This guidance covers Ofsted-registered childcare providers for children of all ages, including childminders, nurseries and wraparound childcare and clubs (before- and after- school and holiday care). This guidance does not cover nannies or au pairs, as they work in the child/children’s family home.
Vital role of early years and childcare sector
Those who work in the education and childcare sector rightly take their place next to our NHS staff and other critical workers as central to our efforts in battling this virus.
Nurseries, pre-schools, childminders and providers of childcare for school-age children around the country are taking the lead in supporting families through this difficult time. We are keenly aware that the extraordinary measures that have been taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) present an unprecedented challenge for childcare providers as well as the communities they serve.
We appreciate the selfless dedication that childcare staff demonstrate in their work every single day. During this difficult time, we are asking you to go further still so that we can collectively address the challenges we face. You are vital to the country’s response to this crisis, and we offer our full support and gratitude during this difficult time.
As this crisis progresses, we will aim to provide you with as much certainty and flexibility as possible and will do all we can to support the vital service you are providing. This is a fast-moving situation and we ask you to work with us as we put in place the advice and support you need.
We expect childcare providers, schools and local authorities to work together to ensure that different settings are supported to stay open wherever possible, taking into account their circumstances and cohort. We want local authorities to help coordinate what this means, working with childcare settings to deliver the services required. We know this may take some time to organise at a local level and we ask you to keep your local authority updated so they know which settings are offering care to priority children and can support them accordingly.
What are childcare providers responsible for?
Childcare providers are responsible for caring for vulnerable children, and the children of workers critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. Providers should try to remain open to support these children. However, we understand that this may not be possible for all settings, for example, due to staff shortages or illness.
Childcare providers should work with local authorities to agree the provision needed locally to support the needs identified.
What are local authorities responsible for?
Local authorities are responsible for coordinating a response to the new arrangements. Working with educational settings, they should use the critical worker list and the definition of vulnerable children to support childcare settings to ensure that there are sufficient places for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children.
Local authorities are also responsible for monitoring demand and capacity. This may involve working with childcare providers to provide places in alternative settings if necessary.
They are also responsible for supporting childcare providers to assess the risks for children and young people whose education, health and care (EHC) plans they maintain and ensuring those children are safely cared for whether at a setting or at home.
Are childcare settings expected to share resources?
If settings are experiencing high demand for places or severe staff shortages, local authorities will coordinate support from other settings in the area. Settings are expected to be flexible and work together where required.
Can provision be shared across local authority areas?
If a childcare setting is unable to open, local authorities should try to coordinate provision for children who meet the criteria in other settings in their area. If this is not possible, local authorities should consider working with neighbouring local authorities while keeping in mind the impact on children.
Why do we have to prioritise children?
The first aim of the partial closure measures set out by the Secretary of State for Education is to reduce the overall population of children and families moving around local areas as far as possible, in order to further reduce the number of social interactions and thus flatten the upward curve of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The second aim is to continue to care for children who are vulnerable, or whose parents are critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response so that they can continue to work where alternative childcare arrangements cannot be made.
How are critical workers defined?
Children with a parent or carer who is listed on the government’s critical worker list should be considered for a childcare place, so long as their job cannot be done from home.
Many parents working in these sectors will be able to ensure that their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
We will monitor closely the experience of schools and childcare providers identifying critical workers and their capacity to respond to the needs of critical workers.
We know you may need help to identify critical workers. Government is working this week with sector representatives and local authorities to ensure you have the clarity you need in identifying critical workers. We will publish updates to this guidance if it is necessary to provide further clarification over the identification of critical workers.
If childcare providers are open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, can they accept other children if they have enough staff and space?
Care should be provided to children of critical workers and vulnerable children only in order to limit the spread of the virus. Other children should remain at home, in order to further reduce the number of social interactions and thus flatten the upward curve of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Many working parents who are critical workers may also be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.
How are vulnerable children defined?
Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those children and young people up to the age of 25 with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Those who have a social worker include children who have a child protection plan and those who are looked after by the local authority. Children may also be deemed vulnerable if they have been assessed as being in need or otherwise meet the definition in section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by settings in consultation with the local authority and parents, to decide whether they still need a childcare place, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services.
Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.
Eligibility for free school meals, the early years pupil premium, or the disadvantaged 2-year-old entitlement should not be determining factors in assessing vulnerability.
We will work with childcare providers, schools, colleges and local authorities to help identify the children who most need support.
Can settings take a flexible approach to the vulnerable children definition depending on their local circumstances?
We know that settings will have knowledge of children they consider vulnerable who have not yet been formally recognised as such, for example, children who have been referred to children’s social care but do not yet have a social worker. It is reasonable for settings to decide to include such children, although they should take care to balance this with overall numbers of children attending their setting. Settings should liaise with their local authority, which will be closely monitoring supply and demand and where their vulnerable children are attending
Eligibility for free school meals, the early years pupil premium, or the disadvantaged 2-year-old offer should not, in and of themselves, be a determining factors in assessing vulnerability.
Do children in foster care come under the definition of vulnerable children?
Yes, all children who are looked after by the local authority are eligible.
For all looked-after children, local authorities will be able to identify them and ensure that foster carers know that they will be eligible for a place and how to access support.
Is it compulsory for critical workers to take up a place?
Many parents working in these critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
When making alternative arrangements, parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category, such as grandparents, or friends or family members with underlying conditions.
Is it compulsory for parents of vulnerable children to take up their place?
There is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend their early years setting, so long as it is safe for them to do so. In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring their child, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and setting should explore the reasons for this directly with the parent.
Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their setting in consultation with the local authority and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school/college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services. Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.
How do we identify which children are the children of critical workers?
We know many childcare providers will have already spoken with parents/carers to identify who requires a place.
If it proves necessary, settings can ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or payslip.
Childcare providers can take a decision not to provide a place where they are confident that a parent does not meet the government definition of a critical worker. If problems occur that cannot be resolved between the provider and parents, settings should speak to their local authority.
Should settings only offer places to children where both their parents are critical workers alongside children of single-parent critical workers?
Children with at least one parent/carer who is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response can go to a setting if required.
However, many families with parents working in critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
Can childcare practitioners send their children to schools and childcare settings?
Childcare practitioners are critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response, so can send their children to school or childcare settings.
However, as with all critical workers, many families will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
What will happen to funding for free childcare offers during this period of disruption?
On 17 March 2020, the Chancellor confirmed the government would continue to pay for free early years entitlement places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds even if settings were closed on the advice of the government, or children were not able to attend due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
We expect local authorities to continue early entitlements funding for all childminders, schools and nurseries.
What additional business support is available to childcare providers during this period of disruption?
The government has announced a package of support for workers and businesses which will benefit childcare providers.
The Chancellor has announced that childcare providers will be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year. That means non-local authority providers of childcare (registered with Ofsted and providing EYFS) will pay no business rates in 2020 to 2021, from 1 April. Local authorities will be working on this.
Nurseries in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief will benefit from small business grant funding of £10,000. This includes nurseries who are eligible for a charitable status relief – they will also pay no business rates at all in 2020 to 2021.
Some settings operate from shared spaces which may now benefit from a 100% rates relief. We strongly encourage those shared spaces to reflect any business rates saving in their rent charges.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means that for employees who are not working but kept on payroll, the government will contribute 80% of each worker’s wages of up to £2,500, backdated to 1 March 2020. Providers can access this scheme while continuing to be paid the early entitlements funding via local authorities.
The Business Interruption Loan Scheme will now be interest-free for 12 months (rather than 6).
VAT payments due with VAT returns between now and end June 2020 will be deferred, UK VAT registered businesses will not need make those payments until the end of the financial year.
Working tax credit has been increased by £1000 a year.
The government has also announced a £20 per week increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element and an increase in the Local Housing Allowance rates for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants so that it covers the cheapest third of local rents.
For the self-employed (including childminders) the minimum income floor will be temporarily relaxed, meaning Universal Credit can be accessed at a rate to match statutory sick pay (SSP).
Can childcare providers continue to charge parents during coronavirus-related closures?
We are working hard to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on all parts of our society, including individuals and business. We urge all childcare providers to be reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents, given the great uncertainty they will be facing too.
We will not be clawing back early years entitlements funding from local authorities during closures, or where children are withdrawn because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This protects a significant proportion of early years providers’ income. The government has already introduced a range of measures, as outlined above, to support businesses and workers during this period. We will be keeping what further support businesses may require under close review.
Can providers continue to charge for consumables such as nappies?
Providers may charge for consumables in line with national entitlements guidance. As per existing guidance, they should consider the impact of charges on disadvantaged families.
Will critical workers or parents of vulnerable children be penalised if they do not send their child to a setting?
Children with a parent or carer who is listed on the government’s critical worker list are eligible for a place.
However, many parents working in these sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.
Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their setting in consultation with the local authority and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. Many children with EHC plans can safely remain at home.
There is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend childcare, as long as it is safe for them to do so. In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring their child to the setting, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and setting should explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent.
What should settings do if vulnerable children do not attend?
Vulnerable children who already have a social worker will still be visited and/or monitored as frequently as possible. Social workers will remain in contact with these children and their families, including remotely if needed.
Settings should ensure they have a process in place to check on the welfare of any child in need who does not attend on any day.
Some children with an EHC plan can have their needs met at home, namely those who are not receiving personal care from their setting, or whose limited need for personal care can be met in their family home. As part of the government’s emergency powers, we will modify the statutory duties on local authorities to maintain the precise provision in EHC plans and will expect educational settings and local authorities to use their reasonable endeavours to support these children and their families.
Local authorities will need to work with their health and social care partners to ensure individuals’ needs can continue to be met safely.
Staying open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children
What public health advice should childcare providers follow?
Providers should continue to follow the advice from Public Health England on handwashing and other measures to limit the risk of spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
What are the expectations on settings regarding staying in touch with parents whose child is at home?
We recognise that many settings have already shared resources for children who are at home and are grateful for this.
The Department for Education is working with the BBC and other partners to provide advice and support directly to parents, including online resources they can access for their children at home.
Settings should work with local authorities to monitor with the welfare of vulnerable children who are not attending school, and other pupils they might wish to keep in touch with, for safeguarding purposes.
Will it be mandatory for all registered childcare providers to remain open in some form?
We are asking all childcare providers to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers where possible. We understand that some settings may be unable to stay open, especially if they are experiencing severe staff shortages due to self-isolation and sickness. Local authorities will work with local providers to determine the best way to support vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
For how long will childcare providers be closed?
Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), childcare providers will be closed to most children until further notice.
Are childcare providers expected to stay open if only one vulnerable or critical worker child attends?
No. If providing suitable care for a child is not possible we ask that arrangements are made to merge provision with other settings, in consultation with the local authority.
What if a provider has a large number of vulnerable or critical worker children?
Since the aim of closures is to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), providers may wish to make arrangements with other settings to reduce the number of children in their care if a large number of children are eligible to attend.
Should providers open for longer to care for the children of critical workers?
Providers should try to be as flexible as possible for critical workers who work shifts or atypical hours.
Will registered childcare providers and schools be open over the Easter holidays for holiday clubs and childcare?
Where possible, we would encourage childcare providers and schools to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.
Are children of critical workers or vulnerable children expected to attend their usual school or childcare provider?
We are expecting the majority of settings to stay open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children so they can continue to attend their usual provider, but we acknowledge this may not be possible some - such as small rural settings.
Where a setting is unable to stay open, local authorities will work with local providers to determine the best way to support vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
How can providers continue to offer care if staff are sick or self-isolating?
Childcare providers who are experiencing staff shortages should work with their local authority to identify how appropriate provision can be put in place. They can pool staff with another setting, or take on qualified and DBS-checked staff from other educational settings (including local registered childminders) which have been closed, or invite local registered childminders to work with them at the setting. Registered childminders can already do this under the 50/50 registration flexibility they have.
Providers must obtain criminal records checks for new members of staff including volunteers. If an application has been made but the DBS disclosure has not arrived, new staff and volunteers can still care for children as long they are supervised by someone who has a DBS check. Under no circumstances can an unchecked member of staff be left alone with children.
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
Does the Early Years Foundation Stage still apply?
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework, which sets the standards that schools and childcare providers must meet for the learning, development and care of children under 5, applies in full at this time, with the exception of the EYFS profile which has been cancelled for this year.
We are keeping the regulatory position under review and will provide further information if any changes to the EYFS statutory framework are made during this period.
Can providers vary staff to child ratios?
Paragraph 3.30 of the EYFS states:
‘Exceptionally, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained, changes to the ratios may be made.’
We consider the extent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to be an exceptional temporary circumstance in which the staff to child ratios set out in the EYFS can be changed if necessary. However, childcare providers or schools remain responsible for ensuring the safety and security of children in their care.
Can providers take on new staff (including volunteers) even if a Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) check hasn’t been completed?
Paragraph 3.11 of the EYFS states:
‘Providers must obtain criminal records checks for new members of staff including volunteers. If an application has been made but the DBS disclosure has not arrived, new staff and volunteers can still care for children as long they are supervised by someone who has a DBS check. Under no circumstances can an unchecked member of staff be left alone with children.’
Do providers still need to meet the learning and development requirements in sections 1 and 2 of the EYFS?
Early years settings are required to deliver the learning and development as set out in the EYFS framework. The educational programmes provide high-level summaries of the sorts of curriculum activities practitioners and teachers must deliver. Detailed curriculum or teaching approaches are not prescribed – settings have scope to tailor these according to what is appropriate to the children in their care at this time. The EYFS profile has been cancelled for this year.
Will schools assess children against the EYFS profile this academic year?
On 18 March 2020, the Secretary of State for Education announced that there will be no exams or assessments in schools this summer. This includes no assessment of children in reception year against the early learning goals which form the EYFS profile.
What happens if staff need to renew their paediatric first aid certificates?
If paediatric first aid certificate requalification training is prevented for reasons associated directly with coronavirus (COVID-19) or by complying with related government advice, the validity of current certificates can be extended by up to 3 months. This applies to certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020.
Should providers still take children outside?
Outdoor activity in private outdoor space should continue. However, childcare providers should follow the latest government advice and avoid using public spaces.
What needs to happen if a child is attending a different setting than usual?
Important information should be provided to the parent on day one, including emergency contact details, dietary requirements, medical needs etc. to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of children.
What arrangements do providers need to make about meals for children attending the setting?
Where maintained nursery schools are open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, they should continue to provide free school meals to children who would normally receive them.
In all other settings where free school meals do not apply, providers may charge for meals in line with national entitlements guidance. As per existing guidance, they should consider the impact of charges on disadvantaged families.
What are the registration requirements for settings providing childcare to vulnerable children and critical workers’ children?
Information about Ofsted’s registration requirements is available.
What about Ofsted inspections?
The Secretary of State for Education announced the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections on 17 March 2020.
The responsibilities that providers have on safeguarding have not changed, and Ofsted inspections triggered by safeguarding concerns will continue.
See Ofsted’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19) for more information.
What is Ofsted doing about unregistered provision?
Ofsted is aware that these are extremely worrying times for both providers and parents. However, the health, safety and well-being of children is our first consideration and government continues to expect childcare to take place only within registered settings.
Ofsted will consider legal enforcement action against those who set up unregistered childcare, in line with their duties as a regulator. This is in order to keep children as safe as possible in these difficult times.
See Ofsted’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19) for more information.
Like all early years providers, childminders must close and should remain open only if they are caring for vulnerable children or the children of critical workers.
Will early years entitlement funding continue for childminders?
Yes. We expect local authorities to follow the DfE’s position and to continue early entitlements funding for all childminders currently delivering funded hours to children in their setting, regardless of whether children are able to attend due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Can childminders get involved in supporting the continuation of provision for priority children?
Under existing registration arrangements, childminders can work for up to 50% of the time on non-domestic premises.
Childminders who do not already have approval to work up to 50% of their time on non-domestic premises will need to seek approval from Ofsted, after seeking initial support from their local authority. If childminders have the capacity and there is a local need, they could help support with staff shortages in centre-based childcare provision.
I am a childminder, will I have to work over the Easter holidays?
Where possible, we would encourage childminders to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.
Can childminders work with other childminders to look after more priority children together?
Yes – up to 3 childminders (or a mix of up to 3 childminders and assistants) can work together in the same domestic premises. If more than 3 childminders work together they will need to apply to Ofsted to register childcare on domestic premises.
Four or more childminders (or a mix of 4 or more childminders and assistants) can work together in the same domestic premises, which would enable them to care for larger groups of children and still meet ratio requirements. Further details of requirements for childminders and childcare on domestic premises is available.
In all cases childminders should only be looking after vulnerable children or children of critical workers.