FAQs - Coronavirus

Unsurprisingly there have been thousands of questions asked in recent weeks and months about the impact COVID-19 will have on your childcare business. Remember that the Department for Education, Ofsted, and other government departments are producing guidance and FAQs about COVID-19 which may help. 

The Department for Education in England helpline can help to answer questions related to education about COVID-19. 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.

We've collated the most frequently asked questions and grouped them by theme. 

UPDATE: On 19 July England moved to Step 4 of the Government's roadmap out of lockdown. The latest guidance for early years and childcare can be found here.  All the FAQs reflect the latest guidance.

Close contacts and self-isolation

Who can attend my setting?

All children can attend early years and childcare settings. Any children or staff members who have coronavirus symptoms or have tested positive for the virus should follow Public Health England stay at home guidance and isolate at home.

The recognised ‘main’ COVID-19 symptoms are any of the following:

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)

Can a child attend my setting if a member of their household tests positive for coronavirus?

Any person under the age of 18 years and 6 months is exempt from isolation if they are identified as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case (as long as they do not test positive or develop symptoms themselves). This means children who live in a household with a positive case are allowed to continue attending your setting. Their parents will be advised by NHS Test and Trace that the child takes a PCR test, although this is not a legal requirement. Those that do take a PCR test are allowed to attend the setting whilst awaiting their result and will only need to isolate if the test is returned positive.

This is government guidance and you will know your setting and your families best. You could ask your parents how they may feel about this scenario and, if you feel it is necessary, consider updating your policies to say, for example, that children who are close contacts should stay away from your setting until they have their test results. As part of this, you would also need to consider your charging policy (see section below on policies and charging). Remember it is your setting and you can put in place additional arrangements if you feel it is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone in your setting.  

How is contact tracing being carried out?

NHS Test and Trace is carrying out contact tracing for early years and childcare settings. You no longer have this responsibility as a registered provider.

NHS Test and Trace works with individuals who tested positive (or their parent/guardian) to identify and issue advice to those they have been in close contact with.

Settings may on rare occasions be asked to assist NHS Test and Trace with information to help carry out the contact tracing. Settings may also hear from local health protection teams for help with contact tracing in the event of local outbreaks (see section below).

Who could be defined as a 'close contact' in my setting?

A child being in a setting with another child who has tested positive for coronavirus is not necessarily identified as a close contact.  Being identified as a close contact usually depends on the extent to which a person has had prolonged social contact with a positive case and NHS Test and Trace will be best placed to determine this.

Can I refuse to allow a close contact to attend my setting?

The DfE states that providers can use their ‘reasonable judgement’ to decide to refuse a child entry to their setting if they feel it is necessary to protect others in the setting against potential coronavirus infection. The DfE reminds providers to consider all circumstances and current public health advice before coming to this decision.

You should weigh up the pros and cons of deciding to refuse a child into your setting, and have conversations about this scenario with parents in advance to set your expectations and come to reasonable agreements. As part of this you may also have to update your relevant policies.

Operating during the pandemic

How can I reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in my setting?

The DfE recommends that settings have proportionate control measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, focusing on these four 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 on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of coronavirus

You should have these measures set out in your risk assessment. See PACEY’s sample and template coronavirus risk assessment here. You also need to be prepared that in the event of an outbreak, or if you are contacted by a local health protection team and instructed to do so, you may need to take enhanced measures set out in your outbreak management plan (refer to section on outbreaks below).  

You will also find it helpful to refer to the COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings outside the home guidance.

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

What to do if you have a coronavirus case in the setting 

What do I do if a member of staff or child in my setting develops symptoms?

If anyone in the setting becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, or has a loss of, or change in, their normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia), they must be sent home and advised to follow COVID-19 guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, which sets out that they must self-isolate for at least 10 days and should arrange to have a PCR test to see if they have coronavirus.

If a child is awaiting collection, they should be moved, if possible, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door with appropriate adult supervision. Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation. If it is not possible to isolate them, move them to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If they need to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should be taken to a separate bathroom if possible with enhanced cleaning in place.

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).

As is usual practice, in an emergency, call 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk. Anyone with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms should not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

Any members of staff who have helped someone with symptoms and any children who have been in close contact with them do not need to go home to self-isolate. However, they must self-isolate and arrange for a test if they develop symptoms themselves (in which case, they should arrange a test), or they have been advised to do so by NHS Test and Trace. If their test is then positive, they must self-isolate

In the vast majority of cases, settings and parents and carers will be in agreement that a child with coronavirus 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 setting can take the decision to refuse the child if in their reasonable judgement it is necessary to protect the other children and staff from possible infection). Any such decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and the current public health advice.

What if a child in my setting or member of staff has tested positive for coronavirus?

If a child or member of staff tests positive, you must notify Ofsted (or the childminder agency you are registered with). Reports should be made as soon as possible, ideally within 14 days as a maximum. Guidance on reporting confirmed cases can be found here.

You can call the DfE advice helpline on 0800 046 8687 and select option 1 for advice on actions to take in response to a positive case. They will escalate your issue to a local health protection team who will let you know if any of the measures in your outbreak management plan should be taken.

If you have had multiple cases within your setting this may class as an ‘outbreak’. Refer to the section below on what to do in the event of an outbreak.

I am a childminder with a positive case in my household. Do I need to close? What if I am fully vaccinated?

If a member of your household has tested positive for coronavirus or has symptoms, you cannot accept children into your setting. You must wait until all household members have finished isolation and/or sickness periods, whichever is the longest.

However, childminders can continue to look after children on other premises – e.g. other domestic premises or approved non-domestic premises. It may be beneficial to have backup arrangements in place by building relationships with local childminders with whom you may be able to work in the event that you have a positive case in your household. Remember that you should notify Ofsted to let them know if you are working in other premises. As always, talk to your families about the arrangements you may be able to put in place if this situation to ensure they are supportive. You should also review your risk assessment and check your public liability insurance before making a temporary change to your premises.

You can read more about making a temporary change to your premises in DfE’s Q&A document here.

PACEY recognises that this is a challenging situation for childminders and the families they support who have to deal with these temporary closures. We are seeking DfE advice on whether there are any further mitigations that childminders can take to enable their setting to remain open if they have a positive case in their household.

I am a childminder with a ‘close contact’ in my household, who does not have symptoms or a positive test. Do I need to close?

If the childminder's household member is a close contact of a positive case but does not have symptoms or a positive test, the childminding setting can remain open, as long as the close contact does not have any contact with the children in the setting. The household members should follow the advice for all close contacts set out above.

What to do in the event of an outbreak

What is defined as an ‘outbreak’ within my setting?

The Government’s contingency framework describes the principles of managing local outbreaks of COVID-19 in education and childcare settings. In this framework, the definition of an outbreak depends on the size of the setting.

  • For settings with a total of 20 people or less (staff and children) 2 cases in 10 days where those two people are likely to have mixed with each other, is considered an outbreak.
  • For larger settings, 5 cases within 10 days where those people mix with each other (or 10% of the total number of people in the setting, whichever is reached first) is considered an outbreak.

Remember that all settings are unique, and you should use your judgement to consider whether you need to take additional measures for the safety of those in your setting.

If in doubt, you should call the DfE’s dedicated advice service who will escalate the issue to your local health protection team where necessary and advise if any additional action is required, such as implementing elements of your outbreak management plan. You can reach them by calling the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 and selecting option 1 for advice on the action to take in response to a positive case.

The Government may also offer local areas of particular concern an ‘enhanced response package’ to help limit increases in transmission.

How do I know whether to take extra measures in my setting? And what if I think I have an outbreak but haven’t been contacted by NHS Test and Trace?

For most settings, it will make sense to think about taking extra action if the number of positive cases in your setting substantially increases.

You should call the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687 and select Option 1 to speak to the DfE’s dedicated advice team. They will let you know if any additional measures or actions need to be taken.

What does my outbreak management plan need to include?

As stated within the Department for Education’s early years FAQs “You should have outbreak management plans outlining how you would operate if there were an outbreak in your setting or local area. Given the detrimental impact that restrictions on education can have on children, any measures in settings should only ever be considered as a last resort, kept to the minimum number of settings or groups possible, and for the shortest amount of time possible.

See PACEY’s sample outbreak management plan which is a free download for PACEY members which outlines some of the measures you may wish to include.

Example measures are set out in the Government’s contingency framework although note that this also covers larger types of education and childcare settings. The measures you choose will be individual to your setting. If you have any doubts, your local health protection team can advise on action to take.

Coronavirus testing and vaccinations

What is the rapid testing programme in early years settings?

Currently the DfE strongly encourages staff to continue taking twice weekly home tests (lateral flow devices) to identify any asymptomatic cases. The Government has said it will review this at the end of September. Childminding settings may also want to consider doing the same with other household members.

Anyone with suspected coronavirus symptoms needs to take a PCR test and isolate in line with Public Health England guidelines.  

How do I access and order rapid tests?

PVI nurseries and pre-schools have been receiving LFD testing kits directly since March 2021. They should direct queries around supply ordering and delivery to NHS Test and Trace on 119 (rather than the DfE Helpline which was the previous contact for these queries).

The DfE has a dedicated sharing platform with resources around the rapid testing programme for PVI nurseries here.

Childminders can access rapid tests by either:

  • Attending a test site to get tested where they will be able to see how to take the test or pick up tests to do at home. Find your nearest test site here or check your local council website.
  • Attending a collection site to collect tests to do at home (you can obtain two boxes of seven tests). Find your nearest collection site here:
  • Ordering tests online (you can order one box per day of seven tests for home delivery).

 

What do I do if a member of staff tests positive from a lateral flow device test?

The LFD test will give a result in around 30 minutes. Staff must report their result (whether positive, negative or void) to Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed either online or by telephone as per the instructions in the home test kit. If your rapid test result is positive, you should self-isolate immediately (failure to do so could result in a fine). You should then request a PCR test to confirm the result as soon as possible, and continue to follow the ‘stay at home’ guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection. The PCR test must be taken within two days of the positive LFD test result (those working in childcare and early years are eligible for priority access to PCR testing). If the PCR result is negative this ‘overrides’ the rapid test result and the staff member can return to the early years setting. 

PACEY worked with DfE to allow childminders to state their profession (as well as other early years and childcare practitioners) when reporting their result. 

Some people may be eligible to receive a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment from their Local Authority if told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

 

How can I encourage members of staff to get the coronavirus vaccine?

The vaccine is currently available to anyone over the age of 18 (and 16-17 year olds are advised to get their first dose only) and children aged 12-17 with health conditions that put them at higher risk from Covid-19 or who live with a vulnerable adult. For more information on vaccinations visit the NHS website.

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 such as regular asymptomatic testing of staff, maintaining hygiene and cleaning standards, and ensuring good ventilation in the setting.

 

Contracts and charging

How do I manage paperwork and policies with Covid-19?

You will need to continue to review your existing policies and procedures to ensure that they adequately cover the changes in circumstances and to ensure you can operate safely.

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 updated regularly as guidance changes.

You can also access a variety of paperwork in our Covid-19 reopening toolkit spotlight here.

Can I charge a parent who chooses to keep their child at home?

The legal requirement for close contacts to self-isolate if the individual is under 18 years of age or fully vaccinated (2 weeks minimum from final dose) was lifted on 16 August 2021. After this date, if parents choose to keep children who are close contacts at home (when they are no longer required by law to) the legal position generally remains that if your service is open and available, then charges can be made.

As always 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 the child’s isolation.

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 an outbreak 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.

What was the information shared by CMA regarding COVID-19 and retainer fees?

At the end of April 2020, The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation regarding the early years sector and charging retainer fees during the COVID-19 pandemic. After this was announced, PACEY worked closely with CMA alongside sector colleagues the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) and the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) to provide evidence and information about the complex financial issues in the early years sector.

The CMA then issued an open letter to the sector as well as guidance specifically on Covid-19 restrictions and consumer law advice for nurseries and early years settings. 

Our PACEY contracts are regularly reviewed by our legal team. In light of this advice and guidance from The CMA regarding voluntary ‘retainer’ fees, we have re-checked our contracts and have needed no change at this point.

Where can I find further information and support around the CMA?

In regards to the CMA guidance and advice regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and charging voluntary/retainer fees, we have some FAQs available to members here.

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 number can be found here.

Vulnerable people and shielding

What do I do if I have vulnerable children or staff in my setting?

UPDATE: Following clinical studies showing that children and young people are at very low risk of serious illness from coronavirus, those aged under 18 in England and Wales are no longer considered Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and have been removed from the Shielded Patient List. These people and their families will be informed of this change via a letter from the Department for Health and Social Care. Further information can be found in this Q&A document.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else, however as they are at higher risk of becoming ill from coronavirus, there are additional precautions in place in the guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable. Whilst shielding was paused from 1 April 2021, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to take extra precautions.

All children should attend early years provision, school, college, wraparound childcare and out-of-school settings, 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. If you or any parents have any concerns about welcoming back a child who was previously shielding, you will find some information here.   

In your coronavirus risk assessment you should set out any additional measures and precautions for vulnerable people in your setting.

Financial support and wellbeing

What financial support is available if I have to close my setting due to self-isolation?

If you’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app, you may be eligible to apply for a Test and Trace Support Payment of £500.

You may be eligible if you are on a low income and:

  • you’re employed or self-employed
  • you, or a child you’re the parent or guardian of, have been told to self-isolate due to coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • you cannot work from home and will lose income by self-isolating or staying at home to care for the child

You need to claim the payment within 42 days of you (or your child’s) first day of self-isolation.

Find out more here.

Discretionary payments of £500 are also available for people on low incomes who are not on means-tested benefits but who may still face hardship as a result of the requirement to self-isolate. Your local authority may have additional eligibility criteria in place for these discretionary payments so contact your LA to ask about this.

What other financial support is available to early years and childcare providers?

You can use this short questionnaire to help identify what your business would be eligible for from the government

Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) - Self-employed childminders can claim a grant through the coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) scheme. The fifth instalment is now open for applications.

Coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) / furlough scheme – This scheme was due to close in March 2021, but has now been extended until 30 September 2021.

  • For periods ended on or before 30 June 2021 you can claim 80% of an employee’s usual salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
  • From 1 July 2021, the level of grant will be reduced each month and the employer will be asked to contribute towards the cost of your furloughed employees wages.
  • Employers will need to pay for employer National Insurance contributions and pensions costs.
  • Find out more

Recovery loan scheme – The scheme is open until 31 December 2021 and will make available loans between £25,001 and £10 million, and asset and invoice finance between £1000 and £10 million. Find out more.

Mortgage holidays will continue to be on offer to those customers struggling to make their mortgage payments through the COVID-19 outbreak. Some banks are also offering further support to those struggling to repay personal loans. Contact your bank or building society to see what they can offer you. 

How can I look after my mental health and that of my staff?

We have listed some useful resources and help below if you need it.

  1. NHS Every Mind Matters
    Having good mental health helps us to make sense of difficult times and enjoy our lives more. Take a look at expert advice, tips and more from the NHS support.
  2. Mind 
    It is absolutely normal to be feeling anxious and worried about Coronavirus. Resources from Mind recognises this and give you tips and practical support to help.
  3. Public Health England
    Access some easy to read advice and information on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
  4. Samaritans
    The coronavirus outbreak is affecting the way many of us live our lives, and it's normal that this will affect people's mental health. The Samaritans have gathered some resources together to help. If you need someone to talk to, please don't forget you can call the Samaritans at any time, for free, by calling 116 123.

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.”