This guidance was developed to support a safe return to school for all children, young people and staff in August 2020. It has since been updated on a regular basis to support the continuing safe implementation of a full-time return to school, and most recently to reflect the levels approach within Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's Strategic Framework (herein the ‘Strategic Framework’). It takes full account of the evolving COVID-19 situation in Scotland, the experience of reopening schools to date, the advice received from scientific and public health experts and the advice of the Education Recovery Group and other key stakeholders including children and young people.
The Education Recovery Group continues to monitor carefully the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 in Scotland and in school communities, to inform guidance around safety and wellbeing in schools. Infographics providing a weekly snapshot of current COVID-related data in relation to children and young people, and their associated workforce, such as the number of tests and positive cases reported, and the attendance and absence of both children and staff in childcare and school settings.
The scientific advice that informed the Scottish Government’s decision to reopen schools and the initial development of this guidance was published on 16 July. This updates and builds on an initial summary of key scientific and public health advice published on 26 May 2020. This guidance has been informed by further scientific advice on specific aspects of school reopening which was published on 30 October 2020.
The guidance applies to all local authorities and schools (primary/secondary/special/school hostels/residential) under their management. Local authorities should ensure that any external organisations involved in delivering services in schools (e.g. contracted facilities management services) are required to follow this guidance. It should also be used by grant-aided schools and independent schools to support their recovery efforts. Please read the supplementary guidance for residential children’s house, residential schools, secure care facilities and residential respite/short break services for children and young people, developed in partnership with relevant stakeholders. COVID-19 guidance for universities, colleges and student accommodation providers may also be relevant to some.
Recognising its specific context, separate guidance for the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and childcare sector has been developed. There is also specific guidance for childminders and for Out of school care. Guidance for youth work and the Community Learning and Development Sector is also available.
Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of local authorities with regard to health and safety, public health and their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Local authorities must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, they must have regard to the advice relating to coronavirus from the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland.
Local authorities and schools should exercise their judgement when implementing this guidance, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children, young people and staff taking into account local circumstances. Where this guidance states that local authorities and schools:
- “should” do something, there is a clear expectation, agreed by all key partners, that it should be done
- “may” or “may wish” to do something, the relevant sections have been included as examples of relevant practice that can be considered if appropriate. Local variations are likely
As set out in the Strategic Framework, to best tackle the virus and protect people, we are moving to an approach based on five levels of protection. This allows for rapid and proportionate responses to be taken – locally or nationally – using a transparent range of measures and options. It also allows us to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach, where a part of the country with lower rates of infection lives with restrictions designed to suppress the virus in higher rate areas.
The Strategic Framework also reiterates that the unique impacts of the pandemic on children and young people, coupled with the necessity to ensure it does not prevent them receiving the best start in life, mean we must prioritise keeping schools and regulated childcare safe, open and welcoming. It is recognised that, to enable this to happen, enhanced mitigations may need to be put in place in other parts of society.
The protective measures set out in this guidance represent the ‘core’ or standard protective measures that should be in place in all schools across all five protection levels. These measures have been augmented in line with scientific and public health advice in the current context of rising prevalence levels. Implementation and adherence to these measures is essential to ensuring the ongoing safety of children and young people, as well as the staff who have worked hard to keep settings open.
These standard protective measures represent the full suite of measures required at levels 0-2 of the Strategic Framework. At levels 3 and 4 of the Strategic Framework, some enhanced protective measures have been identified which aim to tackle specific areas of higher potential risk as prevalence increases, including for those people most clinically at risk. We have set out these enhanced protective measures. Local authorities and schools who are in an area subject to Level 3 or 4 restrictions should, in addition to the standard protective measures in this guidance, implement these enhanced measures with a view to ensuring that schools can remain open safely.
In addition to the implementation of these mitigations, local authorities and schools will also need to be able to adapt to local issues, and specifically to local outbreaks. This will closely involve local authorities and local Public Health Teams.
Neither the Strategic Framework nor this guidance require any automatic move to school closures or remote or blended learning as a result of specific levels being attained. The measures put in place across wider society at different levels of the Strategic Framework have been designed precisely to avoid this eventuality, and to reduce community transmission sufficiently to allow schools to remain open safely. However, the use of targeted remote learning remains an important contingency for schools at all levels of the Strategic Framework. There may be circumstances in which, based on clear evidence and public health considerations, or other relevant factors (e.g. minimum staffing requirements) specific schools require either to close, or to implement remote learning for some children and young people, for a defined period of time. All such decisions will continue to be made by local incident management teams working in partnership, and on the independent advice of local Directors of Public Health, who will take full account of school safety and wider public health considerations in line with their statutory duties. Similar decisions may require to be taken by local authorities in conjunction with schools where staffing constraints (e.g. due to self-isolation or shielding) or other matters make such a move unavoidable.
Changes in incidence of COVID-19, and the impact of implementation of this guidance in schools, will be closely monitored at the national and local level. The guidance will be kept under review and updated when necessary.