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Routine protective measures in schools, early learning and childcare (ELC) settings and daycare of children's services: child rights and wellbeing impact assessment

Impact assessment of revised schools guidance and guidance for the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) sector which seek to ensure routine protective measures are a proportionate and appropriate response to competing harms.


Introduction

Policy aim

The revised Schools guidance and guidance for the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) sector seek to ensure routine protective measures are a proportionate and appropriate response to competing harms. They are predicated on the principles that: i) mitigations in schools should be retained for no longer than is necessary based on the state of the epidemic and evidence about risk, and ii) that there should be a presumption against placing a greater restriction on children and young people than on the rest of society.

In so doing, development of the policy has taken careful account of the evolving risk environment in schools and wider communities, and seeks to ensure that only those mitigations that are necessary and proportionate to ensure the safety of school communities are retained.

Where possible, alignment with equivalent measures across wider society is deemed beneficial to support ease of understanding and subsequent adherence. This is particularly applicable in respect of self-isolation, physical distancing, face coverings, contact tracing and vulnerable people.

Background

On 22 February 2022 the Scottish Government published an update to Scotland's Strategic Framework, setting out a new staged approach to easing protective measures to help Scotland manage and recover from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It updated the strategic intent from a focus on suppressing cases to managing COVID-19 effectively, primarily through adaptations and health measures that will strengthen our resilience and recovery. The intent set out the Strategic Framework is to rely, as far as possible, much less on legal requirements and more on people and organisations making and sustaining the adaptations to behaviours and physical environments that will improve our resilience to the virus and help keep it in check.

One of the Scottish Government's top priorities has been, and will remain, to keep schools, early learning and childcare (ELC) settings and daycare of children's services open and safe. This is in line with advice from the World Health Organisation and elsewhere, and has helped to ensure continuity of the care, education and support they provide to children, families and communities.

The suite of COVID-19 safety guidance for schools, ELC settings, school-age childcare and childminding services has been kept under close review based on expert advice from the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues, through consultation with the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) and in partnership other stakeholder groups.

The measures set out within our various guidance for schools, ELC settings, school-age childcare and childminding services support the best possible outcomes for children with appropriate and proportionate protective measures, which are now more closely aligned with those across society. This reflects the current level of risk posed by the virus.

In addition to partners on CERG, continuous engagement with public health experts, staff, parents and representative bodies has been undertaken develop all measures and to minimise the operational and educational impacts, while keeping children and staff safe.

For ELC and daycare of children's services, the suite of COVID-19 guidance has been amalgamated, updated and published on 17 March 2022. Relevant recommended changes should be implemented from 18 April, although settings may begin to implement these sooner if they wish, following their own risk assessment.

Revised Routine Protective Measures guidance for schools was published on 17 March 2022 to take effect from the start of the summer term in April 2022. This guidance applies to all local authorities and primary/secondary/special/school hostels/residential schools under their management, and all external organisations involved in delivering services in schools (e.g. contracted facilities management services) in the delivery of education in Scotland. It should also be used by grant‑aided schools and independent schools.

Decision making

Throughout the pandemic decisions on closure and re-opening of schools and childcare services have been informed by scientific advice and discussion and agreement through a number of groups. For schools and childcare, the main forums for decision-making have been the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) work streams and through the Working Group on ELC and Childcare Recovery.

The Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group was established in March 2020 to apply the advice coming to the four nations from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) and other appropriate sources of evidence and information and use it to inform local decisions in Scotland during the pandemic.

Later in 2020 the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues was convened as a sub-group of the COVID-19 Advisory Group. It was established to provide increased resource on scientific advice for education and children's issues.

The COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) was established in April 2020 to support government decision making by providing insight into the practicalities around re-opening schools and childcare. It is jointly chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and the CoSLA Spokesperson for Children and Young People, and members includes representation from local government, professional association, parents, and young people.

The Working Group on ELC and Childcare Sector Recovery was created to provide support to the childcare sector through the relevant representative bodies, in response to the needs brought about by COVID-19. The group's work sits within the wider architecture of the CERG and the Critical Childcare and ELC workstreams and is designed to ensure that the private, third and childminding sectors are able to input into the work of the workstreams. The Working Group on ELC and Childcare Sector Recovery membership is drawn from the representative bodies from across the childcare sector (Care and Learning Alliance, Early Years Scotland, National Day Nurseries Association, Scottish Childminding Association and The Scottish Out of School Care Network) together with the Care Inspectorate, COSLA and Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government, in common with all UK nations, also takes advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in relation to vaccination policy and delivery across Scotland.

Context

On 22 February 2022 the Scottish Government published an update to Scotland's Strategic Framework, setting out a new staged approach to easing protective measures to help Scotland manage and recover from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It updated the strategic intent from a focus on suppressing cases to managing COVID-19 effectively, primarily through adaptations and health measures that will strengthen our resilience and recovery. The intent being to rely, as far as possible, much less on legal measures and more on people and organisations making and sustaining the adaptations to behaviours and physical environments that will improve our resilience to the virus and help keep it in check.

In line with advice from the World Health Organisation and elsewhere, one of the Scottish Government's top priorities has been, and will remain, to keep schools and ELC settings open and safe, and to ensure continuity of the care, education and support they provide to children, families and communities.

Revised guidance

The current guidance for schools, ELC settings, school-age childcare and childminding services has been kept under close review based on advice from the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues, and through consultation with the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) and other stakeholder groups. The guidance has been updated to reflect the updated Strategic Framework. This means that the guidance supports a strategic move over time to managing rather than suppressing the virus, and that they support the best possible outcomes for children. We will therefore have appropriate and proportionate protective measures that are aligned with those across society and reflect the current level of risk posed by the virus.

Continuous engagement with public health experts, staff, parents and representative bodies have been undertaken to develop the routine protective measures to minimise the operational and educational impacts, while keeping children and staff safe.

In summary

Due to the relatively lower vulnerability of children to harm arising from COVID infection, and the high vaccination coverage of the working age adult population, the routine protective measures that remain in place in schools and ELC settings are:

  • children, young people and staff should stay at home and self-isolate if they:
    • have symptoms of COVID-19, whether they feel unwell or not
    • have tested positive, even if asymptomatic
    • are required to self-isolate for any other reason e.g. travel-related reasons
    • are identified as a close contact and are over 18 years and 4 months and not fully vaccinated
  • good hand and respiratory hygiene and surface cleaning in ELC and school environments and on dedicated school transport
  • an ongoing focus on the importance of good ventilation and the potential for CO2 monitors to be utilised to monitor air quality in enclosed spaces, with the goal that all school buildings, including all learning and teaching spaces, and ELC settings should be assessed regularly for ventilation issues, taking remedial action where required.
  • physical distancing will not be necessary among learners, but staff should continue to take reasonable steps to keep a safe distance from other adults in communal areas (and between adults and school-aged children and young people wherever possible) in line with the recommended mitigations for other workplaces.
  • the use of face coverings is a recommended mitigation in certain parts of the school or ELC e.g. for adults and secondary age learners when in communal areas or moving around the building and in ELC settings where 1m distancing cannot be maintained.
  • arrangements for dedicated school transport should follow the general guidance for public transport on the use of face coverings, cleaning, hygiene and ventilation
  • ongoing need for outbreak management capability, including active surveillance
  • assessments on the use of PPE should continue to be undertaken for those who work in close contact with children and young people
  • asymptomatic testing for children and young people in secondary schools and for school and ELC staff should be in line with the wider Test and Protect Transition Plan. At the time of writing it is expected that routine asymptomatic testing will end from 18 April 2022.

Scottish Government will continue to review and update this document where required. Any future iterations will reflect an increased understanding of these impacts as the amount of data and research available, continues to grow.

This impact assessment should be read in conjunction with impact assessments developed in parallel, namely, a combined Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) and Fairer Scotland Duty assessment (FSDA).

Contact

Email: CERG@gov.scot

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