children. This is a common and expected reaction, and isolation is not required unless coronavirus (COVID-19) is suspected.

Parents and carers should monitor side effects from a vaccination or teething, and if they are concerned about their child’s health, they should seek advice from their GP or NHS 111.

If coronavirus (COVID-19) is suspected, settings should follow the advice in the ‘system of controls’.”

Can children take part in messy play?

Yes, depending on what materials are used. DfE guidance states that: “Settings should risk assess activities that involve malleable materials for messy play such as sand, mud and water, as part of their regular curriculum planning.”

It adds that a risk assessment should consider whether:

  • materials can be handled by a small, consistent group of children of no more than 15 at a time, and that no one else outside this group can come into contact with it
  • the malleable material for messy play (for example, sand/water/mud) can be used and cleaned - including being replaced - in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, where applicable. 

Provider should also ensure that:

  • children wash their hands thoroughly before and after messy play
  • frequently touched surfaces, equipment, tools and resources for messy play are thoroughly cleaned and dried before they are used by a different group.
Are parents and carers allowed inside the setting?

Government guidance states that “Parents and carers are able to enter a setting to help their children adapt to their new environment. Settings should ensure that parents and carers: 

  • stay for a limited amount of time (ideally not more than an hour) 
  • avoid close contact with other children 
  • are aware of the system of controls, how this impacts them, and their responsibilities in supporting it when visiting a setting with their child 
  • wear face coverings, if required, in line with arrangements for staff and other visitors to the setting (see the section on face coverings).

It also states that “In-person visits from parents and carers can take place if they are necessary but settings should make use of remote visits wherever possible. Settings should work with parents and carers to ensure they still have visibility of the childcare environment during this time, including through the use of remote visits, photos and phone calls.” 

How can we minimise contact between parents and carers at pick up and drop off?

Government guidance suggests that where circumstances allow, providers should stagger start and finish times, to ease pressure on transport during rush hour and to avoid contact between parents. However, staggered starts should not reduce the overall time a child is in the setting.

The guidance also advises that when communicating this to parents, settings should take the opportunity to remind parents and carers about the agreed procedures around drop off and collection, including that gathering at the setting entrance and coming onto the site without an appointment are not allowed.

Do we need to keep a record of which children and staff are in close contact with each other?

The Department for Education recommends that settings keep a record of:

  • children and staff in specific groups/rooms (where applicable)
  • close contact that takes places between children and staff in different groups/rooms.

However, it states that “this should be a proportionate recording process” and that “settings do not need to ask staff to keep definitive records in a way that is overly burdensome”.

Can early years professionals conduct home visits?

The Department for Education recommends that “visits are done remotely and only face to face where necessary” but states that “visits can still take place for vulnerable children to meet a social, worker, key worker or other necessary support on site”.

Coronavirus - symptoms and testing

Can early years staff get tested for coronavirus?

Yes. All early years staff (including childminders, and anyone who works in an occupation related to an early years childcare provider) – as well as adults in their households, childcare and support bubbles – are now eligible for twice weekly asymptomatic lateral flow testing. Tests can be taken at a test site, picked up at a collection point, or ordered online.

On 13 Jan 2021 Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that primary schools with attached early years settings will receive sufficient rapid test kits to test both their primary and early years staff and maintained nursery schools would also receive testing kits to offer to their staff.

Asymptomatic home testing kits are now available to private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries and pre-schools for staff to use twice a week.

Guidance on lateral flow testing and education has been updated to reflect the fact that anyone who works in an occupation related to a childcare provider, school, nursery or college, and their household, childcare and support bubbles will able to access home testing, including childminders.

For more details about how this works, and information on missing test kits read our Lateral Flow Testing in Early Years Settings - What You Need To Know page.

What should be done if a child or member of staff starts displaying coronavirus symptoms while at a setting?

The DfE states that if anyone becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms – a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change to, sense of smell or taste – in an education or childcare setting, “they must be sent home”, and advised to follow government guidance (i.e. to self-isolate for ten days, while all members of their household self-isolate for 10 days). The 10 day isolation period includes the day the symptoms started, or the date of a positive test (regardless of which type of test), plus the next 10 full days.

The guidance adds that: “if any of the individual’s household members are also present at the setting they will need to be sent home at the same time.” Other members of their household (including any siblings) should also self-isolate.

If it is a child who has fallen ill, the guidance states that they should be moved to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door with appropriate adult supervision while awaiting collection. The guidance adds that: “Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation”. If moving to a separate room is not possible, the child should be moved to an area at least two metres away from other people.

The guidance also states that: “PPE should be worn by staff caring for the child while they await collection if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained (such as for a very young child or a child with complex needs).”

If a member of staff has helped an unwell child, the guidance states that they should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds afterwards, but that they are not required to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves or the child subsequently tests positive for coronavirus. If the member of staff does develop symptoms, they are able to access a free coronavirus test – more information on this is available here.

The guidance adds that: “Cleaning the affected area with normal household disinfectant after someone with symptoms has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.”

If a child or staff member is seriously ill, 999 should be called.

Step-by-step government guidance on what to do to manage a possible outbreak is available here.

What happens if a child or member of staff starts displaying symptoms while not at the setting?

DfE guidance states that settings must ensure that staff members and parents/carers understand that they will need to be ready and willing to:

  • book a test if they (or their child in the case of parents and carers) are displaying symptoms. The guidance states that “All children can be tested, including children under 5, but children under 11 will need to be helped by their parents if using a home testing kit”.
  • provide details of anyone they have been in close contact with if they were to test positive for coronavirus or if asked by NHS Test and Trace
  • self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus symptoms or someone who tests positive for coronavirus.
What should I do if a parent/carer does not agree that their child needs to self-isolate after showing symptoms of COVID-19?

The DfE guidance says that in “the vast majority of cases” providers and parents/carers will be in agreement that a child with symptoms should not attend the setting, given the potential risk to others. 

In the event that a parent or carer insists on a child attending the setting, the DfE says that “the setting can take the decision to refuse the child if in their reasonable judgement it is necessary to protect their children and staff from possible infection with coronavirus (COVID-19).” 

The DfE adds: “Any such decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and the current public health advice.”

Parents and carers on low incomes whose children are required to self-isolate may be eligible for the one-off £500 Test and Trace support payment.

What do I / we do if a child or member of staff tests positive for coronavirus? 

DfE guidance states that anyone who tests positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for at least ten days from the onset of their symptoms and can return to the setting. The 10 day isolation period includes the day the symptoms started, or the date of a positive test (regardless of which type of test), plus the next 10 full days.

If they still have a high temperature after ten days, they should keep self-isolating until their temperature returns to normal. If they have a cough or loss of sense of smell or taste after ten days, they can still return to the setting (this is because a cough or anosmia can last for several weeks once the infection has gone).

Other members of their household should self-isolate for ten days from when the person's symptoms started.

If the person never had any symptoms then people in their household should isolate for ten days from when they had their test.

If providers become aware that someone who has attended the setting has tested positive for coronavirus, they should contact the DfE Helpline on 0800 046 8687 and select option 1 for advice on the action to take in response to a positive case.

You will be put through to a team of advisors who will inform you what action is needed based on the latest public health advice. If, following triage, further expert advice is required the adviser will escalate your call to the local health protection team.

Do we need to notify Ofsted if a child or member of staff at the setting tests positive for coronavirus?

Yes, as soon as possible but within 14 days at the latest. DfE guidance states that “Any confirmed cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the setting (either child or staff member), and/or if the setting is advised to close as a result, should be swiftly reported to Ofsted through the usual notification channels.” Childminders registered with an agency should report this to the agency.

Ofsted has now created a page for providers who need to report a Covid-19 incident at their setting.

Visit the page.

If staff or children at the setting have been in contact with someone else at the setting who has tested positive for coronavirus and told to self-isolate, do their household members have to self-isolate as well?

No. DfE guidance states that: “Household members of those who are sent home do not need to self-isolate themselves unless the child or staff member who is self-isolating subsequently develops symptoms.”

What happens if someone who has been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for coronavirus starts to display symptoms themselves?

DfE guidance states that if someone in a group that has been asked to self-isolate develops symptoms themselves within their 10-day isolation period, they should get a test.

If the test is negative, they “must remain in isolation for the remainder of the 10-day isolation period. This is because they could still develop the coronavirus (COVID-19) within the remaining days”.

If the test result is positive, “they should inform their setting immediately, and must isolate for at least ten days from the onset of their symptoms (which could mean the self-isolation ends before or after the original 10-day isolation period). Their household should self-isolate for at least 10 days from when they first displayed symptoms”.

The definition of a close contact has been clarified in the guidance as:

  • Anyone who lives in the same household as someone with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms or who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation
  • within 1 metre skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
  • been within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer without face-to-face contact
  • been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact or added up together over 1 day)
  • travelled in the same vehicle or a plane
Do parents need to provide evidence that their children have tested negative for coronavirus before their children are allowed to return to a setting if they have been self-isolating?

No. DfE guidance states that: “Settings should not request evidence of negative test results or other medical evidence before admitting children or welcoming them back after a period of self-isolation.”

What happens if someone who lives with a child or staff member at the setting has symptoms of coronavirus?

If someone who lives with a child or staff member at your setting becomes ill with suspected Covid-19, the child or staff member in question will need to isolate for 10 days from when the first person in their home started experiencing symptoms and follow government Stay at Home guidance, available here.

If the house member has not had contact with the setting themselves, and you are not contacted by NHS Test and Trace, then you do not need to take further action, unless the child or staff member who attends your setting has a positive test result themselves (see ‘What do I / we do if a child or member of staff tests positive for coronavirus?’)

Lateral flow home test kits are not suitable for those who develop coronavirus symptoms. Any staff member experiencing one of the three main symptoms must isolate and get a PCR test.

What do I / we do if there is a potential outbreak of coronavirus at the setting?

DfE guidance states that you should contact your local health protection team if:

  • the number of cases exceeds 2 within 14 days
  • you have taken the action outlined but are still seeing more cases
  • you are thinking you might need to close because of the number of people affected
  • a child or staff member in your setting has been admitted to hospital
  • you are getting significant interest from local media

Your local health protection team will advise you on the next steps.

It adds that “in some cases, health protection teams may recommend that a larger number of other children self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure – perhaps the whole site or a group”, but that if settings are implementing protective measures, “whole setting closure based on cases within the setting will not generally be necessary, and should not be considered except on the advice of health protection teams”.

Further guidance is available here.

Can a child or staff who displays Covid symptoms attend an early years setting if they can have daily lateral tests? 

No. The DfE has confirmed to the Alliance that the guidance remains that the child or staff member must isolate and get a test if they have Covid symptoms and await a test result and only resume attendance if the test is negative – if it is positive, they must isolate. 

Do staff who have already had Covid still have to isolate if they have had close contact with a positive case?  

Yes, the Department for Education has confirmed that they would still have to isolate. 

Are there any plans to update the official Covid-19 symptoms for children, given numerous reports of children testing positive who don't present with the main three symptoms, but do present consistently with other symptoms such as diarrhoea and/or vomiting? 

The DfE has confirmed there are no plans at present to do this. 


I am a childminder. Am I still allowed to look after school-age children as well as early years children?

Childminders can provide care and education to early years aged children as normal, as well as school-aged vulnerable children and for non-vulnerable school-aged children, where it is needed to enable parents or carers to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.

I am a childminder. Am I still allowed to drop-off and pick-up children from other settings?

Yes. The DfE guidance states that: “If it is necessary for a childminder to pick up or drop off a child at school, walking is preferable. If this is not practicable, then a private vehicle for single household use is preferable. Use of public transport should be minimised.”

Can I meet up with other childminders? 

The DfE has advised that  childminders can meet with other childminders indoors or outdoors, "when it is reasonably necessary" without being restricted to limits on gatherings as long as "it is for the purpose of education or childcare, you remain within the EYFS staff-child ratios [and] the guidance in the section on trips taken outside of the setting is followed." The guidance also states that "Ideally, adults should maintain a 2-metre distance from each other."

Can childminders attend parent and toddler groups and / or childminder drop-in groups? 

The DfE has advised that childminders can attend parent and toddler groups and should follow the guidance on ‘Trips outside of the setting’ in Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  

They add that “If a childminder is organising a group for under-fives and the parent attends the session with their child, they should follow the guidance on parent and child groups. Parent and child groups must not, however, meet in homes or private gardens.” 

If a child attending a childminding setting is sent home because someone in their class at school or room at nursery has tested positive for coronavirus, other than that child self-isolating, does the childminder have to take any action?

No. The government has confirmed that no action would be necessary "unless the child themselves became symptomatic or they were contacted by Test and Trace".

If a childminder’s own child is self-isolating (without symptoms but because a class member has tested positive), can the childminder still provide a service from their home?

The Department for Education has advised that: “If the person isolating as a result of coming into contact with a positive case is not showing symptoms of coronavirus and does not require a test, childminders can continue to provide childcare at their registered setting. Settings should ensure they keep open communication with parents and carers of children attending the setting.

“The person isolating must not have any contact with the children being cared for in the setting. For example, the person isolating must use a separate bathroom where possible. If the person isolating has to use a shared bathroom or other communal areas, these must be thoroughly cleaned after every use."

DfE guidance states that childminders must:

  • comply with health and safety law, which requires a risk assessment. The risk assessment must demonstrate that the provision of childcare in their setting is safe and aligns with the ‘system of controls’. Further guidance on cleaning can be found in COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings outside the home
  • put in place proportionate control measures. For more information on what is required of employers in relation to health and safety risk assessments, please see annex A of the guidance for full opening: schools

It adds that childminders should:

  • thoroughly review their health and safety risk assessment. 
  • have active arrangements in place to monitor that the controls are effective, working as planned, and updated appropriately. For example, when any issues are identified, or when there are changes in public health advice. 

If a member of the childminder’s household has themselves tested positive for Covid-19, the childminder cannot care for children in their home because all household members must self-isolate.

If the childminder has tested positive for coronavirus, all children who attended the setting during the infectious period are considered close contacts and must isolate.

Are childminders and other early years providers permitted to take children on outings using their cars?  

Government guidance states that provider can take children on educational day visits, but that “any educational day visits must be conducted in line with relevant COVID-19 guidance and regulations in place at the time. This includes the system of controls, such as keeping children within their consistent groups, and the COVID-19 protective measures in place at the destination.”

It also states that if it is necessary for a childminder to pick up or drop off a child from another location and walking is not practical, then a private vehicle for single household use is preferable” and “use of public transport should be minimised."

The Department for Education has previously told to the Alliance that: “When deciding whether to take children on outings and using their cars, settings (including childminders) must comply with health and safety law, which requires them to assess risks and put in place proportionate control measures.”  

Baby and toddler groups

Are there any restrictions on how baby and toddler groups can operate?

As of 12 April, baby and toddler groups have been able to operate with a maximum of 15 people, excluding under-fives and group leaders.

This limit will increase to 30 on Monday 17 May.

The DfE has confirmed that groups organised by a “charitable institution” includes charities who are not required to be registered.

Baby and toddler group members can find our tailored guide to reopening here.

Out-of-school clubs

I run an out-of-school club. What are the rules on how I am able to operate?

As of 8 March, wraparound providers are able to offer wraparound childcare for all children where it is needed to enable parents or carers to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.

Are children required to socially distance at out-of-school settings?

DfE guidance states that “providers should encourage children and young people to maintain social distancing where possible, and particularly:

  • where young people will be in close proximity for a prolonged period
  • where they are indoors
  • for secondary age children where evidence suggests the risk of transmission may be higher than for younger children, and who are more able to maintain distance.

It adds that “it is particularly important that social distancing is observed by parents at pick up or drop off, by staff members, and as far as possible between staff members and children and young people attending the setting”.

However, the guidance also states that there will be some situations where it is not possible, such as:

  • between younger children, who will find preserving consistent distance more challenging (whether indoors, or outside)
  • in outdoor activities and sports where young people may come into fleeting but not sustained contact.

It states that “where it is not possible for children and young people in the setting to maintain social distancing, it is even more important that providers implement the other protective measures outlined in [the Protective Measures] guidance, such as frequent cleaning and hand-washing.”

I run an out-of school music club. How do I minimise the risk of transmission?

The DfE advises that the following measures are put in place where children are singing or playing wind or brass instruments:

  • social distancing is observed at all times whilst playing wind or brass instruments or singing (2 metres, wherever possible, or 1 metre with robust risk mitigation where 2 metres is not viable)
  • children should use seating where practical to help maintain social distancing
  • back-to-back or side-to-side positioning (rather than face-to-face) is used whenever possible
  • position wind and brass players so that the air from their instrument does not blow into another player
  • activities which can create aerosol are discouraged, such as shouting or singing loudly - we advise providers to use microphones where possible or encourage children to sing quietly
  • singing or playing wind or brass instruments outdoors, wherever possible
  • if playing wind or brass instruments indoors or singing indoors, you should limit the number of children attending to account for ventilation of the space and the ability to social distance
  • take steps to improve ventilation as far as possible and whenever possible, either through the use of mechanical systems and/or opening windows and doors
  • if hosting a performance, limit as far possible the number of performers and audience members
  • steps are taken to encourage audiences to support the overall safety of the event, including seating individuals rather than allowing them to stand (to help maintain social distancing) and the other mitigations outlined in this guidance
  • limit the duration of activity as far as possible, including considering the need for breaks and intervals
  • continue to take the other vital steps outlined in this guidance, including preventing unwell people from attending, maintaining cleanliness, supporting contact tracing and other mitigating measures.
Can children who are clinically extremely vulnerable attend out-of-school clubs?

Shielding guidance ended on 1 April, after which time they can attend settings as normal.


Are we allowed to take children out on trips to the park and other public spaces?

Government guidance states that you can take groups of children on trips to outdoor public places and do not need to be restricted to limits on gatherings as long as: 

  • the risk assessment demonstrates that they can remain socially distant (2 metres) from other people and groups, wherever possible 
  • good hygiene is maintained throughout 
  • thorough handwashing happens before and after the trip 
  • the trip is carried out in line with relevant national COVID-19 guidance depending on what restrictions are in force on the day of the trip and COVID-19 measures on transport and at the destination 
  • appropriate insurance arrangements are in place 
  • it is for the purpose of education or childcare 
  • you remain within the EYFS staff child ratios 
  • you conduct a risk assessment in advance.
Can we take trips to indoor spaces? 

Government guidance states that “You may take children on trips to indoor spaces, for example, to an indoor play centre where they are permitted to be open”. 

Can I / we have other visitors, such as contractors, to the setting?

DfE guidance states that “Settings should … ensure site guidance on social distancing and hygiene is explained to visitors on or before arrival. Where visits can happen outside of setting hours, a record should be kept of all visitors - where this is practical - which follows the guidance on maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace.”

New DfE guidance states that: "You can work with external coaches, clubs and organisations for curricular and extra-curricular activities. You should be satisfied that it is safe to do."

Can we have volunteers at the setting?

Volunteers may be used to support the work of the setting; however, the "mixing of volunteers across groups should be kept to a minimum, and they must adhere to the system of controls in place".

Can settings have external providers (e.g. yoga activity sessions) into the setting?

Government guidances states that: “There will be occasions when visits to the setting are necessary, but you are encouraged to avoid visitors entering your premises, wherever possible. Settings should ensure visitors follow the system of controls, maintain social distancing, and wear face coverings where needed. 

It adds that “specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) should provide interventions as usual. They, as well as other professionals or other temporary staff, can move between settings. They should ensure they minimise contact and maintain as much distance as possible from other staff. Such specialists will be aware of the PPE most appropriate for their role. Early years settings should consider how to manage other visitors to the site, such as contractors, catering staff and deliveries, as well as cleaning staff on site who may be working throughout the setting and across different groups. This will require close co- operation between early years settings and the other relevant employers.” 

The guidance also states that: "You can work with external coaches, clubs and organisations for curricular and extra-curricular activities. You should be satisfied that it is safe to do."

Can we conduct in-person job interviews at the setting?

DfE guidance states that “Recruitment should continue as usual” but adds that “As this guidance advises limiting the number of visitors wherever possible, it may be appropriate for settings to consider a flexible approach to interviews, with alternative options to face-to-face interviews offered where possible, such as using video conferencing.”

Do temporary changes to the EYFS still apply?

On 24 April, the government brought into force changes to how the EYFS applies during the coronavirus outbreak, including asking early years providers to use “reasonable endeavours” to learning and development requirements, instead of this being something they ‘must do’. The Early Years Alliance has provided an overview of these changes online.

EYFS learning and development and assessment requirements resumed from 26 September 2020 and must continue to be met. The two month transitional period for requirements relating to staff qualifications and Paediatric First Aid changes ended on 25 November 2020. However, if a provider is subject to any national or local Covid-related restrictions which affect their ability to comply with the EYFS, then these disapplications will be reapplied.

The government has also confirmed that “the extension period for PFA certificates expiring on or after 1 October 2020 has ended, and that practitioners must attend PFA certificate requalification training in order to have a valid certificate, if their previous certificate has expired. 

Are we still expected to complete the two-year-old progress check? 

If a provider is subject to any national or local Covid-related restrictions which affect their ability to comply with the EYFS, then DfE guidance states that “there is no requirement for providers to undertake this check, but providers should still remain alert to any emerging concerns about any child in their care, and endeavour to provide or seek additional support if needed”.

The guidance adds that “It is expected that the checks will take place as soon as is practical once the child returns to, or joins, the early years setting, including where a child has turned 3 if it is considered appropriate and useful in the provider’s professional judgement and in discussion with the child’s parents or carers.”

When will Ofsted inspections be restarting?

Full graded EIF inspections in early years started from 4 May 2021. Providers with active cases of Covid-19 at the time of inspection will be able to request a deferral.

Minor amends have been made to the inspections handbook, informed by Ofsted’s experience carrying out trial interim visits and other fieldwork within the Covid context. This will be published after the Easter break. Ofsted has also shared with us some answers to FAQs which you can access here.

The decision to return to full inspections was made in light of providers’ feedback that they would prefer a graded judgement as soon as it was deemed safe to carry out inspections, as well as the fact that many inspections are now overdue.

Previously, Ofsted said that it would be aiming to use new assurance inspections - which were intended to focus on whether providers were meeting the requirements of the EYFS - from 8 March. However, it has now confirmed that assurance inspections will be shelved.

What financial support is available for providers during this period?

Job Retention Scheme:  The government has confirmed that the Job Retention Scheme will be extended until the end of September 2021, with  employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Early years providers will be able to apply the scheme to an equivalent proportion of their paybill to any losses in both private and public income.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme:

Self-employed individuals will receive 80% of their average trading profits through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), averaged over three months, up to a maximum of £7,500. 

So far three grants have been given out. 

In March 2021, it was announced that a fourth and fifth grant will be made available.

The fourth grant covers the three-month period from the start of February 2021 until the end of April 2021. As with previous SEISS grants, it is worth up to 80% of trading profits, averaged over three months, up to £7,500 in total.

The fifth grant covers early May 2021 to late July 2021, but the amount available depends on loss of income.

Claims can be made from next month for the fourth grant. Claims for the fifth grant will open in July.

Read the government guidance here

Early entitlement funding: The DfE has confirmed that it is returning to the normal process for early years funding in January 2021 - i.e. that it will "fund all local authorities on the basis of their January 2021 census for the spring term". The DfE guidance says that for councils "where attendance is below 85% of their January 2020 census levels, and where that local authority can provide evidence for increased attendance during the spring term", they will receive 'top-up funding' limited to the equivalent of 85% of the council's January 2020 census. Local authorities "should return to the normal funding approach (that is, ‘funding following the child’) for all providers from 1 January 2021".

A comprehensive overview of the financial support available for early years provider can be found on our Business Advice page.

Are we allowed to continue our toothbrushing programme?

Yes, but you must use a dry brushing method. 

The DfE guidance states: “The wet brushing model is not recommended because it is considered more likely to risk droplet and contact transmission and offers no additional benefit to oral health over dry toothbrushing.”

My setting is reopening after being closed. How can I reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease?

The Health and Safety Executive has guidance available on this here.

How should early years staff use the NHS Covid-19 App? 

Government guidance states that education and childcare setting leaders and staff should familiarise themselves with the features of the app, and advises that pausing the contact tracing function on the app is recommended “when an individual is not able to have their phone with them, for example because it is stored in a locker or communal area” to avoid the app picking up contacts when the individual is not with their phone.

If the contact tracing function is accidentally left on, and a staff member receives a notificiation advising them to self-isolate, then the DfE advises that you "should always follow advise to self-isolate" even if you think it may be a false notification, as you cannot be sure when contact was made.

Guidance on the use of the NHS Covid-19 app in education and childcare settings is available here

Summer activities

Are we allowed to hold a sports day?

Government guidance states that sports days can go ahead, though early years children should remain in their consistent groups as is usual for your setting, and sports equipment should be regularly cleaned throughout the event. 

Spectators must adhere to current social distancing requirements, and where events take place outdoors, spectators can gather in separate groups of up to 30 (multiple groups of 30 are permitted).  

Can we go ahead with our planned leavers' event?

Government guidance states that if you are planning to hold a leavers' event, you should avoid hosting large group gatherings indoors for more than one bubble (if your setting operates bubbles) or consistent group. 

However, as outdoor events are generally lower-risk, once you have undertaken a risk assessment and planned your event in line with your system of controls, you may consider an outdoor event (for example a leavers’ celebration or prom) that caters for more than one bubble or consistent group, as long as the groups continue to be kept separate.

Any parents attending outdoor events must adhere to current social distancing requirements. Where outdoors spectators can gather in groups of up to 30 (again, multiple groups of 30 are permitted).

Can we hold taster and open days?

Government guidance states that you should complete thorough risk assessments before running transitional, taster and open days in your setting, to ensure that they are run in line with your system of controls and align with the advice contained within the guidance for your setting and the roadmap out of lockdown.

This means that traditional transitional and open days are unlikely to be feasible this academic year but the Department for Education is not restricting individual settings from designing events which maintain the integrity of bubbles or consistent groups, and adhere to the system of controls in place.

Can we still put on our end-of-year performance?

Government guidance states that if you are planning an indoor or outdoor face-to-face performance in front of a live audience, you should continue to follow the latest performing arts guidance, and the guidance on delivering outdoor events, though it should be noted that registered early years settings are exempt from the requirement to limit group numbers to 6 for singing indoors.


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