DfE publishes guidance for early years settings on coronavirus

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Department for Education has this afternoon published guidance for the sector on early years and childcare closures due to Covid-19.

The DfE has published guidance for early years settings on Covid-19
The DfE has published guidance for early years settings on Covid-19

The guidance covers what the Government expects Ofsted-registered childcare providers to do to care for children of key workers critical to the Covid-19 response, and vulnerable children. 

Childcare providers will be closed for most children until further notice and can only take children of key workers, as defined by the Government, and vulnerable children, e.g children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

The guidance is for childminders, nurseries and wraparound care and clubs (before- and after-school,) and holiday clubs.

The Government 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 circumstances and cohort.

Local authorities will help co-ordinate what this means, working with childcare settings to deliver services that are 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,’ it states.

We have summarised some of the key questions and answers from the guidance below, and the Government says it will be updated as needed.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19): early years and childcare closures guidance is available in full here

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.rs 

Childcare providers should work with local authorities to agree the provision needed locally to support the needs identified.

Local authorities are responsible for:

co-ordinating 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.

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. This could also mean working with other local authority areas to share provision.

How are critical workers (i.e ‘key 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.
  • It also says that many children of critical workers may be also be able to ensure their child lis kept at home. The guidance says that the government is working with sector representatives and local authorities to help settings to identify critical workers, and will publish updates to this guidance if it is necessary to provide more clarification to identify key workers.
  • 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.
  • Providers cannot accept other children, even if they have enough staff and space.
  • Children with at least one parent/carer who is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response can go to a setting if required.

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.

How do we identify which children are the children of critical workers?

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.

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.

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 to support businesses and workers during this period. We will be keeping what further support businesses may require under close review.

Will it be mandatory for all registered childcare providers to remain open in some form?

The Government is asking all childcare providers to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers where possible. 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.

Childcare providers would not be expected to stay open if only one vulnerable or key worker child attends.

In this case, arrangements should be 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.

What are the expectations on settings regarding staying in touch with parents whose child is at home?

The Government says it recognises 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.

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.

What about the EYFS?

The learning and development requirements of the EYFS still apply, but settings can adapt curriculum activities to what is appropriate for the children in their setting.

Children in Reception year not be assessed against the early learning goals which form the EYFS profile, which has been cancelled this year.

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.’

The Government considers the 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.

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.

Providing meals

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.


Childminders can worke together to provide care for children of key workers and vulnerable children only.

Childminders can also work in nurseries.

Under existing registration arrangements, childminders can work for up to 50 per cent of the time on non-domestic premises.

Childminders who do not already have approval to work up to 50 per cent 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.

The guidance states, ‘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.’ 

  • Separately, children’s minister Vicky Ford has sent a message to the sector. Read the minister’s letter to the sector here

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