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FAQs on Scottish childcare and nurseries reopening

New guidance for childcare from 26 December

From 26 December, there is new guidance for schools, nurseries and other childcare providers.

At the moment, regardless of what level you live in, all childcare settings (including nurseries and after school clubs) will only be open for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. The date(s) and way in which the majority of children can return to school and childcare will be reviewed again on 2 February.

Registered childminders, however, can remain open for all children.


Will early learning and childcare settings be staying open?

Yes, however only children of keyworkers and vulnerable children will be able to attend nursery or other childcare providers between 26 December and 1 February. During this period, registered childminders can open for children from all families as normal if they choose to.

Can my child use more than one ELC setting at the moment?

If you are a keyworker your child can attend your childcare setting if it stays open. As far as is possible, your child should only attend one childcare setting in order to limit the contacts they have with other children and families If you do use two or more settings, you should let all settings know of your arrangements.


Will schools and early learning and childcare settings be staying open?

Yes, however only children of keyworkers and vulnerable children will be able to attend school or nursery. All other learning will be delivered online. Registered childminders can remain open for children from all families as normal.

Will critical childcare hubs be provided for all keyworkers?

No – schools and childcare settings can remain open for key workers and vulnerable children who currently access them. Informal childcare (like a family member, babysitter or nanny) can still be used by those people who need essential childcare (subject to some restrictions based on the level of the area you live in).

Which children will providers consider for vulnerable children’s places?

Some children may rely more on being able to attend ELC or childcare settings. Children and young people may be considered vulnerable because of factors related to their personal development, features of their family life, or because of wider influences that impact on them within their community. 

You can find out more on about the range of circumstances services should consider when offering places. If you feel your child might be eligible to continue attending, you should contact your childcare provider or your local authority.

What if my childcare provider decides to close rather than stay open?

Local authorities will try as far as possible to continue to provide funded ELC places for keyworker and vulnerable children where possible. If your normal setting closes, please contact your local authority to discuss whether an alternative place can be made available.

Can I use a registered childminder?

Registered childminders can remain open at this time and can take children from any family, not just keyworkers or vulnerable children. It’s possible that individual settings may need to close if coronavirus levels there are high or if they want to keep numbers to a minimum.

I’ve been asked to go to work and I’m not a keyworker – what childcare will be available to me and when?

It’s really important to limit contacts at this time. The Scottish Government is asking employers to be flexible with employees who are currently unable to return to work, working from home or are working under different arrangements due to childcare commitments. Informal childcare (like a friend or family member or a nanny) can be used with some restrictions.

Who counts as a key worker?

It’s up to the local council to decide who counts as a keyworker. In general, however, keyworkers include:

  • health and care workers
  • public sector workers providing emergency or critical welfare services, such as Fire, Police, Prisons, Courts, Social Workers and workers in any of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors (you can see the full list in the guidance here)
  • education and childcare staff, including support staff, who are providing education and childcare for other key workers
  • other workers in the public, private or third sector without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland. This can include other education and childcare staff who are preparing schools and early learning and childcare services for re-opening

Contact your childcare provider or local authority to find out if you qualify.

I’m a keyworker but my partner isn’t, can our children continue to attend childcare?

Childcare providers have been asked to keep the numbers of children attending to a minimum and so are in most cases only advising that people access childcare if both parents or carers are keyworkers. However, it’s worth contacting your childcare provider or local authority to double check.

You can also consider using another childcare option such as a childminder or informal childcare (family, friends or a babysitter or nanny).

Can I send my child to nursery?

Between 26 December and 1 February nurseries can stay open to provide childcare for keyworker and vulnerable children only.


Will my child’s childcare setting be safe?

Young children are less likely to be affected by or transmit the virus, and there has been a great deal of work at each ELC setting across Scotland to make sure they’re safe. Each setting must carry out a risk assessment that they’ll be able to share with you.

They will have strict policies on hygiene and ventilation, and children will be helped to wash their hands regularly. They may also make more use of outdoor space. Children will work in groups to limit contacts. Your child’s setting will be happy to talk you through all the new procedures they have in place to help you feel more comfortable.

What about physical distancing?

Children under 12 don’t need to physically distance with other children or adults. This means children can play together and staff can, for example, change nappies, hold kids’ hands and give them a hug.

Some settings might keep children in groups and limit the interaction between other children. Your setting can let you know if they’ll be doing this.

However, staff and parents will need to physically distance from each other, which is why some things, such as pick up and drop off, may change to ensure this can happen.

Every ELC setting will have its own guidelines so contact your child’s setting to learn more.

Will my child have to wear a face covering to nursery?

No, they won't need to wear face coverings. The guidance on face coverings is that under 5s shouldn’t be wearing them. (If your child is over 5 and wants to wear a face covering, then you can speak to your nursery).

What should I do if my child has coronavirus symptoms?

It is extremely important that you continue to look out for symptoms of the virus amongst your own family. The most common symptoms are:

  • new, continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature (37.8C or greater)
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste.

Anyone with symptoms, or who has had contact with someone with symptoms should not attend school. They will be asked to return home and be tested. They should remain at home and everyone in the household should self-isolate until they receive their test results. If the test is negative, everyone can stop isolating (and return to school). If the test is positive, they and everyone in their households must isolate for 10 days. 

If you can’t work while your household is isolating, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

Find out more about symptoms to look out for and getting the COVID-19 test here. 

Should I tell the nursery or childminder if my child has COVID-19 symptoms?

Yes, it’s important to let the nursery know if your child is not attending and why. It’s also important for ELC settings to record any COVID-19 symptoms among children and staff, as this can give early warning of any possible clusters of COVID-19 cases.

What happens if my child develops symptoms of COVID-19 while at ELC?

Nurseries and other ELC settings will be on the look out for symptoms. If they notice a child is unwell, or a child says they feel ill, the child will be looked after safely until they can be collected. As with any child who feels unwell at ELC, the staff will do their best to comfort and reassure your child. 

Other siblings at ELC or at school should also return home as soon as possible and self-isolate with their household. All members of the household should remain at home until the person with symptoms gets tested. 

Will everyone be told if someone in an ELC setting has symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19?

Personal information is confidential and will not be shared. But if your child has been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, they will be contacted and asked to isolate. If you can’t work because your child has isolate, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

If there is a positive case at your child’s nursery or ELC settings, all families will be told what’s happening as soon as this has been agreed with the setting, the local authority and public health. This will not include details of who has tested positive. 

If you know of any children or families who have symptoms, or test positive, it’s best not to share this information. It is up to each individual to decide if information about their health is shared

What if there is an outbreak at my child’s ELC setting?

All childcare settings will be on the lookout for potential outbreaks. This means that if you or your child shows symptoms of coronavirus you should book a test immediately and follow self-isolation guidelines. All settings will have plans in place if there is an outbreak and Health Protection Scotland will prioritise the outbreaks through “Test and Protect”.

If there is an outbreak in an ELC setting will everyone be tested? Will everyone be sent home?

If an outbreak is confirmed, the local Health Protection Team will carry out a risk assessment and work with the setting and local authority to plan the next steps. This will include who should get tested and who does not need to get tested. It is unlikely that everyone will need to be tested. The test is most reliable if you have coronavirus symptoms. However, the Health Protection Team will sometimes test wider groups of people when there is an outbreak. This is an extra public health measures to control the spread of the virus, and only when the risk assessment suggests this might be helpful. 

The risk assessment will also decide if anyone else needs to be sent home. The setting should not usually need to be closed. Any plans to send children home will be shared with families as soon as possible. 

Who counts as a close contact?

Somebody who has been near someone with coronavirus and could have been infected. Close contacts may have been near the infected person at some point in the 48 hours before their symptoms appeared, or at any time since their symptoms appeared. 

Being near someone means: 

  • face to face contact with the person within 1 metre for any length of time 
  • within 1 metre of them for one minute or longer without face to face contact 
  • within 1-2 metres of them for 15 minutes or more. 

The closer the contact, the higher the risk.

If there is a positive case in an ELC setting, will everyone in the group be a close contact?

Not necessarily. Test and Protect and the local Health Protection Team will help work out who is a close contact and needs to self-isolate and stay at home.


My child is worried about returning to nursery, how do I help?

This has been a hard time for everyone and it is no surprise that some children are worried about returning to early learning and childcare or nursery. Younger children may not be able to express their concerns to you but you may have noticed a change in their behaviour.

After being at home with you for so long it’s understandable that some kids might be hesitant about going back to nursery. Read our article on how to help with your children's worries about going back.

You might also want to speak to the nursery or childminder about how best to manage the settling in period.

Can my child have a settling in period if they aren’t used to ELC?

Speak to the setting about the best way to manage your child’s return to ELC. Under the new guidelines, ELC settings have been asked to limit the number of adults that enter the setting, so they might have to arrange a slightly different settling in period for the moment – they might suggest things like shorter visits to nursery, or they might be able to let you play with your child in an outdoor space.

Can I visit my child’s early learning and childcare setting?

All settings will still have physical distancing restrictions in place for adults. So your child’s ELC setting won’t encourage parents to enter the building, unless you really need to, to help them settle in.

This may mean changes to things like drop offs and pickups. They will be more keen than ever for you to be involved with your child’s care, so contact them to find out how you can talk to them and keep up to date with what is going on.

How will I know how my child is getting on if face to face contact is limited?

With physical distancing rules in place, you may not be able to meet face to face with the staff as much as you used to. In some settings, staff might still be able to have a physically distanced chat with you outdoors, but other settings may have other ways of communicating how your child is getting on. For example, they could send emails, texts, photos or make video calls.

My child is moving up to primary after the summer, how can I help them?

Having schools and early learning and childcare settings closed has been particularly difficult for children who are due to move from ELC to a new school. They’ve missed out on some of the preparation they would have had at nursery. We’ve compiled some tips to help prepare them for the big day.


I have heard my child will be in a ‘bubble’ at nursery, what does this mean?

Until 10 August, children in ELC settings were in “bubbles” or cohorts of 8 other children. However, given the ongoing suppression of the virus and updated scientific advice, this is not required at the moment.

Settings will still ensure that the children play together in groups, and that where possible those groups are consistent, and are looked after by the same staff members. This will avoid children coming into contact with too many other people at once.

The appropriate size of groups will depend on the age and overall number of children, and the layout of the ELC setting. However, it would be reasonable to expect children to be managed in groups up to the size encountered in primary school, for example 25 to 30 children.

Will children still get snacks and meals at nursery?

If your childcare setting usually provides meals and snacks, this can continue, although they may change the way they do this to make sure eating areas stay clean and hygienic.

Will my child be able to play with and share toys? Is this safe?

Yes. The setting will be responsible for keeping toys and equipment the children use clean and hygienic. This includes resources like playdough and water. Some settings might swap some of the toys or materials that they normally have for others that are easier to keep clean.

Can my child bring their own toys with them?

Some ELC settings may ask children not to bring their own toys into the setting with them. However, if your child has a favourite toy that helps settle them, you can ask the nursery or childminder if it’s okay for them to bring it along.

What changes to drop offs might there be?

To encourage physical distancing amongst adults there may be staggered drop offs to stop parents all dropping off their wee ones at the same time. Those travelling by car may be asked to park further away.

It is likely that you’ll have to do the drop off outdoors, as settings have been asked to limit adults coming into the building. Each ELC setting will have their own plans in place to manage this, so they will be in touch to let you know.

Parents should also wear face coverings when dropping off or picking up children from ELC settings.


Why is my child spending so much time outside? When will they start learning things they need to know for school?

Young children learn through play. Early years practitioners are very skilled at creating opportunities for children to engage with the curriculum through play, both outdoors and indoors. Playing, learning and having fun outdoors helps to improve wellbeing and resilience. It’s great for children’s physical and mental health, and also provides children with the opportunity to develop a lifelong appreciation of the natural world. There’s more and more evidence about the positive impact that learning outdoors can have on educational attainment.

Won't my child get sick if they play outside in all weathers?

It's not true that being outside in cold or wet weather will make you more likely to catch a cold or flu. With suitable clothing, children can be outside in all weathers, exploring the natural world and building their physical and mental resilience. Spending time outdoors is even more beneficial during the coronavirus pandemic, as it's harder for the virus to spread outside.

My child comes home from nursery with dirty clothes when they play outside. What can I do?

Whether children play outside or inside, they are often likely to get their clothes dirty. If it's possible, send your child to nursery in clothes which they can get messy in. If it’s difficult to afford outdoor clothing, or you have concerns about them getting messy, speak to your nursery, as they might be able to help. Many nurseries may also have outdoor jackets or play suits which children can put on to go outdoors. You could also see if you're eligible for a Best Start Grant Early Learning Payment, which can be spent on items like a coat or boots.


My child has been shielding, can they go back to early learning and childcare?

As coronavirus levels rise, advice on whether children who have been shielding should be at nursery has changed, depending on the COVID-10 protection level your area is in. For more information, go to our page on shielding guidance.

My child has additional support needs, can they go back?

Children with additional support needs can go back as well. Just speak to your early learning and childcare setting about any worries you have. We have a page with more guidance on going back to early learning and childcare and school for children with additional support needs.

For more information, you can see the full early learning and childcare services guidance from the Scottish government here.