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NEWS: DfE issues additional guidance ahead of Step 4 changes in England (Updated 16 July)

News story updated on 16 July 2021

In line with “Step 4" of the roadmap to end lockdown restrictions in England which commences on 19 July, the DfE has issued additional guidance for early years and childcare settings on the process for contact tracing and self-isolation rules. This includes a useful webinar providing information on the key changes to COVID-19 measures such as ‘bubbles’, contact tracing, face coverings, self-isolation and testing. It also provides answers to some frequently asked questions. The webinar unfortunately only refers to nurseries rather than all early years settings. We have made it clear that this is far from inclusive and may cause confusion. Please be clear the advice is applicable to childminders and pre-schools as well as day nurseries. It can be accessed here.

Contact tracing will be taken over by NHS Test and Trace

From 19 July, settings will not be required to routinely carry out contact tracing. Instead, NHS Test and Trace will take over this responsibility. Until this date (or 6 days after the end of term, whichever is earlier) settings are expected to continue to carry out contact tracing as they have been.

In response to feedback from PACEY and other stakeholders, DFE has produced guidance, some frequently asked questions and answers and a template letter for settings to send to parents on changes to contact tracing of close contacts. These can all be found on the document sharing platforms for primary and early years, secondary schools, further education and higher education and children's social care. The original guidance can be found here. Advice on how to support staff who are clinically vulnerable or pregnant can be found here.

Positive cases in the setting

Staff and children (or their parent/guardian, depending on age) are required to report any test results via the NHS Online reporting system AND to the setting, whether this is positive, negative or void. Settings should take a decision on whether to inform other parents of a positive case in the setting, and should not use any identifying information. More information on taking this decision, and a template letter for parents can be found in the DfE platform here

Contact tracing

From 19 July NHS Test and Trace will contact anyone who is a positive case (or their parent/guardian, depending on age) and advise them to follow public health advice and provide details of their close contacts to assist NHS Test and Trace to carry out contact tracing. Usually, a child who has been in a setting with another positive case wouldnt be identified as a close contact unless they have had prolonged and close contact (such as a sleepover). 

In exceptional circumstances such as a local outbreak, settings may be asked to work with local health protection teams to carry out contact tracing and temporarily reintroduce some control measures. 

Practitioners are reminded that if they have a positive coronavirus case in their setting, they can call the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 and select option 1 for advice on the action to take in response to a positive case.

In summary, individuals should only be asked to stay home and not attend the setting for Covid-related reasons if:

  1. They or someone in their household has Covid-19 symptoms
  2. They or someone in their household has tested positive with a PCR or LFD (but they may return to the setting if a positive LFD result is followed by a subsequent negative PCR within 2 days)
  3. They have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact (until 16 August)

16 August: changes to self-isolation rules

From 16 August, the legal requirement to self-isolate for close contacts of coronavirus cases will end for people under 18 years of age and fully vaccinated adults. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and only need to isolate if they test positive for coronavirus. Further guidance on this is expected shortly. 

PACEY has updated the Coronavirus FAQs in line with this latest guidance. 

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY, commented:
“There has been a substantial amount of new guidance and advice issued by the DfE today, just one working day before settings move to Step 4 on Monday. Aside from the last minute delivery of this guidance, PACEY remains concerned that some of this will lead to further anxiety and concern for early years settings.

We are urging DfE to provide additional advice on a number of points and to monitor implementation of this final step. For example, how will parents whose child is at an early years setting or school all day be able to inform NHS Test and Trace who their child has been in close contact with? This and many more issues need to be reflected on and monitored over the next few weeks. We are once again encouraging all our members to conduct their own risk assessments and talk to their families before deciding what – if any – of their current protective measures they change. We know many have already told us they will continue with wearing appropriate face-coverings; door-step drop-off and pick-up with parents and carers as they are concerned about the increase in positive cases in early years settings reported to Ofsted.”