See our frequently asked questions for nursery businesses regarding the coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak.
- Protecting your business
- Local lockdowns
- Can providers attend community activities if open, such as parent and toddler groups/soft plays? (DfE responses on 20 November)
- Can children attend more than one early years setting? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Out of School Club Guidance updated for January 2021
- Should disadvantaged 2-year-olds from households that do not work still be encouraged to attend? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Can outdoor visits to public places continue? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Can Ofsted registered providers, including childminders, continue to use their car to take children on educational visits? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Can settings conduct open days, face-to-face visits for new parents and settling-in sessions? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Can visits still take place for vulnerable children? (DfE response on 20 November)
- Can early years professionals conduct home visits? (DfE response on 20 November)
- Will the guidance on parent show-arounds be changing – providers are being encouraged to undertake virtual tours but are allowed to do in-person visits out of hours with measures in place, will this still be allowed? (DfE response on 20 November)
- Will childminder agencies (CMAs) be able to continue to conduct registration home visits? (DfE response on 20 November)
- Can organised group activities such as music, dance and drama continue as in previous guidance? If yes, is this remotely, or can they have peripatetic teachers come to settings? (DfE response on 20 November)
- What notifications do early years settings need to make when there is a confirmed case of coronavirus? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Disapplication of requirements
- Can Paediatric First Aid training continue during lockdown and, if not, what are the arrangements to ensure settings remain compliant given the extension of certificates is 25 November? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Can early years settings continue the disapplications once the national lockdown has finished? (response from DfE on 20 November)
- The two year old progress check came back into practice recently, are these still expected to be completed? (DfE response on 5 November)
- Foundation Phase Nursery provision
- Landlords in Wales charging childcare settings rent when closed
- Health and Safety Executive spot checks
- Lay-off or short time working
- What if employees do not want to come to work due to fears about coronavirus?
- If I close do I have to pay my staff?
- How can I support staff well-being at this time?
- DBS checking (Wales)
- Scottish Government childcare monitoring return
- Health and safety guidance
- Reporting incidents of COVID-19
- Informing DfE and Health and Safety Executive of staff death
- Key workers and vulnerable children
- Retainers and fees for parents (answered by our legal helpline)
- Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation
- What home learning environment resources are available for parents who choose to keep their children at home? (response from DfE on 5 November)
- Are there plans to continue monitoring children's attendance and parental confidence in using formal childcare? (response from DfE on 20 November)
- Can you confirm why maintained nursery schools (MNS) are no longer being asked to complete the schools data return. Should they now be reporting via LAs? (response from DfE on 20 November)
- Transitions in Wales
Protecting your business
- Keep track of the latest government advice – look out for NDNA’s latest Covid-19 updates
- Check your parent and staff contracts and try to plan for how you can remain open in the face of staff illness
- Check your T&Cs to ensure that parents know where they stand in terms of payments if their child has to stay away from nursery or your nursery has to close for a period of time.
- Bear in mind the Competitions and Markets Authority guidance
- Look at all the government financial support available.
Local lockdowns have ended for now and restrictions are slowly lifting. Groups of up to six from different households or two households of unlimited number can now meet up outside including in private gardens.
Find out what you can and cannot do here.
On Tuesday 16 March the First Minister set out an indicative timetable
for the cautious lifting of restrictions on a wider scale. Lifting these restrictions will be slow to begin with. However, from 26 April, as long as the virus remains supressed, much wider easing will happen.
The Welsh Government has released their 'Coming out of lockdown plan
Wales is currently in alert level 3.
From Monday 3 May
further easing of restrictions has enabled organised children’s indoor activities to recommence along with the re-introduction of extended households which will allow 2 households to come together to form an exclusive bubble who can meet and have contact indoors. Welsh Ministers will consider further measures in the next review of the regulations on 13th May.
Should disadvantaged 2-year-olds from households that do not work still be encouraged to attend?
Can outdoor visits to public places continue?
Yes. Settings should maximise the use of private outdoor space. Settings can take groups of children to outdoor public places that are open provided:
- It is for the purpose of education or childcare
- They remain within the EYFS staff child ratios
- They conduct a risk assessment in advance
- The risk assessment demonstrates that they can remain socially distant (2 metres) from other people and groups, wherever possible
- Good hygiene is maintained throughout
- Thorough handwashing happens before and after the trip.
Visits and trips
Can settings conduct open days, face-to-face visits for new parents and settling-in sessions?
In line with the roadmap, settings can resume educational day visits from 12 April 2021.
Any educational day visits must be conducted in line with relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) secure guidelines and regulations in place at that time. This includes the system of controls, such as keeping children within their consistent groups, and the COVID-19 secure measures in place at the destination.
You should undertake full and thorough risk assessments in relation to all educational visits to ensure they can be undertaken safely. As part of this risk assessment, you will need to consider what control measures need to be used and ensure they are aware of wider advice on visiting indoor and outdoor venues.
Find out more here.
Can providers attend community activities if open, such as parent and toddler groups/soft plays?
You should maximise the use of private outdoor space. Trips to indoor spaces:
You should ensure you have fully assessed the risks and have completed a risk assessment prior to an essential journey. You, parents and carers should work through the system of controls collaboratively, to identify and address any risks and allow them to jointly agree appropriate care for the children.
You should follow the guidelines relevant to the indoor space. Once inside:
- you should remain with the children in your group
- the group should socially distance from other individuals and groups
- children and staff should wash hands thoroughly on arrival and before leaving
- adults will be required to follow the face covering policy for the indoor space. This may include wearing a face covering before entering and keeping it on until they leave.
Can organised group activities such as music, dance and drama continue as in previous guidance? If yes, is this remotely, or can they have peripatetic teachers come to settings?
You should continue providing organised music, dance and drama as part of the curriculum, especially as this builds children’s confidence and supports their wellbeing. There may, however, be an additional risk of infection in environments where organised singing, chanting, playing wind instruments, dance and drama takes place.
Singing and wind instrument playing can be undertaken in line with this and other guidance, including guidance provided by the DCMS for professionals and non-professionals, performing arts - working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).
See the Music, Dance and Drama section of Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The DfE considers the extent of coronavirus (COVID-19) to be an exceptional temporary circumstance in which the staff to child ratios set out in the EYFS can be changed if necessary. Early years settings remain responsible for ensuring the safety and security of children in their care. Amendments made to regulations allow in certain circumstances for further exceptions to be made to the qualification level that staff hold in order to be counted in the ratio requirements. For more detail, read EYFS: coronavirus disapplications.
Are Inspections continuing?
Graded inspections of some registered early years providers will begin from 4 May. Ofsted will continue to carry out urgent inspections where there are significant concerns about a provider.
Ofsted continues to issue rolling updates on its website.
CIW and Estyn have issued a joint statement noting the decision that the current suspension of joint inspections will continue until at least 31 August 2021. The situation will be reviewed again during the summer term to consider the options for restarting the joint inspection programme in the future. It is aimed that the sector will receive at least 6 weeks’ notice before resuming routine joint inspections.
During the summer term they will liaise with a range of stakeholders to evaluate whether any adjustments are required to the joint-inspection framework and our arrangements in light of the pandemic.
Engagement phone calls with providers will continue during this time.
Scotland: Scaling down
Care Inspectorate: “We have taken the decision to scale down our inspections of care services and our joint inspections of local authority social work services and health and social care partnerships at this time, and put in place arrangements which will involve gathering information, assessing the level of risk in care services and establishing assurances about the quality of care people experience."
The Care Inspectorate has developed ‘Key Question 5’, a self-evaluation resource and tool which asks you to evaluate how well you are supporting children and families during COVID-19. The Care Inspectorate encourage you to complete the ‘self-evaluation tool’. Inspectors will request the completed self-evaluation from providers on a risk and sampling basis.
The Care Inspectorate asks that you do not send this to them until requested.
What notifications do early years settings need to make when there is a confirmed case of coronavirus?
You must take swift action when you become aware that someone who has attended your setting has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). 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. You will be put through to a team of advisers who will inform you what action is needed based on the latest public health advice.
Any confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the setting (either child or staff member), and/or if the setting is advised to close as a result, should be swiftly reported to Ofsted through the usual notification channels.
See our positive cases toolkit for NDNA members.
Disapplication of requirements
Find out more here: COVID-19 disapplications
The Welsh Government has decided to reintroduce the temporary relaxation of some of the requirements of the National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare until 30 June. As before, approval from the Local Authority must be obtained before any relaxing of the requirements. Further details can be found here.
Paediatric First Aid
Unless a setting is using the new regulations to disapply elements of the EYFS due to further local or national coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, providers must legally ensure a member of staff with a full PFA certificate is on site at all times when children are present, as set out in the EYFS.
Renewing paediatric first aid (PFA) certificates
If PFA certificate re-qualification 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 to 31 March 2021 at the latest. This applies to certificates which expired on or after 1 October 2020 and includes paediatric first aiders in provision registered on the General Childcare Register and all early years provision. If asked to do so, providers should be able to explain why the first aider has not been able to re-qualify and demonstrate what steps have taken to access the training. Employers or certificate holders must do their best to arrange requalification training at the earliest opportunity.
The two year old progress check came back into practice recently, are these still expected to be completed?
Updated arrangements were put in place from 26 September 2020 until 31 August 2021 to allow providers to use the specific disapplications and modifications if any local or national government imposed coronavirus restrictions impact their ability to deliver the EYFS. This includes the disapplication relating to the progress check at age 2.
See this shared guide on keeping children safe from abuse and harm. This guide brings together sources of information about the main risks children may be vulnerable to during the coronavirus pandemic and signposts parents and carers to help and support available.
Foundation Phase Nursery provision
Settings that deliver funded Foundation Phase Nursery should follow the Protective Measures document for childcare services, and where appropriate, are encouraged to follow the learning guidance for settings and schools - making reference to the guidance within updated risk assessments, policies and operational procedures.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spot checks
The HSE is carrying out unannounced spot checks on businesses including early years settings to make sure they are complying with the COVID-19 regulations. HSE inspectors will want to see documents like your risk assessment and policies in place to ensure your setting is COVID-safe. A range of materials and resources for members are available including template risk assessments and if you would like to receive copies of these please contact us. You can also view advice from our partner Citation here.
Lay-off or short time working?
Our legal helpline says:
Lay-off and short time working clauses, allow you to ask staff to stay at home or take unpaid leave if you are unable to provide them with enough work. Short time working is when hours are cut and lay-off is when staff are off work for at least one day. Staff may be able to apply for redundancy if they are laid off for either:
- 4 weeks in a row, or
- 6 weeks in any 13 week period
- Staff may be entitled to statutory guarantee pay during lay-off or short time working. The maximum entitlement is £29 per day for 5 days in any 3 month period. For more information on eligibility, see www.gov.uk.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you have to consider redundancies, and need some pointers on how to restructure your business, the experts at our partner Citation have created a checklist to help guide you through the process.
What if employees do not want to come to work due to fears about the coronavirus?
Our legal helpline says:
It is important to listen carefully to any concerns employees have and consider if any alternative arrangements can be made. It should be noted that the government has now advised that where employees are able to work from home, they should. As such if you are able to offer homeworking then you should do so.
If you are unable to offer homeworking then it would be worth considering staff taking time off as holiday or unpaid leave.
In normal circumstances you would be able to take disciplinary action when an employee refuses to attend work. As these are unprecedented circumstances we would consider exercising caution and seeking specific advice before considering disciplinary action in these circumstances.
In this guidance 'Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak' covers advice for staff who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). Shielding has been paused but staff in settings who are CEV are advised to continue to work from home where possible, but if they cannot work from home they should attend their workplace.
Read further guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
The childcare and play frequently asked-questions includes the following:
Could some of my workforce be required to shield?
The advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to follow shielding measures has now been paused. Our guidance for people, including children, who are extremely vulnerable to developing serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus because they have a particular serious underlying health condition was updated on 1 April 2021.
For staff worried about being a higher risk of more serious symptoms, the COVID-19 workforce risk assessment should be completed. Staff are encouraged to share the results with their employer who may then take appropriate action.
See Guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable from coronavirus (COVID-19) – previously known as ‘shielding’ Guidance for Wales.
If I close my nursery, do I have to pay my staff?
Regarding staff, our legal helpline says:
"Generally, if staff are ready and willing to work, but you are unable to provide work, staff will be entitled to their normal pay. It is worth checking your employment contracts to see if there are any provisions for short time working or lay-off. Any closure as a result of the Coronavirus will allow you to invoke these provisions. An employment contract can be varied with the agreement of both parties. As a result staff may be prepared to accept reduced hours or reductions in pay in order to avoid redundancies and to safeguard their jobs in the long term."
How can I support staff well-being at this time?
We know that there is a lot of pressure, anxiety and worry around at the moment.
Our associates have put together blog posts on supporting well-being at this time. These well-being blog posts can be found here.
Access our FREE online course 'Supporting Well-being in the early years workforce' here to help you to learn strategies for improving the health and well-being of yourself and your team.
The Welsh Government provided £1.3 million to support mental health services in Wales to include the C.A.L.L Helpline - a dedicated mental health helpline for Wales - can provide you with confidential listening and emotional support, and help you contact support that may be available in your local area. Call 0800 132 737 or text 'help' to 81066.
See the Government's 'Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak' guidance for support for apprentices and employers in response to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). The flexibility to suspend level 2 functional skills for level 2 apprentices has been extended. There is also information on support for apprentices who have been made redundant as a result of the pandemic. Find out more about financial support for apprenticeships in England here.
From Thursday 1 April, clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people are no longer advised to shield. However, CEV people must continue to follow the national restrictions that are in place for everyone.
From Thursday 1 April, all CEV children are able to attend early years provision, unless they have been specifically advised by their GP or clinician not to attend. CEV staff are advised to continue to work from home where possible, but if they cannot work from home, they should now attend their workplace.
Settings should continue to following the existing 'Actions for early years and childcare providers’ guidance to ensure they are providing as safe an environment as possible for children and staff. If you have CEV children or staff returning to your setting you may need to review your existing Covid-19 risk assessment and we have a range of resources available here.
Shielding advice in Wales has been paused, therefore from the 1st April, the clinically extremely vulnerable should follow the same advice as the rest of the population.
The shielding patient list will remain in place and available should the government need to ask anyone to follow shielding measures again in the future.
The DBS have issued an update stating:
"We are aware that it is taking longer than usual to process UK passport applications, as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In response to this, DBS will temporary allow expired UK passports to be used for ID checking purposes, if within 6 months of their expiry date. The applicant must be in possession of their expired passport, to use it as an identity document."
Health and safety guidance
Reporting incidents of COVID-19
New guidance is now available around what and when you need to report an incident relating to COVID-19 and how you can do this online.
The Welsh Government have issued guidance on the Covid Alert levels for Wales noting that childcare can remain open throughout all levels, there is specific guidance for Childcare and play settings which includes a number of frequently asked questions.
Does a school have to put in place arrangements for vulnerable learners and critical workers children if they close their premises for face to face learning due to public health and safety reasons due to coronavirus?
Yes – from the 4 January schools who close their premises for more than two days for reasons related to Coronavirus are required to make available on site education provision for vulnerable children and critical worker’s children from the third day of closure and onwards. This will be set out in regulations.
However, where a school has an INSET day then the school is ‘closed’ to learners. Therefore, these days do not count as a school being open for learners – either remotely or face to face.
Retainers and fees for parents
Answered by our legal helpline:
"For specific advice in relation to your individual circumstances, we would always recommend you take your own legal advice. NDNA members, have access to a legal advice helpline provided by our partner Composite Legal.
Charging retainers and fees for parents very much depends on the contract you have with parents. We appreciate that every nursery is different and while some can’t or don’t want to charge parents any fees, others need to in order to be able to survive. It’s a good idea to check what you already have in place and if you are in any doubt, contact the NDNA legal helpline. (See also our section on CMA guidance).
There is a useful Q&A for parents and carers about closures which may answer some of their queries.
How do I go about charging parents for a retainer for their child’s place?
If your service is unavailable to parents, then a retainer fee can be agreed with parents. The reason for charging the retainer fee, should be to enable you to provide the space to the parents once the service is available. You should consult with parents to find out if they are prepared to agree to a retainer fee. Any retainer fee should be agreed in writing.
What are the legal implications of a retainer or charging a fee when parents aren’t sending their child to nursery?
Contracts are based on agreement. As we are in unprecedented circumstances, it is unlikely that contracts would deal with the current situation. As such, the safest route would be to agree individually with parents how the contracts should be amended to reflect the current circumstances.
Following the ruling on 15 January 2021, from the Supreme Court the FCA has published a policy checker and FAQs
to help policyholders find out if their insurance policy may cover business interruption losses caused by COVID-19 as a result of the FCA’s test case and what you can do next.
The policy checker helps you to check whether the wording in your policy is the same as, or very similar to, the 21 policies in the ‘representative sample’ considered by the Courts in the FCA’s test case. If so, the High Court and the Supreme Court rulings provide important guidance on the way your policy should be interpreted and on the strength of your claim, based on the wording of your policy. The policy checker will indicate whether your policy is likely to provide cover and the policyholder FAQs will give some further information about how to make a claim.
This does not constitute legal advice and as all situations and agreements will be different, you should always seek independent legal advice. NDNA members have free access to our legal helpline.
The CMA has issued an open letter to the early years sector combined with its guidance to childcare providers on consumer rights during the pandemic.
For specific advice in relation to your individual circumstances, we would always recommend you take your own legal advice. As an NDNA member, you have access to a legal advice helpline provided by our partner Composite Legal.
Update 23 December: The DfE has updated its guidance on charging parents. Providers need to know what the guidance says and use their own judgement re their own circumstances and situation. We would advise our members to ring our free legal helpline to seek legal advice and further clarification for their own situation.
Charging parents and carers if they are unable to take up their child’s place
Providers should continue to be fair and balanced in dealings with parents or carers and must continue to avoid unfair charging practices. Providers should refer to:
The general principle is that providers should not charge parents or carers for services that cannot be provided. If there is a barrier to accessing childcare, based on government guidance or the law, the provider should not charge the parents or carers for this period. For example, from 28 September people in England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Accordingly, if a child is self-isolating having been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, the provider should not charge the parent or carer for this period.
As an NDNA member you have free access to our legal helpline.
Is there a difference between a nursery retainer, a contribution and voluntary contributions?
Yes – retainers or contributions to hold places while a setting is closed would be included in any agreement between the business and parents while a voluntary contribution is something that isn’t bound by a formal agreement but is a response to a specific period.
Under normal circumstances a retainer might also act like a deposit to hold a place for a future starting date, such as when a child reaches a certain age or when the parent plans to start working.
Under the new CMA advice, contributions covering a proportion of your fixed costs during a period of closure outside of your control are clearly allowed. However these should be low (there is no definition of low because every setting will be different) and link to unavoidable costs settings face.
This might include property costs, service agreements, utilities and other fixed costs but should also reflect any savings that result from a closure period, such as staff furlough or reduced costs.
You might want to provide a breakdown of what makes up this retainer or fee contribution, to demonstrate to a parent how much it would cost to ensure the place is retained for their child for an agreed period of time.
The CMA’s guidance is clear that it is unlikely to object to a term within a contract which allows a business to request payment of a small contribution to its costs while the provision of the service is disrupted. If, after reading the CMA advice, you are unsure as to whether or not your charges were fair and reasonable, you should seek legal advice. As an NDNA member you have free access to our legal helpline.
Can nurseries ask for voluntary contributions from parents?
So long as the payment is voluntary i.e. a parent/carer has not be placed under any pressure to make that payment and has confirmed in writing their willingness to do so, there is nothing in law that prevents you from doing this.
If you speak to your parents about why you are asking for voluntary payments during a period of forced closure you might want to think about:
- The costs that they help cover and lack of assistance for other lost income
- That these contributions are entirely voluntary and there is no commitment from the parent to keep paying them
- You shouldn’t make children’s places or the survival of the setting part of the agreement as this may be viewed as a coercive business practice.
My current nursery contract states that I can charge full fees during enforced closures. Have I acted within the law by charging full fees during the pandemic?
The CMA’s guidance makes clear that a contract term requiring parents to continue to make full or substantial payment to providers that are not providing the services agreed in the contract, are likely to be unfair and unenforceable.
COVID-19 has presented new challenges across the board and terms that were designed to cover closures for training days or adverse weather are likely to be found to be unfair if enforced for longer closures. Even if agreed by the parents, if a term is seen to be unfair in court, it will be overturned and you would have to refund money taken as a result of it.
The CMA’s advice states that charging full or a high proportion of fees (over 50% is likely to be in this category) during a period where you haven’t been able to provide the agreed service is likely to be viewed as unfair and you may want to think about refunds in those circumstances. Before acting always seek independent legal advice. Our legal advice line is a free resource for members.
When the pandemic started I changed my nursery contract to cover charges while I was closed and the parent signed up to this agreement – is this OK?
Where you and a parent both agree to revise your obligations under the contract e.g. suspend the contract or to voluntarily make some payments during temporary breaks in service, you are complying with consumer laws and the CMA is unlikely to take enforcement action.
The arrangement must:
- Have been freely entered into by your parents – they shouldn’t have been pressured into agreeing it by saying a child’s place is under threat or the setting would likely close without it
- Allow parents the opportunity to decline and/or give you notice to end the existing contract.
However, if you changed your contract in a way that allows you to impose new terms and charges, or unreasonably increase prices (regardless of the parents’ wishes) is likely to be considered unfair.
Contract terms that are found unfair in law are struck out and parents would no longer be bound by them.
Are nursery notice periods and cancellation fees enforceable during the pandemic?
The CMA received several complaints about providers using excessive cancellation fees or lengthy notice periods, to make a parent continue to pay even where the service was closed during lockdown.
No contract should include disproportionate sanctions for ending the contract and providers should not use terms requiring notice to be given or payment of cancellation fees if the provider is unable or unwilling to actually provide the service as agreed in the contract.
Notice periods are appropriate so long as they are reasonable in length. The length of a notice period should generally reflect how long it would take to replace a child. The CMA suggests settings with long waiting lists should consider short notice periods as there would be little or no detriment to the business when a child leaves.
Cancelation fees are unlikely to be enforceable unless you can demonstrate a realistic loss of income to the business as a direct result of a child leaving.
Download our 'CMA Advice on parental fees during lock down: Dos and Don’ts' document.
Download CMA Dos and Don’ts
Are there plans to continue monitoring children's attendance and parental confidence in using formal childcare? (DfE response on 20 November)
For the summer term 2021 the DfE will publish bi-weekly statistics on attendance at early years settings.