FAQs - Coronavirus

In February 2022 the Prime Minister announced his plan for ‘living with coronavirus’ in England with removal of the restrictions and guidance we have been living with over the past two years. Below we have answered the most commonly asked questions to help you operate during this next phase of the pandemic. 

The Department for Education helpline in England can also help to answer questions. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday by calling 0800 046 8687 or emailing DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk. PACEY members can contact the legal helpline for advice.

Living with COVID-19 update

Why has COVID advice changed?

Earlier this year the Prime Minister announced his plan for ‘living with coronavirus’ with removal of the restrictions and guidance in England that we have been living with over the past two years. This marks a shift from Government restrictions towards ‘exercising personal judgement’ when it comes to managing COVID-19 risks.  

What guidance do I need to be aware of?

The DfE’s specific guidance on managing COVID-19 in early years and childcare settings has now been withdrawn. You should instead refer to the general public health guidance published by UKHSA and the advice for education and childcare settings on managing infectious diseases.  

We have outlined various links to relevant guidance below.     

General guidance for the public :

Education and childcare guidance:  

Are the rules different for vaccinated and unvaccinated people?

There is no difference in the rules and public health advice for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. However those who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of illness from COVID-19, something to be aware of when considering risk of transmission.   

COVID-19 testing

Who can access COVID testing, and how?

Most people can no longer access free testing for COVID-19. Tests can be bought privately from supermarkets or pharmacies however the results from these types of tests cannot be registered with the Government.  

People who are at highest risk of becoming seriously unwell with COVID are still eligible to receive free lateral flow tests from Government to use if they have COVID-19 symptoms and they may be eligible for new COVID treatments if they test positive. These people should have already been informed via the NHS that they are in this group and should follow the separate guidance.  

What is the advice for people who test positive for coronavirus?

Anyone who has accessed coronavirus testing and received a positive result should follow current UKHSA public health guidance under the heading 'What to do if you have a positive COVID-19 test result'.   

This states that adults who test positive should ‘try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people’ for 5 days, as long as they are well enough to return to their normal activities after this. There is additional advice to take if you are forced to leave the house for any reason during your isolation period (wearing a face mask, avoiding crowded places, keeping activities outdoors where possible and stepping up hygiene measures). The Government has also outlined actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your household if you have tested positive.  

There is different advice for children and young people under the age of 18 which recommends they stay at home for 3 days, not 5. After this, they can return to their education setting and go back to normal activities, as long as they are well enough and no longer have a high temperature.

What is the advice for household contacts of a positive test?

People who live in households with someone who has COVID-19 or those who have stayed overnight are at a higher risk of infection due to prolonged exposure. They are not required to isolate unless they develop symptoms and become unwell themselves.  

Anyone who is a close contact of a positive case should follow guidance to minimise risk to others, such as 

  • Minimising contact with those at highest risk of serious illness 
  • Limit close contact with people outside your household where possible, especially in enclosed, crowded or poorly ventilated spaces (and wear a face mask when you cannot do this) 
  • Stepping up hygiene and cleaning measures 

Government guidance states that children who are household contacts of someone with COVID-19 can continue to attend their education setting.  

Why is the isolation period only 3 days for children?

The recommended ‘stay at home’ period for children is based on public health evidence around reduced infectious periods and balancing any disruption to their education and learning. Remember that you can have your own policies around accepting children with a positive test into the setting, although you will have to consider your charging policy if you do so.   

I still have test kits left over. What should I do with these?

The current advice from UKHSA and DfE is to keep hold of any leftover coronavirus test kits, avoid handing these out to staff and await further communication on the next action to take.  

Symptoms of respiratory infection

What symptoms do I need to look out for?

The recognised symptoms of COVID, the flu and other respiratory infections has been expanded and now includes: 

  • continuous cough 
  • high temperature, fever or chills 
  • loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell 
  • shortness of breath 
  • unexplained tiredness, lack of energy 
  • muscle aches or pains that are not due to exercise 
  • not wanting to eat or not feeling hungry 
  • headache that is unusual or longer lasting than usual 
  • sore throat, stuffy or runny nose 
  • diarrhoea, feeling sick or being sick 

What is the advice for people with symptoms of respiratory infection?

UKHSA guidance advises that if you have any of the symptoms of respiratory infections (listed above) AND you have a high temperature or are too unwell to carry out normal activitie, go to work or your education setting, you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.  

There is no set timeframe, the guidance states: ““You can go back to your normal activities when you feel better or do not have a high temperature.” 

This means that children who have mild symptoms but are otherwise well and do not have a high temperature are not required to stay home and can attend their education setting as normal.  

Operating safely  

How can I reduce the risk of coronavirus and respiratory illness in my setting?

Settings should have proportionate control measures to reduce the risk of transmission of respiratory illness, focusing on these areas:  

  • Ensuring good hygiene for everyone  
  • Maintaining appropriate cleaning regimes, with regular cleaning of areas and equipment   
  • Keeping occupied spaces well ventilated   
  • Following public health advice and encourage uptake of the vaccine 

You will also find it helpful to refer to the guidance on Reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace 

PACEY members can also get support on in the hygiene and prevention area of PACEY’s Covid spotlight, including our course on CEY smart. 

Do I need to notify anyone if I have a coronavirus case in my setting?

Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) announced that as of 21 February 2022, early years and childcare settings in England are no longer required to notify Ofsted (or a childminding agency that the provider is registered with) of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the setting.      

What do I need to be aware of for those at higher risk of illness?

There is separate guidance for people who have been informed by the NHS that they are at highest risk of becoming seriously unwell and who might be eligible for new COVID-19 treatments. If you have staff or children in your setting who have been notified that they are in this group, you should consider this in your risk assessments.  

What do I need to do in the event of an outbreak of COVID/respiratory illness?

Government guidance on health protection in education settings advises that you contact your Health Protection Team if there is: 

  • a higher than previously experienced and/or rapidly increasing number of staff or student absences due to acute respiratory infection 
  • evidence of severe disease due to respiratory infection, for example if a pupil, student, child or staff member is admitted to hospital 

The HPT will then conduct a risk assessment based on your situation and decide if any actions is needed such as: reinforcement of baseline infection prevention and control measures, reintroduction of face masks, temporary reduction in mixing, communication to parents/carers.  

How can I encourage staff to get the vaccine?

Whilst the vaccination is not mandatory for those working in education and childcare settings, it is encouraged as a way to help stop the spread of the virus. You can encourage vaccine take up and enable staff who are eligible for a vaccination to attend booked appointments where possible.  

Public Health England has a range of free downloadable resources including posters, videos and social media assets to help support vaccine uptake in your setting.  

Some members of staff or families you care for may still choose not to get the vaccine. In this case, you can choose to use your other tools to enhance safety, maintaining hygiene and cleaning standards, and ensuring good ventilation in the setting. 

What do I need to know about Ofsted inspections?

Ofsted is still going ahead with inspections of early years and childcare settings.  

Who will be prioritised for inspection?   

Ofsted is prioritising providers that are overdue inspection from the last cycle, newly registered providers, providers with an inadequate and requires improvement grade and those where safeguarding concerns have been raised. Ofsted will also continue with registration and approvals work, if providers wish to go ahead with this.  

Ofsted inspection deferrals  

Settings are encouraged to ask for their inspection to be deferred if they feel they are unable to go ahead with a planned inspection, for example struggling with staff absence in the latest COVID-19 wave. You should request a deferral at the point of being notified about the inspection. Ofsted says it will look at these requests ‘favourably and sensitively', unless they have urgent safeguarding concerns. 

Further information can be found in Ofsted’s deferral policy 

Policies, insurance and charging

What policies and paperwork relating to COVID-19 do I need?

You no longer need to explicitly cover COVID-19 in your risk assessments, instead you may choose to build this into your policies and procedures around management of illnesses in your setting.  

PACEY has regularly updated key sample policies (including health and safety, risk assessment, illness and infection control and food and drink) for you to adapt to the specific needs of your setting. These policies are being updated as guidance changes.  

You should also have emergency plans setting out what you do in various emergency scenarios – this includes public health threats including outbreak of a disease.   

Do I need to discard my COVID-specific paperwork and resources?

Due to the nature of the pandemic and the potential for future outbreaks, we’d recommend keeping your coronavirus paperwork archived rather than discarding them. Although we hope these documents won’t be needed, there is a chance that you may wish to refer to these in the future.  

What does the Living with COVID update mean in terms of my insurance?

Although the legal requirement to isolate has been removed, the public health advice is that you should stay home and avoid contact with people if you test positive for COVID-19 or display symptoms and are too unwell to continue with normal activities.   

 As a childminder you have a legal duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of each of your employees and all of the children that you are minding and you should ensure all risk assessments are undertaken in line with government guidance.   

 This means that if you operate against the public health guidance, for example by accepting a COVID positive into your setting then this action could be deemed reckless in terms of your insurance under the Reasonable Precautions condition and the policy holder may not be covered.   

 If you are not insured with PACEY please check with your own insurance provider. 

What does the Living with COVID update mean in terms of charging parents?

We advise that you work with families to come to suitable mutual agreements based on their individual circumstances. It is important that your contracts remain balanced and reasonable and you should always consider the potential implications on your business. For example, you may agree to reduce charges if you feel that a family will be unable to afford the full charge if they cannot work during a child’s isolation. In general, if your service is open and available, then charges can be made. 

You may decide not to charge in these circumstances or to charge a reduced retainer as this may support parents to self-isolate, even if there is not a legal requirement to do so.  You should consider if this would be beneficial to your business as part of wider efforts to avoid transmission within your setting.  Any such changes to your usual contract would need to be agreed with the parent in writing. All childcare businesses are individual, and you will know your business and your families best.  

PACEY members can contact our legal team for advice on individual contract issues. You can also access information from the Competitions Market’s Authority on consumer law.  

As every situation is unique, we would encourage all PACEY members to ring the free legal helpline if they wish to discuss their situation in more detail.   

The early years and childcare sector is playing a key part in the country’s ongoing response to coronavirus.

Liz Bayram, PACEY Chief Executive, adds; 
"I just wanted you to know that every single member of staff and every volunteer at PACEY is standing firmly behind you; working tirelessly to ensure you have the support you need to get through this difficult time. We are a small charity but we make up for it with our determination and dedication to support all of our members as well as the wider sector.”