Measures to reduce risks
There have been changes to the COVID-19 vaccination programme in 2023 and vaccination is no longer available all year round. As per advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) COVID-19 vaccination is moving, over the course of 2023, towards a more targeted offer during seasonal vaccination campaigns to protect those at higher risk of sever COVID-19. Further information regarding who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines can be found on NHS Inform.
It is a legal requirement that local authorities ensure that school risk assessments are conducted and regularly reviewed and updated (including at points when the guidance is updated). In implementing this guidance, it is imperative that schools and local authorities continue to take a balanced approach, and take every appropriate step to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff in schools.
The risk assessment will help school leaders and employers decide whether they have done everything they need to. Employers have a legal duty to consult their employees on health and safety in good time. School risk assessments should be shared with and be easily accessible to staff and trade unions, including catering and facilities management teams and contractors where appropriate. It is imperative that all members of the school community understand what measures are being put in place and why.
Routine protective measures
Schools should retain a number of routine protective measures to ensure that risks arising from coronavirus can be appropriately mitigated. These routine measures reflect advice from the Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues and align with those that will be retained in many parts of wider society.
All children, young people, staff and visitors to schools should continue to implement and strictly observe these measures.
Stay at home guidance
The guidance on symptoms of a respiratory infection, including COVID-19, has changed in Scotland. If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and you have a high temperature or are too unwell to carry out normal activities, stay at home and avoid contact with other people, until you no longer have a high temperature (if you had one) or until you no longer feel unwell.
Children and young people aged 18 and under with mild symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat or a slight cough, who are otherwise well, do not need to stay at home and can continue to attend education settings.
Children and young people should only stay at home if they are unwell and have a high temperature. They can go back to school and resume normal activities when they no longer have a fever and they feel well enough to attend. NHS Inform have published more information.
Communication with parents, care givers, staff and children remains important. Although previously issued 'warn and inform' letters do not need to be sent following every case given the cessation of universal asymptomatic testing, it remains good practice to keep people updated where it is expected that concerns may arise.
Washing hands thoroughly, at the right time, using appropriate facilities and products helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools should continue to support staff and children and young people to follow advice on good hand hygiene, and to ensure regular surface cleaning in schools and on school transport. Effective respiratory and cough hygiene also helps to minimise the risk of the transmission of COVID-19. This is set out in guidance for safer workplaces and public settings.
There should be an ongoing focus on ventilation, and previous guidance continues to apply, see ventilation and heating for more information. As set out previously, in order to support healthy learning environments, local authorities should continue to ensure that all local authority schools and ELC settings have access to CO2 monitoring, whether via mobile or fixed devices. This is in order to support the goal of all school buildings, including all learning and teaching spaces, being assessed regularly for ventilation issues with a view to remedial action being taken where required. It should be noted that large volume or low occupancy spaces, for example games halls, may require alternative assessments, as CO2 may not be a useful indicator of good ventilation in certain circumstances. See also: HSE ventilation guidance.
Local authorities should ensure that an appropriate ratio of monitors to spaces is made available to each school, taking account of local circumstances and workforce requirements. Sufficient monitors should be made available for use to enable ongoing decision-making by staff about balancing ventilation (including by opening of doors and windows) with temperature during the winter months, taking account of changes in weather conditions.
Best practice that has been shared as part of the ventilation/CO2 data collection indicates that many areas have already moved or are moving to 1:1 ratios for monitoring spaces, either using fixed or mobile devices and that reporting from schools is now typically on an exception basis. The reported advantages of this approach include supporting decision-making on an ongoing basis in all classrooms through different weather conditions and occupancy levels, reduction in the amount of facilities resource required to reposition monitors, and more readily available information about the extent of any residual problematic spaces (to support decision-making on remedial action). Ventilation will remain a key routine protective measure for COVID-19 and there are wider advantages to ensuring good ventilation across the learning estate. We therefore recommend that all LAs move to a 1:1 ratio of monitors to learning, teaching and play spaces over the remainder of the academic year, supported by funding that has been provided by Scottish Government.
Local authorities should consider how the systems, operating practices and reporting capabilities they develop could be most effective in promoting healthy learning environments in the future. This could include responding to local, national or global events where being able to gather information quickly may be beneficial.
Face coverings (workplace guidance)
If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection including COVID-19, try to stay at home and avoid contact with others – if you do need to go out, wear a well-fitting face covering. You may also wish to consider wearing, and you may be asked to wear, a face covering in other settings. Please be respectful of other people’s choices, whether they choose to wear a face covering or not. It is recommended that face coverings are made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, preferably three, layers thick in line with Worldwide Health Organisation’s recommendations.
Children and young people with additional support needs
Every child and young person will have different levels of required support. Some children and young people may be more clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. Risk assessments play a key part in considering the individual needs of a child or young person. Risk assessments, which may be integrated into a child’s plan or healthcare plan, should already exist for children and young people with complex additional support needs. These risk assessments should be reviewed and updated as appropriate, reflecting current circumstances. Where they are not in place or they have not been updated they must be undertaken or reviewed swiftly. Where there is a need to work in close proximity with adults and children and young people the safety measures to protect adults and children and young people alike should be followed. Staff should wear a face covering or PPE where a risk assessment has deemed it appropriate, and regularly wash their hands before and after contact. In line with standard practice, risk assessments should take into account the procedure being performed, any symptoms displayed by the child and the setting of the procedure. We have published guidance on supporting children and young people with healthcare needs in schools which continues to apply.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
PPE includes single-use disposable gloves, disposable plastic aprons and face masks. PPE should be readily available, and staff should be trained on its use. The use of PPE by staff should continue to be based on a clear assessment of risk and need for an individual child or young person, such as personal care where staff come into contact with blood and body fluids. No additional PPE measures are required for general use. Guidance is available through the NHS Winter Respiratory Infection IPC addendum.
It remains important for those providing and arranging dedicated school transport services to follow general guidance in relation to the use of face coverings, cleaning, hygiene and ventilation. Further information is available in the safer workplaces and public settings guidance. In general, the previous school transport mitigations no longer apply, though it remains important that the needs of passengers who are at a higher risk, for example children with additional support needs, are factored into any risk assessment of school transport needs.
In line with the Testing Transition Plan, the advice for school staff and secondary pupils in mainstream and special schools to undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic LFD testing no longer applies. Local health protection teams will still be able to deploy testing as one of a suite of measures for outbreak management purposes if it is necessary in their expert judgement.
Schools are considered to be low risk settings for outbreak managements 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. NHS Public Health / Health Protection Teams may make the decision to engage with schools in the handling of individual cases, clusters or outbreaks but it is expected that the majority of cases and clusters will be managed by individuals and schools themselves through usual sickness and absence processes for staff and children. Decisions on prioritisation will be taken at a local level by Health Protection Teams. Schools and Education leads in councils should maintain proactive working relationships developed with NHS Public Health teams over the pandemic in order to focus on preventative measures as set out above.
In maintaining routine protective measures, schools should plan on the basis that:
- face coverings: while face coverings are not required in classrooms, including for learners in the senior phase sitting exams, learners and staff should continue to be supported to wear them if they choose to do so
- physical distancing: children, young people and staff should follow the wider societal guidance on physical distancing in schools or on dedicated school transport. As in wider society it will remain important to be cautious and exercise personal responsibility, recognising that, where possible, it is safer to keep a distance from other people
- drama activity, music PE or dance: there are no restrictions on indoor and outdoor drama activity, music, PE or dance. Routine measures should continue to apply in relevant settings where these activities are taking place (e.g. good ventilation, enhanced hygiene, etc.)
- school trips: all types of domestic and international school trips are permitted, provided suitable risk assessments are conducted mirroring the routine protective measures in this guide. This means that the majority of the measures that have been recommended up until this point are removed, including the requirement in this guidance for pre-visit testing. Schools and site venues should continue to have contingency plans and risk assessments for pupils and staff becoming symptomatic with repatriation arrangements where appropriate. This also applies to international trips where appropriate isolation/repatriation arrangements should also be in place considering individual circumstances. International school trips should also comply with international travel guidance and with the Covid requirements in the host country
- outdoor residential centre visits: detailed guidance is available from the “Going Out There” website
- assemblies: there are no restrictions on assemblies, although routine measures will continue to apply (e.g. good ventilation, regular cleaning, etc)
- contact groups: no longer required
- one way systems: no longer required
- staggered lunch and break times: no longer required
- staggered pick-up and drop-off times: no longer required
- supply staff, other professionals or visitors entering schools: there will be are no restrictions on supply staff, other professionals or visitors in general entering schools. All visitors will, however, be expected to comply with the school’s routine measures and arrangements for managing and minimising risk
- parents, carers or wider family members entering schools: there are no restrictions on parents, carers or wider family members entering school buildings, although they will be expected to comply with the school’s routine measures. There are therefore no restrictions on “in person” parent/carer evenings, parent/carer related events and meetings in school buildings, e.g. subject choice events, career events, fundraising events, family learning activities, volunteering in school, Parent Council, Parent Teacher Association meetings and other similar events or meetings. Parents, carers and family members are able to attend indoor and outdoor sporting and cultural events
Distance Aware scheme
The Distance Aware scheme enables people to wear a symbol to indicate they would like more space and care around them for any reason. Anyone who wants to wear a badge or lanyard with the Distance Aware symbol can get one in a range of places, including all community and mobile libraries, most ASDA stores, or online through participating charities. Schools and ELC settings can use the toolkit to consider how best to promote more distance and care for staff and pupils who would like this. We have published further information on the Distance Aware scheme.
Highest Risk List
People on the Highest Risk List
The Highest Risk List ended on 31 May 2022. The success of the vaccination programme and the availability of new medicines to treat COVID-19 mean the majority of people on the list are at no greater risk from COVID-19 than the rest of the population in Scotland.
The Chief Medical Officer has for some time advised people on the Highest Risk List to follow the same advice as the rest of the population, unless advised otherwise by their GP or clinician. This applies equally to household members of people on the list and includes going into schools and early learning and childcare settings. He has also advised people whose immune system is suppressed to take extra care and follow the advice of their GP or clinician as they would have done before the pandemic.
Staff on the Highest Risk List
Although the requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessment was removed on 1 April 2022, it is recommended that workplaces continue to consider COVID-19 transmission risks as part of their assurance procedures.
Some staff, including those who have been on the Highest Risk List, may continue to feel more cautious or anxious about their safety in the workplace. We recommend that managers have sensitive, supportive conversations with staff that consider their health, safety, physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as personal views/concerns about risks. Wellbeing support services should also be promoted to staff.
Pregnant staff who come into contact with someone who is unwell should follow the same advice as the rest of the population.
More advice is available at NHS Inform: Coronavirus (COVID-19): General advice | NHS inform.
Readiness and assurance
To achieve collective assurance that the education system has in place the arrangements needed in the event of future outbreaks, schools and local authorities should familiarise themselves with the scenarios, expectations and actions. They should work together to ensure that these actions are complete and that a state of readiness is maintained for as long as is required to deal with the pandemic.
We are committed to promoting and protecting equality in the implementation of all government policy and in upholding the principles of the UNCRC and GIRFEC in relation to any government actions or guidance that impacts on the lives of children and young people. Visit our publications landing page for information on the the Child’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA), Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), and Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) associated with this guidance.
Early learning and childcare
There is separate guidance for early learning and childcare settings, which (while closely aligned to many of the mitigations in this guidance for schools) reflects the support required for, and the lower transmission risks associated with, very young children.
Routine protective measures
School care residential accommodation services are provided to allow pupils to attend a public, independent or grant-aided schools. For clarity, this includes: residential, special and secure accommodation and independent boarding school facilities and residence halls provided by local authority secondary schools.
Establishments should undertake and update regularly their own specific risk assessment of their residential facilities. The assessment should consider the overall number of pupils, staffing levels, and the capacity of each residential hall or house. Risk assessments should include contingency provision for symptomatic pupils or staff.
Schools should inform the Care Inspectorate of any revisions to term dates, or if young people are required to remain at school over holiday periods, due to risk assessment outcomes.
The proprietors of all independent schools in Scotland must ensure that the school they are responsible for does not become objectionable on any of the grounds listed in Section 99(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 which includes the obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people enrolled in the school.
Similarly, all proprietors of independent boarding schools and managers of School Care Accommodation Services must comply with the relevant legislation around the registration of their service, such as the Health and Social Care Standards and the Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations 2011.
Residential schools have a responsibility to ensure the overall wellbeing of children and young people and compliance with practices which reduce the risk of the spread of infectious disease.
Boarding facilities should be particularly vigilant to apply the routine protective measures set out above given the risk of cross contamination into living accommodation. Bathrooms in particular should be fully supplied with products for handwashing and drying, and subject to enhanced cleaning.
Pupils travelling to school internationally
All pupils should fully comply with the international travel regulations and associated guidance which apply to them. Additional restrictions are temporary and kept under frequent review. Schools are advised to be alert that changes may be made to these at short notice.
Case management for pupils/staff requiring to isolate
Schools should set out clear contingency plans and risk assessments for pupils and staff becoming symptomatic/ testing positive. Schools should have an appropriate plan in place for pupils who are required to isolate, including how they will be supervised and supported. Schools should refer to COVID-19: information and guidance for workplaces and community settings for appropriate infection prevention and control measures.
Most children will benefit from self-isolating in their boarding house so that their usual support can continue. Others will benefit more from self-isolating in their family home if travel can be arranged safely.
In the event of an outbreak schools or establishments should activate their well-established contingency plans. Health Protection Teams may make the decision to engage with schools in the handling of individual cases, clusters or outbreaks but it is expected that the majority of cases and clusters will be managed by individuals and schools themselves through usual sickness and absence processes for staff and children. Decisions on prioritisation will be taken at a local level by Health Protection Teams. Further advice is available from IndependentSchoolsMailbox@gov.scot.
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