Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): re-opening schools guide

Non-statutory guidance for local authorities and schools in their planning for a safe, phased opening in August 2020.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): re-opening schools guide
Residential, boarding and hostel accommodation

Supplementary guidance for residential boarding/hostel accommodation in educational facilities

Developed in consultation with regulatory bodies members of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, the Boarding Schools Association, and local authority school residence providers.


This supplementary guidance is intended for school care accommodation services, provided for the purpose of pupils in attendance at a public, independent or grant-aided school, and consisting of the provision of residential accommodation.[1]

These include independent boarding school facilities and residence halls provided by local authority secondary schools.

The guidance is produced in support of the work of the Education Recovery Group (ERG). All activity aimed at the reopening of accommodation services will be in keeping with public health guidance as determined by the Chief Medical Officer and Health Protection Scotland (HPS) - including any specific HPS guidance relating to residential schools. It will be in line with the Scottish Government “COVID-19 a Framework for Decision Making”, and ERG guidance covering all school settings.

Schools are already preparing for the substantial alterations and other considerations they anticipate to enable re-opening. For the mainstream independent boarding schools, the Boarding School Association has, after consultation, also prepared a checklist covering issues including facilities, curriculum, kitchens, boarding houses, medical, activities, staffing, wellbeing, and new pupils and visitors. Each residential facility will undertake a discrete risk assessment based on their own school estate, buildings capacity and pupil roll, in conjunction with staff and the managing authorities of Governing Boards where they exist.

Preparing for reopening of facilities

The primary issues for all schools will be the health and wellbeing of pupils, staff and families. To allow for the highest level of preparation and testing of school facilities, schools will require clear, early and unequivocal national awareness as to the dates of possible reopening.

In a residential school environment, alternating pupil attendance would have to be considered in the context of the use of the wider school estate, while separate arrangements will have to be considered for day pupils as part of the wider issue of day/boarding mix. The staggered return of pupils could assist returning international pupils meet any isolation requirements first – dependent on travel advice. Likewise, residential facilities may be limited in the extent to which shared space can be re-purposed, although outdoor and other facilities are likely to be employed. The probable lack of nearby similar schools means that sharing of facilities between schools is unlikely to be possible.

Every setting will undertake its own specific risk assessment, considering local circumstances, the domestic arrangements of pupils and staff, travel requirements, school capacity and public health and hygiene requirements. The assessment will have to consider the overall number of pupils, staffing levels, the capacity of each residential hall or house, the mix of shared dormitories and individual bedroom facilities, and shared communal facilities. In turn, these preparations will assist in determining whether boarding houses can be considered discrete family units.

These will also include contingency provision for symptomatic pupils or staff, those with underlying health conditions, and consideration of supply chains such as catering, external pastoral support, and the use of school and public transport.

Schools should inform the Care Inspectorate of their intention to re-open and proposed re-opening dates.


As referenced in the principal guidance schools will have to consider if facilities are currently in use in another capacity relating to COVID-19, such as hub school provision for key worker or vulnerable children, or the provision of facilities and support for front-line workers.

Determining capacity for teaching and other non-residential spaces will be done in line with the principal guidance. Boarding facilities are not in the position to alter days in school or stagger attendance. Appropriate distancing will be observed where possible, or other measures put in place to meet public health requirements, subject to local discretion.


Schools should organise boarding pupils into small groups who stay separate from other groups in the schools, in order to reduce risk of possible transmission while required measures are in place. Such groups may include relevant members of residential staff and each group should observe appropriate physical distancing, particularly with any pupil or member of staff outside their household. Such groups may share common areas for certain activities. This would also reduce the need for wider isolation should symptoms be identified in any individual.

Incoming pupils

Dependent on public health and travel advice, schools may seek to ask international boarders, or those from outside the remit of Scottish public health guidance, to return early for the Autumn term in order to carry out any required quarantine period. This may include those service children in boarding schools whose parents are serving overseas. This will require specific confirmation from residential care and health protection authorities.

Schools that can provide assurance that a suitably equipped boarding house can count as “accommodation” for the purposes of public health guidance, may be in the position that pupils can re-enter the country knowing that they will be safely looked after at school or, where appropriate, by guardians. As testing regimes develop (see below) quarantine requirements may diminish.

Likewise, schools with responsibility for guardians will also be required to assess specific guidance for those guardians they work with.


Procedures are in place for the local testing of key staff displaying symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

However, schools will need to consider wider testing of pupils and staff – with the guidance and support of national public health authorities. Regular monitoring may be appropriate. Staff will monitor pupils, checking for symptoms and asking those presenting as unwell to go into an isolated area while medical advice is sought. Individual institutions can consider isolation facilities suitable to their property and public health guidelines.

Depending on public health guidance, contact tracing registers may be set up and identify which boarders and adults are on site. This would include recording visitors to the site, including parents.

Additional public health considerations

Establishments should follow all of the requirements in the principal guidance for schools. In addition, they should consider the following requirements:

  • residential pupils showing symptoms will require to be isolated and tested
  • pupils should not travel to the school if showing symptoms – schools will need to be clear of country of origin policies concerning travel, quarantine and other guidance, as well as cultural expectations. It may be the expectation of some nationals that face coverings be worn, for instance
  • risk assessments will be required for pupils and staff at relevant establishments who are at risk of serious illness through underlying conditions. Consideration should be given to whether alternative care arrangements may be more appropriate for clinically vulnerable children. While avoiding the transmission of COVID19 remains the priority, schools should consider the emotional well-being of students, especially those who are already vulnerable to mental health issues. This includes those who may have had to complete repeated periods of isolation (during one holiday period) in their 'home' country and then in the UK.
  • thorough risk assessments should be undertaken for any new groupings or households formed within the facility (see Groupings/Households) above. There is an increased risk that staff and children may not be able to adhere to physical distancing in such households. Appropriate efforts should be made to maintain physical distancing where possible, particularly with any pupil or member of staff outside their household.
  • where distancing is not possible, appropriate alternative mitigation measures should be implemented, aligned with the principal guidance
  • where possible, individual rooms with en suite washing and toilet facilities may be provided to reduce interactions
  • boarding facilities should provide appropriate hand hygiene facilities (eg. hand sanitiser) in common spaces. Bathrooms should be fully supplied for handwashing and drying.
  • schools should consider whether boarders should be permitted to leave school premises in free time, having regard to the need to minimise unnecessary interactions with others off the school premises. This will also apply to health procedures in place for flexi-boarders, and school residence pupils due to return home at weekends or during holidays. These factors should be considered as part of risk assessments.
  • the use of relevant facilities by external groups, or visitors attending school events, should remain subject to public health advice
  • resources shared between, rather than within, households (such as board games, magazines and books, snacks etc.) should be restricted until public health advice changes
  • local health protection teams should be contacted in the event of any cases to ensure a potential outbreak is dealt with promptly

Establishments may also find the existing Scottish Government guidance for residential children’s houses, residential schools and secure care facilities on staffing, social distancing and self-isolation useful.