Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools

Guidance to help schools ensure a low-risk environment for learning and teaching.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools
Mitigations in detail

Mitigations in detail 

This chapter (Annex A of the PDF) provides the detailed guidance on current mitigations. It largely replicates the previous version of the Reducing Risks guidance, with out-of-date material removed and any modifications set out earlier in this guidance appropriately reflected.

Key public health measures 

This chapter sets out the key public health measures that local authorities and schools should implement to minimise the risks of COVID-19 transmission and infection. These controls will help prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff.   

The guidance has been informed by advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues which has regularly discussed the mitigations required to manage risks regarding the return to in-school learning for children, young people and staff.  

Schools and ELC settings should place a high priority on ensuring they implement these mitigations, and those in equivalent guidance on ELC settings, to maximise safety and reduce risks for children, young people and staff.  

This guidance is designed to promote a consistent and equitable approach. Every school and setting is different, however, and local authorities and schools will understand best how this guidance can be applied in their settings. 

Risk assessment

It is a legal requirement that local authorities ensure that risk assessments are conducted and regularly reviewed and updated. In considering their risk assessments, it is imperative that schools and local authorities continue to take a precautionary approach. Risk assessments should consider all mitigations set out in this guidance to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff in schools.

In accordance with relevant legislation and guidance, all local trade unions should be consulted with and involved in the development and updating of risk assessments. 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) specific

Everyone needs to engage with assessing and managing the risks from coronavirus (COVID-19). Employers and school leaders should consider the risks the staff and children and young people face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, recognising they cannot completely eliminate the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). Employers must therefore make sure that a risk assessment has been undertaken to identify the measures needed to reduce the risks from coronavirus (COVID-19) so far as is reasonably practicable. General information on how to make a workplace as safe as possible, including how to approach a coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment, is provided by the HSE guidance on working safely.

Schools should undertake a coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment by considering the measures in this guidance to inform their decisions and control measures. A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace, and the role of others in supporting that. 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. HSE have prepared guidance on Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus (COVID-19) - Supporting vulnerable workers (hse.gov.uk). It also makes good sense to involve children and young people (where applicable) and parents in discussions around health and safety decisions to help them understand the reasons for the measures being put in place. Employers can do this by listening and talking to them about how the school will manage risks from coronavirus (COVID-19) and make the school as safe as possible. The people who do the work are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely. Involving them in making decisions shows that the school takes their health and safety seriously.

Sharing your risk assessment

Schools should share the results of their risk assessment with their workforce. If possible, they should consider publishing it on their website to provide transparency of approach to parents, carers and children and young people. 

Monitoring and review of risk controls

It is important that employers know how effective their risk controls are. They should monitor and review the preventive and protective measures regularly, to ensure the measures are working, and take action to address any shortfalls. 

Roles and responsibilities

All employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must:

  • identify what could cause injury or illness in the organisation (hazards)
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Given the employer landscape in schools is varied, we have set out here what the existing DfE Health and safety: responsibilities and duties for schools guidance states about the roles and responsibilities for health and safety in schools: the employer is accountable for the health and safety of school staff and children and young people. The day-to-day running of the school is usually delegated to the headteacher and the school management team. In most cases, they are responsible for ensuring that risks are managed effectively. This includes health and safety matters. Schools must appoint a competent person to ensure they meet their health and safety duties. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides more information on the role of headteachers and employers in its guidance on the role of school leaders - who does what and a simple guide to who the employer is in each type of school setting in its FAQs section, under ‘Who is accountable for health and safety within a school?’. References to actions by employers in this guidance may in practice be carried out by headteachers in schools, but the employer will need to assure themselves that they have been carried out, as they retain the accountability for health and safety. If not already done, employers should ensure that a coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment for their school is undertaken as soon as possible. As part of planning for the return to school, the employer is likely to have gone through a lot of this thinking already. We recommend that those employers use this document to identify any further improvements they should make.

Wider guidance on the risk assessment process

Health and safety risk assessments identify measures to control risks during education and childcare setting activities. Health and safety law requires the employer to assess risks and put in place measures to reduce the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. The law also requires employers to record details of risk assessments, the measures taken to reduce these risks and expected outcomes. Schools need to record significant findings of the assessment by identifying:

  • the hazards
  • how people might be harmed by them
  • what they have in place to control risk

Records of the assessment should be simple and focused on controls. Outcomes should explain to others what they are required to do and help staff with planning and monitoring.

Risk assessments consider what measures you need to protect the health and safety of all:

  • staff (including volunteers)
  • children and young people
  • visitors
  • contractors

Schools will need to think about the risks that may arise in the course of the day. This could include anything related to the premises or delivery of its curriculum or activities, whether on-site or in relation to activities offsite.

Consulting employees (general)

It is a legal requirement that employers must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by staff. As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be.

At its most effective, full involvement of staff creates a culture where relationships between employers and staff are based on collaboration, trust and joint problem solving. As is normal practice, staff should be involved in assessing workplace risks and the development and review of workplace health and safety policies in partnership with the employer. Consultation does not remove the employer’s right to manage. They will still make the final decision but talking to employees is an important part of successfully managing health and safety.

Resolving issues and raising concerns

Employers and staff should always come together to resolve issues. As school/settings continue to operate and follow updated guidance, any concerns in respect of the controls should be raised initially with line management and trade union representatives, and employers should recognise those concerns and give them proper consideration. If that does not resolve the issues, the concern can be raised with HSE. Where the HSE identify employers who are not taking action to comply with the standards set out in relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks. The actions the HSE can take include the provision of specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements.

Public health measures to prevent and respond to COVID-19 

In order to address the risks identified in their risk assessments, local authorities and schools should adopt core public health measures in a way that is appropriate to their setting.  Ensuring a positive learning environment for all children and young people should include measures focused on preventing and responding to infections.

Essential public health measures include:

  • symptom vigilance and a requirement that people who have COVID symptoms stay at home
  • enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements
  • effective ventilation
  • maintaining physical distancing from others where possible
  • wearing face coverings or appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary
  • staff and secondary aged learners completing asymptomatic tests and recording results twice weekly and
  • active engagement with Test and Protect

Enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning

Personal hygiene

Schools should strongly encourage and support all children, young people, staff and any others for whom it is necessary to enter the school estate to maintain appropriate personal hygiene throughout the day. 

The key personal hygiene measures that all children, young people and staff should follow to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection are:

  • frequent washing/sanitising of hands for 20 seconds and drying thoroughly, and always when entering/leaving the building, before/after eating and after using the toilet
  • encouraging children, young people and staff to avoid touching their faces including mouth, eyes and nose and
  • using a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze, and use bins that are emptied regularly for tissue waste

It will be the responsibility of every individual in the school to observe good hygiene practice to minimise the risk of infection. Schools should identify opportunities to reinforce for all children, young people and staff the importance of effective hygiene measures throughout the school day, as part of their work on responsible citizenship. Involving children and young people in discussions about how to manage mitigations will be critical to their success. Signage should be applied appropriately, including in toilets. 

NHS Inform Covid-19 General Advice states that adequate facilities should be available for hand hygiene, including handwashing facilities that are adequately stocked or have alcohol-based hand rub at key areas. In consultation with their local authority, schools should make appropriate arrangements for the storage of alcohol-based hand rub. Outdoor hand basins or hand sanitisers should be available at entry/exit points, to allow all building users to wash/sanitise their hands as they enter/leave the building at pick up/drop off time and at break/lunch times. Help should be given to those children and young people who struggle to wash their hands independently. Over time it is possible that children and young people will become complacent about hand hygiene. Schools should involve them in making plans to ensure continued rigour.

School uniforms/clothing and staff clothing should be washed/cleaned as normal. Any arrangements in place to support washing of school uniform and clothing should be continued.

Enhanced environmental cleaning

The local authority/school should undertake regular health and safety checks of the school estate, including water quality sampling for legionella and other bacteria. The Health and Safety Executive has produced guidance on Legionella risks during the coronavirus pandemic - HSE news.

Local authorities and schools should ensure that an enhanced environmental cleaning regime is in place. The regime put in place should be in line with Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings. This specifies in particular:

  • ensuring regular detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses; ensure adequate contact time for cleaning products is adhered to
  • ensuring regular (at least twice daily) cleaning of commonly touched objects and surfaces (e.g. desks, handles, dining tables, shared technology surfaces etc.)
  • ensuring that where possible movement of individuals between work stations is minimised and where work spaces are shared there is cleaning between use (e.g. avoid hot desks and instead each individual, children, young people and staff, has a designated desk)
  • ensuring there are adequate disposal facilities
  • wedging doors (other than fire doors) open, where appropriate, to increase fresh air and reduce touchpoints
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved as much as possible and
  • cleaning work vehicles, between different passengers or shifts as appropriate

There should also be more frequent cleaning of rooms/areas that must be used by different groups, including staff (e.g. classrooms, toilet blocks, changing rooms and staff areas).

Movement of children, young people and staff between classrooms should be minimised wherever possible. Where this cannot be avoided, the provision of appropriate cleaning supplies to enable them to wipe down their own desk/chair/surfaces before leaving and, especially, on entering the room should be considered as part of overall hygiene strategies for secondary schools.  

Careful consideration should be given to the cleaning regime for specialist equipment (e.g. in practical subjects or for children with additional support needs), sensory rooms, practical subjects with specialist equipment and dining halls, etc. to ensure safe use. Staff can safely eat in the dining hall if they wish.  They should use their own crockery/cutlery in staff areas and ensure these are cleaned with warm water and general purpose detergent and dried thoroughly before being stored for re-use.

It is recommended that younger children access toys and equipment that are easy to clean. The use of resources such as sand, water and playdough should be part of relevant risk assessments. Children and young people should wherever possible be encouraged not to bring toys from home to the setting or to share their personal belongings, although it is appreciated that for younger children and for some children and young people with additional support needs this may be difficult to prevent. Consideration should be given to practical alternatives to provide comfort and reassurance, which is particularly important for younger children and children with additional needs. However, if a child brings their own book/bag/personal device that only they use then this should not increase the risk of indirect spread of the virus. Children, young people and staff should be instructed to keep bags on the floor and not on their desks or worktops.

Children, young people and staff can take books and other resources home, although unnecessary resource sharing including textbooks should be avoided, especially where this does not contribute to education and development. Cleaning between uses should be in accordance with the Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings

Fomites (objects or materials which may carry infection)

If school resources (for example, text books, jotters) are taken home by a child, there is no longer a requirement to quarantine these for 72 hours upon return to the setting.  Evidence on fomite transmission has continued to evolve and Public Health Scotland have now advised that we can remove this requirement from the guidance.  Enhanced hand hygiene, as set out elsewhere, should be adhered to by all staff, children and families and is a more proportionate way of reducing the risk of fomite transmission.

Ventilation and heating

This section of the guidance is informed by the latest scientific and public health advice and research from the Advisory Sub-group on education and children’s issues, Health Facilities Scotland, ARHAI Scotland and the SAGE Environmental and Modelling Group (EMG) which published updated guidance on 23rd October 2020. Cognisance has also been taken of UK and European building services industry guidance (CIBSE and REHVA). This guidance has been developed in consultation with HSE which has produced general guidance on Ventilation and air conditioning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

This section was reviewed throughout July 2021. As there was no new or emerging advice/evidence on heating and ventilation practices from SAGE EMG and based on user feedback from local authorities and the Scottish Heads of Property Services (SHoPS) network the guidance in this section remains largely unchanged. In its advice published on 3 March, the Advisory Sub-group did recommend however, that greater emphasis should be placed on ventilation, by keeping windows open as much as possible, and doors open when feasible and safe to do so. Updated advice published on 3 August 2021 also emphasised the need for a renewed focus on the importance of good ventilation and the potential for CO2 monitors to be utilised to ensure good air quality in enclosed spaces. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a roadmap to improve and ensure good indoor ventilation in the context of COVID-19. The Scottish Government has also published ventilation guidance.

This section of the guidance is intended primarily for relevant local authority teams – it is not expected that headteachers or teachers should have the expertise to apply it independently. 

The key requirement for local authorities is to work with schools to identify and implement local approaches that balance the need for fresh air in key parts of the school estate with the maintenance of adequate temperatures. The latest scientific advice identifies that ventilation is an important factor in mitigating against the risk of far-field (>2m) aerosol transmission. The relative importance of far-field aerosol transmission compared to other transmission routes is not yet known, but evidence suggests it is a risk in poorly ventilated spaces.

There is therefore a need for an appropriate supply of fresh air to assist with minimising the risk of virus infection. There is also a need to maintain indoor temperatures for reasons including user comfort, health and wellbeing, and learning and teaching. 

This guidance seeks to identify practical measures which may be incorporated to balance these issues. The precise balance to be struck, and the most effective ways of doing so, will depend heavily on local factors including building design, location and prevailing weather conditions. It is expected that average external temperatures will drop over the winter months, and also that average wind speeds will rise (c30-40%) compared to summer. The rise in wind speed will increase the need to reduce draughts by closing (or partially closing) windows. The increased speed may however provide some compensation in terms of maintaining overall ventilation rates. 

While measures to improve ventilation should be viewed as just one part of the overall package of control measures in schools, they are being viewed by the Advisory sub-group as an increasingly important mitigation. Schools should continue to ensure a focus on implementation and maintenance of wider controls including personal hygiene, symptom vigilance, enhanced cleaning and distancing. 

Relevant local authority teams may already be in a position to provide the necessary expert advice to schools on appropriate local approaches to the assessment of current ventilation and the development of strategies to improve ventilation. Where any necessary expertise is not available within a local authority, they may wish to draw on expert external advice to inform their strategies - some local authorities have already done so, and are sharing this expertise through their national networks. In providing advice, local authorities may wish to consider grouping school buildings by common criteria (e.g. type of construction, primary/ secondary/ASN, window type, heating system, etc.) and should develop a package of viable options in consultation with trade unions and staff in those schools. 

Schools should ensure that risk assessments are updated regularly, in consultation with local authorities, staff, trade unions and (where applicable) PFI/NPD providers, to consider issues around ventilation and heating/warmth that are relevant to their specific environments. Drawing on local authority advice, they should consider areas of the school where air flow (including pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces) and/or temperature may be problematic, and the strategies that may be used to address these issues and mitigate risks appropriately. Some examples of potential approaches are provided below. 

Schools should as a minimum ensure that adequate levels of ventilation and appropriate temperatures are maintained, with reference to the School Premises Regulations. While minimum requirements vary depending on the specific part of the school estate, for classrooms the regulations stipulate 2 air changes per hour and a temperature of 17oC. Reference should also be made to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requirements to maintain a reasonable temperature in the workplace. 

Natural ventilation and temperature 

The primary effective method of increasing natural ventilation remains the opening of external doors, vents and windows. Wherever it is practical, safe and secure to do so, and appropriate internal temperatures can be maintained in line with statutory obligations, this approach should be adopted. Keeping doors open (again, with appropriate regard to safety and security) may also help to reduce contact with door handles. 

However, internal fire doors should never be held open (unless assessed and provided with appropriate hold open and self-closing mechanisms which respond to the actuation of the fire alarm system). The Fire Safety Risk Assessment should always be reviewed before any internal doors are held open. 

As noted above, schools are also required to maintain internal temperatures and conditions in line with statutory obligations (see the School Premises (Scotland) Regulations 1967 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992). It is recognised that in the autumn and winter, schools are therefore unlikely to be able to keep external doors and windows open as often, or for as long, as in warmer weather periods. 

Scientific and public health advice is that measures to introduce fresh air can have a beneficial impact on virus suppression. Schools should therefore be supported to adopt strategies that help balance requirements for ventilation with internal temperatures and conditions. Expert advice identifies that using reasonable approaches which recognise the importance of user comfort may help overall behavioural adherence to guidance in relation to ventilation. 

Potential approaches to increase natural ventilation, the suitability of which will depend on a range of local factors including weather conditions, may include: 

  • partially opening doors and windows to provide ventilation while reducing draughts 
  • opening high level windows in preference to low level to reduce draughts 
  • purging spaces by opening windows, vents and external doors (e.g. between classes, during break and lunch, when a room is unused, or at other suitable intervals if a space is occupied for long periods at a time) 

Mechanical ventilation 

Where it is not possible to keep doors and windows open while maintaining appropriate internal conditions in line with statutory obligations, and centralised or local mechanical ventilation is present, systems should wherever possible be adjusted to full fresh air. Air recirculation should be avoided or minimised. If this is not possible while maintaining appropriate internal conditions, systems should be operated to achieve statutory temperature and air change rate requirements as a minimum. Additional points to assist with the practical delivery of this approach include: 

  • where ventilation units have filters present enhanced precautions should be taken when changing filters. Additional advice on filters can be located in the REHVA Covid guidance
  • ventilation systems should be checked or adjusted to ensure they do not automatically adjust ventilation levels due to differing occupancy levels
  • consider starting mechanical ventilation ahead of the school day and allow it to continue after classes have finished

Fans 

Fan heaters, fan assisted heating systems or air conditioning within a single space may assist in maintaining appropriate temperatures, provided there is an adequate supply of fresh air into the space. This approach should only be used where the balance of adequate ventilation and appropriate temperature cannot be achieved otherwise. Filter maintenance should also be carefully undertaken as noted above. Care should be taken to avoid unregulated use of ad hoc devices which may cause increased risk in terms of electrical load, inappropriate installation, cable trip hazard and potential fire or electrocution risk. 

CO2 monitors 

As set out earlier in this guidance, local authorities should ensure that all schools and day care of children services have access to CO2 monitoring, whether via mobile or fixed devices. This is to support the goal of all school and ELC buildings, including all learning, teaching and childcare spaces, being assessed for ventilation issues with a view to remedial action being taken where required. This assessment work should be completed by the start of the October break wherever possible, subject to any issues regarding supply of CO2 monitors. These assessments may be undertaken by the use of fixed or mobile CO2 monitoring or by other appropriate means (e.g. computer modelling of the school estate), depending on the ventilation systems and other arrangements already in place in school and ELC buildings.

It is important that local authority advice is sought on the use of monitors to ensure their proper specification, installation, location, calibration and effective use. It should be noted that CO2 monitors cannot monitor levels of virus, but by monitoring levels of CO2, these can be used as a proxy measure.

CO2 monitors detect the amount of CO2 in a space, which will increase if adequate ventilation is not provided, thereby prompting user intervention such as opening a window or vent. Some schools will have these installed on premises already while others may, in consultation with relevant local authority teams, choose to use portable devices for periodic or ongoing monitoring. The most recent scientific advice and research is that an upper level of 1500 ppm should be used to identify and prioritise multi-occupancy, regularly-used areas for improvement. 

This scientific advice and research also indicates that indoor spaces where there is likely to be an enhanced aerosol generation rate (e.g. loud singing/drama, indoor PE when permitted) should aim to ensure ventilation is sufficient to maintain CO2 concentrations at lower levels (a figure of 800ppm is provided), and should also include additional mitigations such as face coverings for audiences and restricting the size of groups and duration of activities. 

Local authorities should consider how to apply lessons learned from CO2 monitoring across all parts of the learning estate. This could be achieved both between schools within a local authority and also by sharing data between local authorities. 

Relevant local authority teams should provide clear advice on the appropriate use of CO2 monitors, including procedures to be followed by staff in the event of inappropriate levels being indicated. These should be proportionate and reasonable, and help ensure both safety and continuity of education. They may include, for example, contact with relevant local authority teams to discuss approaches to improving ventilation in the event of concerns being identified. 

School operators (e.g. local authorities, leisure trusts, third parties, etc.) should also be aware of additional guidance in relation to ventilation of sports and leisure facilities which may be applicable within school buildings e.g. community use of gyms, fitness rooms, sports halls etc.  

Implementation 

Local authorities and schools should, in consultation with staff and trade unions, ensure there are clear plans for effective implementation of local strategies. Key points to consider may include: 

  • clarity on responsibility for implementing approaches, with due regard for workload 
  • provision of instruction or signage, etc. to support implementation (e.g. with clear instructions for window/door/vent opening and mechanical system operation)
  • pragmatic, proportionate procedures to be followed in the event of any concerns around ventilation or heating. Local authorities may wish to ensure that contact details are provided for relevant local authority teams or health and safety officers    

Sharing of good practice 

Local authorities are committed to sharing good practice and expert advice across national networks, including the ADES Resources network and SHoPS. During the operational periods of the last school year, local authorities  have been modelling and developing practical approaches to implementation of the strategies in this guidance in order to achieve the regulatory requirement of 2 air changes per hour in classrooms. Feedback in July 2021 has indicated that strategies are working well, helping to identify any poorly ventilated spaces, plan maintenance or upgrade works, and provide reassurance to building users and wider stakeholders. Operational feedback will continue to be sought to validate the guidance, approach and inform any necessary updates.

This section of the guidance will be kept under careful review and updated in light of emerging science and practice.

Physical distancing in primary schools

There is no requirement for physical distancing between children in primary schools. Distancing between adults not from the same household should be maintained and there should also be distancing between adults and children whenever possible. To ensure closer alignment with wider society and planned changes in ELC, this will be a requirement for “physical distancing of at least 1m”. However, as schools already have 2m physical distancing arrangements for adults that work well and do not limit capacity, it is expected these will be retained in practice.

Physical distancing between young people – secondary schools 

Most secondary schools can only support a full time return to school for all pupils when there is no requirement for physical distancing between pupils throughout the school day.  

School staff and other adults in the school should continue to apply physical distancing when with other adults and with pupils. As in primary schools, to ensure alignment with wider society, this will be a requirement for “physical distancing of at least 1m”. However, as schools already have 2m physical distancing arrangements for adults that work well and do not limit capacity, it is expected these will be retained in practice.

It is important to understand that this arrangement has been developed in the specific context of schools. There are sound reasons for approaches to physical distancing to vary in different contexts, including the drawing of judgements about cumulative risk across the whole of society and the features of distinct environments.

The Advisory Sub-group has however previously emphasised that, without distancing between pupils in secondary schools, the additional mitigations such as effective ventilation must be strictly adhered to. Secondary schools should also encourage physical distancing between young people wherever practicable and emphasize the importance of complying with the most up to date guidance on physical distancing in general.

Distancing should be implemented in a proportionate way. Importantly, schools should ensure that the specific approaches adopted do not introduce capacity constraints and/or prevent full-time learning in school. 

Mitigations that schools should consider include: 

  • encourage young people to maintain distance where possible, particularly indoors –encouraging young people not to crowd together or touch their peers is recommended
  • discourage social physical contact (hand to hand greeting/hugs)
  • use all the available space in classrooms, halls, libraries or social spaces to promote distancing where possible
  • adjust class space if required, and where possible, to maintain spacing between desks or between individual young people
  • seat young people side by side and facing forwards, rather than face to face
  • avoid situations that require young people to sit or stand in direct physical contact with others
  • where young people need to move about within the classroom to perform activities (for example to access a shared resource) this should be organised to minimise congregation around the point of access to the shared resource
  • where staffing within the school allows it, consider altering class sizes and composition to intensify support for young people and create more space. For example, where there are 3 maths sets in a year group (one set with 30 pupils, another with 20 pupils and another with 10 pupils) class size and composition may be altered to improve the spread of pupils and create 3 sets of 20 pupils
  • young people in the senior phase may require to spend time in college environments. They should ensure that they follow the COVID-19 guidance for universities, colleges and student accommodation providers on the appropriate approach to these specific circumstances while on campus. This has now been included in updated guidance for colleges

Secondary schools should consider which of these possible mitigations are achievable in their establishment and look to implement as many as is practicable.  

In special schools and units, and where there are children with complex additional support needs, the need to maintain distancing needs to be carefully considered. The balance of the staffing complement, numbers of children and young people and their needs, and therefore the staffing and resources required (PPE, cleaning of equipment), should be considered/assessed throughout the school day and adjusted where appropriate/necessary. Further guidance on meeting the needs of children with additional support needs is provided within Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting children and young people with complex additional support needs and continuity of learning guidance.

Groupings

Contact groups will no longer be required, in line with the changes to self-isolation policy set out above.

Schools should, however, continue to avoid assemblies and other types of large group gatherings, in keeping with the retention of existing mitigations (until at least the October holidays, following which this will be reviewed). This precautionary approach reflects the unique environment in schools, which will still involve bringing together large numbers of unvaccinated children and young people on a non-discretionary basis (and which can therefore be differentiated from other situations in society in which large gatherings take place).

Where it is necessary to bring larger groups together, alternative mitigating actions should be put in place, such as meeting outside or limiting the time spent together.  When undertaking fire test drills or procedures where the whole school is evacuated, schools and local authorities should prioritise fire safety, but may consider muster points and whether these need to be altered to ensure a greater degree of separation.

Children and young people can attend multiple education settings, either in other educational establishments or the wider community, with an appropriate risk assessment conducted.  If sporadic or linked cases have occurred in one school, temporary suspension or reduction of attendance at other facilities should be part of this risk assessment, led by the local Health Protection Team.

Physical distancing and minimising contact for adults

Physical distancing between adults, and between adults and learners who are not from the same household, should be maintained. This will help mitigate risk, but it is acknowledged that this is not always possible, particularly when working with younger primary school children or children with additional support needs who may require personal or intimate care.

For the early stage (P1-P2), schools may consider making use of ELC models of managing children’s interactions and other mitigations, where appropriate, particularly where adopting a play based approach. Detailed guidance on reopening early learning and child care services is available.  

Other than where schools are using ELC models and guidance in the early stage (P1-2), where adults cannot keep their distance and are interacting face-to-face with other adults and/or children and young people, face coverings (or, in certain specific circumstances, PPE - see section on PPE and other protective barrier measures, below) should be worn at all times. This applies to all staff including support staff and classroom assistants. Transparent face-coverings may be supplied by local authorities where appropriate and used where there is a risk of detriment to the child’s health and wellbeing. See the section on face coverings for further information.

Risk assessments should pay particular attention to the position of support assistants or other staff who may have to work in close contact with multiple children and young people throughout the day.  In line with the advice above, distancing should be maintained by support assistants, and if that is not possible, face coverings should be worn (including transparent ones where appropriate). As part of risk assessment the need for PPE should be considered and PPE used accordingly.  Where resources permit, if mitigations such as these cannot reasonably be implemented, schools might wish to consider timetabling/organising classes to limit the number of children and young people with whom a support assistant needs to come into close contact during the course of a day.

All staff can operate across different classes and year groups within a setting where this is necessary in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable. Where staff need to move between classes and year groups, they should try to keep at least 1m distancing from learners and other staff as well as wearing face coverings as appropriate.

With regard to movement of NCCT teachers between classes and across settings, this should be minimised wherever possible. Schools should be encouraged to follow SNCT and LNCT guidance on how flexibility of time over a 2 or 4 week period may help to reduce movement of staff across classes.

Appropriate arrangements and places should be available to enable all school and ELC staff to take their breaks safely. Schools should plan how shared staff spaces, including kitchens, are set up and used to help staff to distance from each other. The number of people in staff rooms at any one time should be limited to ensure at least 1m distancing can be maintained and face coverings should also be worn. This includes at kettle stations and other gathering points.

Any facilities management work carried out within the school setting should adhere to the principles of physical distancing and be subject to risk assessment to put in place mitigating actions. Procedures should be put in place for deliveries to minimise person-to-person contact.

School visitors (including supply staff)

Updated guidance is available on this issue in the “Changes to Previous Guidance” section.

Drop off and pick up

The arrangements for parents/carers to drop off and collect children and young people require careful consideration, to ensure that large gatherings of people can be avoided and physical distancing between adults and children of different groupings is maintained. Schools should consult parents/carers on their plans and ensure that any arrangements put in place are communicated clearly to parents/carers.  

Parents should not enter school buildings where it has been agreed in advance with the school, in line with the updated guidance on school visitors (see “Changes to Previous Guidance”). Some approaches that local authorities and schools should consider include the following:

  • staggered drop off/pick up times or locations, so that not all children and young people arrive onsite at one time as long as this does not reduce the overall amount of learning time in school for children and young people
  • if the school has additional access points, consideration may be given to whether it would be beneficial to open these to reduce congestion
  • consideration may be given to where children and young people go as they arrive at the facility. This could include heading straight to their group’s designated learning space/classroom, which could be indoors or outdoors
  • if parents/carers are dropping off children, they should be discouraged from gathering outside the school and should maintain distancing as far as practicable, when dropping off their children. Appropriate markings may be introduced at the school gates
  • if parents/carers are dropping off children, they should wear face coverings
  • for those arriving by car, parents/carers may be encouraged to park further away from the school and then walk with their children to avoid congestion, or alternatively use active travel routes where feasible. Car-sharing with children and young people of other households should be discouraged – see advice on car-sharing
  • where learning spaces can be accessed directly from outside, this may be encouraged to decrease interactions between individuals in circulation spaces and
  • particular consideration should be given to the arrangements for parents/carers of children and young people with additional support needs or disabilities, who may normally drop their children off within the school building, and those who arrive at school using school transport, including taxis

Break times and lunch times

Break times will continue to require careful consideration. Schools may wish to consider staggered break and lunch times, etc (although these will not be suitable for all schools, and staggering break and lunch times to an extent that they could reduce the overall amount of time children and young people can spend learning in school should be avoided). Localised solutions should be agreed and, as far as possible, children, young people and parents/carers should be involved in these discussions.

If children and young people go offsite for lunch, they should follow the rules in place for wider society, for example wearing a face covering when entering a shop. Risk assessments should consider procedures for when children and young people leave and return to school premises, including hand hygiene. Schools may wish to contact local shops in advance to alert them to plans.

PPE 

For the majority of staff in schools, PPE is not required or necessary.  Where it is required or necessary, the following arrangements will apply.

Where the use of PPE is being considered within an education and childcare setting the specific conditions of each individual setting must be taken into consideration and comply with all applicable legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 which outlines the process of, and legal requirements for, risk assessment.  

Schools and local authorities already have set risk assessment processes for the use of PPE. Following any risk assessment (individual or organisational), where the need for PPE has been identified using the HSE Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work guide, appropriate PPE should be readily available and provided and staff should be trained on its use. The use of PPE by staff within schools, for example support staff, support assistants, staff with vulnerabilities, should 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 or lift children and young people.  Where the use of PPE is risk assessed as being required, staff should be trained in how to put on and take off PPE (as required by Health and Safety Regulations) and suitable waste facilities provided.

Risk assessments should already exist for children and young people with more complex needs, including those with emotional and behavioural needs. These risk assessments should be updated as a matter of priority in light of changes to provision such as environment and staffing.  Risk assessments must be mindful of the additional distress children and young people may be experiencing due to measures introduced such as the use of face coverings or PPE, and the need for continued protection of staff.  If for any reason, risk assessments are not in place, then they must be undertaken swiftly in accordance with this guidance and local risk assessment guidance.  If there are any issues relating to risk assessment or staff wish to raise concerns they should in the first instance do so with their line manager in line with local procedures. Where concerns remain they can also contact their trade union representative and/or local HR or Health and Safety team.  Employers should recognise those concerns and give them due consideration.  If that does not resolve the concerns they can be raised directly with the HSE.

Local infection control procedures that outline safety and protocols should also be stringently followed and adequate training provided. This includes procedures for putting on and taking off PPE, the disposal of soiled items; laundering of any clothes including uniform and staff clothing, towels or linen; and cleaning equipment for children and young people, such as hoists and wheelchairs.

Specific guidance has been developed and published for first responders who, as part of their normal roles, provide immediate assistance requiring close contact until further medical assistance arrives.  This guidance sets out clearly what a first responder is required to do if they come into close contact with someone as part of their first responder duties.  It covers the use of PPE and CPR.  

The types of PPE required in specific circumstances are set out below:

  • routine activities: No PPE is required when undertaking routine educational activities in classroom or school settings
  • suspected COVID-19: A fluid-resistant surgical mask should be worn by staff if they are looking after a child or young person who has become unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 and 2m distancing cannot be maintained while doing so
  • if the child or young person who has become unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 needs direct personal care, gloves, aprons and a fluid-resistant surgical mask should be worn by staff.
  • eye protection should also be worn if a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes such as from coughing, spitting, or vomiting
  • gloves and aprons should be used when cleaning the areas where a person suspected of having COVID-19 has been
  • intimate care: Gloves and aprons should continue to be used when providing intimate care to a child or young person. This can include personal, hands-on care such as washing, toileting, or first aid and certain clinical procedures such as assisted feeding
  • fluid-resistant surgical masks should be used. Eye protection should also be worn if a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes such as from coughing, spitting, or vomiting
  • gloves and aprons should be used when cleaning equipment or surfaces that might be contaminated with body fluids such as saliva or respiratory secretions
  • Aerosol Generating Procedure (AGP): There are a small number of medical procedures which increase the risk of transmission through aerosols (tiny droplets) being transferred from the patient to the care giver. These are known as aerosol generating procedures (AGPs). Within education settings, these are only undertaken for a very small number of children with complex medical needs, such as those receiving tracheostomy care
  • staff performing AGPs in these settings should follow Scotland’s National Prevention and Infection Control Manual (NSS and HPS) with personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance on aerosol generating procedures, and wear the correct PPE, which is:

o    a FFP2/3 respirator
o    gloves
o    a long-sleeved fluid repellent gown
o    eye protection

  • children and young people should be taken from the classroom or shared area for any AGP to be carried out in a designated room with the doors closed and any windows open. If this is not possible, for example in children and young people who require sporadic care, such as urgent tracheostomy tube suction, individual risk assessments should be carried out. In all instances, efforts should be made to:

o    ensure that only staff who are needed to undertake the procedure are present and that no other children or young people are in the room
o    minimise clutter to make the process of cleaning the room as straightforward as possible
o    clean all surfaces and ventilate the room following a procedure and before anyone not wearing appropriate PPE enters. Clearance of infectious particles after an AGP is dependent on the ventilation and air change within the room. For a room without ventilation, this may take an hour

Face coverings 

The Scottish Government regularly reviews the policy position on face coverings in light of emerging scientific evidence and advice. It remains our judgement that face coverings provide adequate protection for use in the community and in most workplaces because they are worn in addition to taking other measures, such as physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, cleaning surfaces, ventilation and symptom vigilance.  The current face covering guidance on the Scottish Government website recommends:

  • that face coverings are made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three, layers thick and fit snugly around the mouth, nose and chin while allowing you to breathe easily
  • that schools follow and endorse best practice on how to wash, store, wear and dispose of face coverings and 
  • workplaces endorse and support staff to follow the best practice in the use of face coverings

For the majority of staff in schools, medical grade masks or PPE are not required. Any decision to use medical grade masks or PPE in schools (or any specific workplace settings) would need to be informed by an organisational risk assessment, undertaken with health and safety experts and public health advisers.

Unless otherwise stated, the approach to face coverings below should be applied across all primary and secondary school settings. However, as noted earlier in this guidance, schools may opt to apply ELC models in the early stages of primary school (P1-2), in which case the relevant guidance should be followed.

Anyone (whether child, young person or adult) wishing to wear a face covering in any part of the school should be permitted to do so.

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. Further information on exemptions can be found in wider Scottish Government guidance.

Face coverings should be worn by adults wherever they cannot keep physical distance with other adults and/or children and young people.

Face coverings should also be worn in the following circumstances (except where an adult or child/young person is exempt from wearing a covering): 

  • at all times when adults in primary schools are moving around the school in corridors, office and admin areas, canteens (except when dining) and other indoor communal areas, (including staff rooms and toilets)
  • at all times for all staff and learners in secondary schools (including special schools and independent and grant aided schools) and
  • in line with the updated arrangements for public transport, where adults and children and young people aged 12 and over are travelling on dedicated school transport

Face coverings should be worn by parents and other visitors to all school sites (whether entering the building or otherwise), including parents at drop-off and pick-up.
 
Classroom assistants and those supporting children with Additional Support Needs, who may routinely have to work closely with primary, secondary or special school pupils, should wear face coverings as a general rule (see earlier section on physical distancing).  However, the use of opaque face coverings should be balanced with the wellbeing and needs of the child, recognising that face coverings may limit communication and could cause distress to some children – appropriate use of transparent face coverings may help in these circumstances.  It is advised that these adults should be very alert to symptoms and follow closely the guidance on responding to COVID-19 symptoms. 

Local Incident Management Teams, led by Health Protection Teams, may recommend a further strengthening of the use of face coverings in all classrooms (particularly in secondary schools) when dealing with local outbreaks.

Where local decisions on the strengthened use of face coverings are made, it will remain vitally important to consider the potential impact on children and young people, including via the appropriate use of Equality Impact Assessments.

The impact of wearing a face covering for very young learners and/or learners with additional support needs, including any level of hearing loss, should be carefully considered.  Communication for many of these learners (including hearing impaired young people) relies in part on being able to see someone’s face clearly. This is also important for children and young people who are acquiring English and who rely on visual cues to enable them to be included in learning. Individuals who may not be able to handle and wear face coverings as directed (e.g. young learners, or those with additional support needs or disabilities) should not wear them as it may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission. Scottish Government guidance on “Helping Others” sets out supportive approaches when interacting with hearing impaired people. The National Deaf Children’s Society has also suggested some ways in which communication with hearing impaired learners can be supported, in circumstances where face coverings are a barrier to communication.

In classes where any such impacts are anticipated and no alternative mitigations are reasonable, schools should consider the use of transparent/see-through face coverings. Some children and young people may need additional support/reassurance about the reasons for adults wearing face coverings. However, as face coverings have become prevalent in wider society, this is likely to be less of a concern.

It is vital that clear instructions are provided to staff and children and young people on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all of the circumstances above, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. The key points are as follows:

  • face coverings should not be shared with others
  • before putting on or removing the face covering, hands should be cleaned by washing with soap and water or hand sanitiser
  • make sure the face covering is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin. Children should be taught how to wear the face covering properly, including not touching the front and not pulling it under the chin or into their mouth
  • when temporarily storing a face covering (e.g. during classes), it should be placed in a washable, sealed bag or container. Avoid placing it on surfaces, due to the possibility of contamination.
  • re-usable face coverings should be washed after each day of use in school at 60 degrees centigrade or in boiling water

Disposable face coverings must be disposed of safely and hygienically. Children and young people should be encouraged not to litter and to place their face coverings in the general waste bin. They are not considered to be clinical waste in the same way that used PPE may be.

Further general advice on face coverings is available in the Scottish Government’s COVID-19: face coverings guidance.

There should be regular messaging from schools children, young people and staff about these instructions, with a clear expectation that face coverings are worn in the relevant areas except for those who are exempt.  

Local authorities and schools should consider carefully how to address any equity concerns arising from the use of face coverings, including in respect of the impacts on certain groups of pupils and the costs of providing face coverings for staff and children and young people. It is reasonable to assume that most staff and young people will now have access to re-usable face coverings due to their increasing use in wider society, and the Scottish Government has made available a video on how to make a simple face covering. However, where anybody is struggling to access a face covering, or where they are unable to use their face covering due to having forgotten it or it having become soiled/unsafe, schools should take steps to have a contingency supply available to meet such needs on a stigma-free basis.

As is usual, if there are any concerns about a child or young person behaving or acting in a way which doesn’t align with school policy or procedure, their behaviour or actions should be discussed with them to resolve those concerns as quickly as possible, with any further action taken in line with usual school policy or procedure.  If all approaches to resolve the concern with a child or young person in relation to health and safety measures have been exhausted then exclusion could be considered as an appropriate measure, but only as a last resort.  “Included, engaged and involved part 2: preventing and managing school exclusions”, provides national policy guidance on the use of early intervention and prevention to promote positive relationships and behaviour.

It is not recommended that face coverings are used in secure schools. 

Testing (asymptomatic, symptomatic and close contact testing)

Please see the first section of this guidance for further information about new measures to support uptake and recording of the asymptomatic testing offer for staff and secondary pupils.

The asymptomatic testing offer is for all school staff and secondary pupils. It is delivered in partnership by the Scottish Government and the UK Department for Health and Social Care. Local authorities and schools should take all appropriate measures to promote awareness and uptake of this offer.

Detailed, step-by-step guidance about the asymptomatic testing programme has been shared with schools and ELC providers via Objective Connect, a document sharing platform. This guidance was developed in collaboration with NHS Test and Protect and the UK Department for Health and Social Care to support school and ELC providers in the delivery of the Schools/ELC Asymptomatic Testing Programme. Schools should provide staff and secondary pupils with Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) for twice-weekly, at-home rapid testing. Participants should then record all results (positive, negative or void) via the online digital reporting portal

In the event of supply or delivery issues affecting the availability of LFD test kits in schools, staff and pupils can access regular asymptomatic LFD testing through the Universally Accessible Testing programme, which is available to everyone in Scotland. LFD test kits are available for collection from COVID test centres or pharmacies, or delivery by ordering online.

Confirmatory PCR tests will continue to be made available for all those who test positive using LFDs. It is very important that schools encourage all those participating to undertake these PCR follow-up tests, to mitigate against any risk of false positives and unnecessary self-isolation.

Asymptomatic testing is an additional measure and should not replace other mitigations. School staff and secondary pupils who opt to undertake asymptomatic testing do not need to self-isolate while awaiting results, as long as no symptoms develop. Additionally, asymptomatic staff, student teachers and learners who receive negative LFD test results must not regard themselves or behave as if they are free from infection. 

Symptomatic staff, student teachers and learners should not use LFDs and must not attend work or school. They must access a PCR test as per their usual symptomatic testing channel. If a symptomatic staff member, student teacher or learner has used an LFD and has returned a negative result, they must still self-isolate and arrange a PCR test.

Close contacts of any confirmed COVID case are identified through Test and Protect, who will provide appropriate advice on testing in those circumstances, in line with updated policies.

Anyone receiving a positive PCR test for COVID will not be able to participate in weekly LFD testing for 90 days.

Staying vigilant and responding to COVID-19 symptoms

The whole school community should be vigilant for the symptoms of COVID-19, and to understand what actions they should take if someone develops them, either onsite or offsite. The most common symptoms are:

  • new continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature 
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste (anosmia)

All staff working in and with schools, along with the children and young people in their care, should be supported to follow up to date health protection advice on household or self- isolation and Test and Protect procedures if they or someone in their household exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, or if they have been identified by NHS contact tracers as a close contact of someone with the virus. Guidance on this is available from NHS Inform, Parent Club and gov.scot

Schools and local authorities should ensure that children, young people and staff are aware that it is essential they do not attend school if symptomatic. Everyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 – a new, continuous cough; fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste - should self- isolate straight away, stay at home and arrange a test via the appropriate method (see below).

All children, young people and staff must know that they must inform a member of staff or responsible person if they feel unwell with symptoms of COVID-19. Schools may need to ensure a responsible adult is there to support an affected individual where required.  If the affected person has mild symptoms, and is over the age of 16 and is able to do so, they should go home as soon as they notice symptoms and follow the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection including testing and self-isolation.  If the individual affected is a child or young person below the age of 16 (or otherwise unable to travel by themselves), parents/carers should be contacted and asked to make arrangements to pick up the child or young person from school (preferably this should be another adult member of their household and not a grandparent) and follow the national guidance for households with possible COVID-19 infection including testing and self-isolation.

If a child or young person is awaiting collection try to find somewhere safe for them to sit which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible, and it is safe to do so, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door with appropriate adult supervision if required, depending on the age and needs of the child or young person. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.  Ensure that guidance on the use of PPE is followed.  The individual should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze, and then put the tissue in the bin. The symptomatic individual should also be asked to wear a face mask or face covering to reduce environmental contamination where this can be tolerated. If no bin is available, put the tissue in a bag or pocket for disposing in a bin later. If there are no tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow. Where possible, a separate bathroom should be designated for the individual to use.

Those with minor symptoms (staff and young people over the age of 16 and children under the age of 16 accompanied by a parent/carer), should, after leaving the school, minimise contact with others where possible, e.g. use a private vehicle to go home. If it is not possible to use private transport, then they should be advised to return home quickly and directly, and wear a face covering in line with Scottish Government guidance. If using public transport, they should try to keep away from other people and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow. See the Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings for further advice on travel

If an individual is so unwell that they require an ambulance, phone 999 and let the call handler know you are concerned about COVID-19. If it is safe and appropriate to do so, whilst you wait for advice or an ambulance to arrive, try to find somewhere safe for the unwell person to sit which is at least 2 metres away from other people. Ensure that guidance on the use of PPE is followed.

Advice on cleaning of premises after a person who potentially has COVID-19 has left the school premises can be found in the Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings.  Assist FM have also produced complementary guidance on cleaning in schools.

Individuals should wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell (see personal hygiene section). 

Schools should manage single cases, clusters and outbreaks (i.e if schools have two or more confirmed linked cases of COVID-19 within 14 days) in line with the guidance on outbreak management (below).

Schools should also maintain an accurate register of absences of children, young people and staff and whether these are due to possible or confirmed COVID-19. Codes for this have been developed in SEEMiS.

Schools and local authorities should also ensure that children, young people and staff are aware of updated guidance on self-isolation of close contacts from 9 August (as summarised in the “Changes to Previous Guidance” section of this guidance). 

The Protect Scotland app from NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect is designed to help people and reduce the spread of coronavirus. The app will alert an individual if they have been in close contact with another app user who has tested positive for coronavirus and can help in determining contacts that may have otherwise been missed while keeping people’s information private and anonymous. Advice from Health Protection Teams may override advice from the app to self-isolate.

Accessing testing

Guidance on booking testing through the UK Government test sites can be found on NHS inform and the Scottish Government website. Anyone unable to access these websites can call NHS24 free on 0800 028 2816 or NHS 111. Guidance on testing in health and care settings is available. 

Symptomatic children, young people and staff can book a test through www.nhsinform.scot, the employer referral portal (for staff only – see below) or, if they cannot get online, by calling 0800 028 2816. 

Schools, other than in those authorities detailed in the following paragraph, will also be able to register their symptomatic staff as category 3 key workers under the employer referral portal, to ensure priority access to testing. The nature of this portal is to prioritise tests and appointments over the general public.  This route directs individuals through to a Regional Test Centre or Mobile Testing Unit (whichever is nearer).  For those who cannot access an RTC/MTU (if they do not have access to a car or live too far away), they can order a home test kit.  

For schools in Orkney, Shetland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, there are different routes to accessing a test in these local areas. Education departments in these areas should liaise with their local Health Boards to ensure priority access to symptomatic testing for school staff.

Enhanced surveillance and outbreak management

The public health measures set out above will go a long way to ensuring that schools are a safer environment for everyone. There will also be, in parallel, a number of measures designed to monitor developments and allow for rapid response to any cases of COVID-19. 

Enhanced surveillance programme 

Scotland’s community surveillance programme allows us to monitor actively trends in the pandemic, both nationally and more locally. 

There is also specific surveillance in respect of schools and children/young people.  This draws on COVID-19 related information from a range of sources and covers all school ages and the ELC phase.

Weekly surveillance information is published on the PHS education surveillance dashboards on PCR testing, positive cases, test positivity and hospital admissions among children, the number and proportion of all cases that are among those who work in education settings; and the uptake and results of LFD testing for these settings. Information is also collated on antibody testing, vaccination, and incidents in education settings. 

These data will inform decision-makers at different levels as they consider any adjustments to make to arrangements – including this guidance – or any investigations to be conducted at certain localities to explore what local responses are required. 

Outbreak management

Outbreak management in all settings is led by NHS Health Board health protection teams (HPTs). 

The procedures for incident management are well established (Managing Public Health Incidents) and are undertaken in partnership with schools, local authorities and Public Health Scotland (as required).

Schools should ensure that they know how to contact their local HPT and their designated person for doing so is often the Head Teacher.

Schools should ensure they are aware of the following definitions:

  • cluster definition

Two or more unlinked (or link unknown yet) test-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among individuals associated with a specific setting with illness onset dates within 14 days. 

  • outbreak definition 

Two or more linked test-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among individuals, associated with a specific setting within 14 days.

Single cases will be identified by Test and Protect and close contacts will be identified through them too – people do not have to do anything unless contacted by Test and Protect or if they become symptomatic. Schools are no longer to contact HPTs to notify of every single confirmed case in a school setting.

Schools should contact their local HPT if a cluster is identified. The HPT can provide advice to assess any links between cases, undertake risk assessment and discuss further action.  Following this an outbreak may be declared, usually through an IMT.

Where necessary an IMT will be established to manage the outbreak. An IMT is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency group with responsibility for investigating and managing the outbreak. The HPT will chair the IMT and representatives from the school and council will be invited to join.

Schools may be asked to support an outbreak investigation by: 

  • attending an Incident Management Team (IMT) meeting
  • communicating with children, parents/carers, staff and the media
  • implementing appropriate enhanced infection, prevention and control measures and support for contact tracing as recommended by the HPT or IMT

Usually schools continue to operate during outbreaks. On occasion it may be necessary to move to remote learning approaches or to temporarily close a school or part of a school in order to implement control measures or for operational reasons.  Any decision on this should be determined through the IMT.

Schools should maintain records to support outbreak identification and investigation, including attendance records and reasons for absence. When information sharing is needed during management of an incident there is a duty to both protect and share personal information between those participating in the IMT such as test results and contact details. These requirements are set out in Annex E of Management of Public Health Incidents. The sharing of information must be facilitated respecting the principles of confidentiality and relevant legislation. To support this, Data Protection Impact Assessments should be in place for all partner organisations.

It is for local Health Protection Teams to consider individual risks for any staff or pupils.

There may also 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.  This will closely involve local authorities and local Public Health Teams.  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.

Special considerations for certain groups

People in the highest risk group (previously those on the shielding list) 

Updated guidance for these individuals is included in the “Changes to Previous Guidance” section of this guidance.

Children and young people with Additional Support Needs

Every child and young person will have different levels of required support. It will be important as part of the risk assessments carried out to consider the individual needs of a child or young person. 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 appropriate eg when carrying out Aerosol Generating Procedures), and regularly wash their hands before and after contact.  Guidance on supporting children and young people with additional support needs is published by the Scottish Government.  

Pregnancy

Updated guidance on pregnant women is included in the “Changes to Previous Guidance” section of this guidance.

Support for minority ethnic staff 

The Scottish Government continues to work with experts from a range of fields, including our Ethnicity Expert Reference Group, to develop actions to help mitigate any disproportionate effects and implications experienced by minority ethnic groups and communities.  There is cross organisational work being taken forward to fulfil the recommendations made by the Covid Ethnicity Expert Reference Group.   

On 27 July 2020 we published COVID-19 Occupational Risk Assessment Guidance

This guidance includes an easy to use, individual risk assessment tool that takes into account ethnicity, age, gender, BMI and health conditions to give an overall COVID-19 risk age. 

Staff and employers in all sectors now use this guidance to determine whether or not, the workplace is safe and it is safe for the individual to be at work. The guidance is based on the latest clinical and scientific advice on COVID-19 and is updated on a regular basis. 

The clarity this tool brings has been widely welcomed, as we now know that certain minority ethnic groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and that simply viewing medical conditions in isolation, does not accurately predict an individual’s vulnerability. 

The most important part of the process is the conversation that takes places between a manager and a member of staff. It is essential that the outcome from these conversations is agreed by both parties. The conversation should take into consideration, workplace risks, and the control measures that can be put into place, to agree a course of action regarding work duties. The guidance also signposts to further medical advice and support for those with complex vulnerabilities.

Wellbeing of children and young people

Local authorities have continued to support vulnerable children and young throughout the period of children and young people whilst learning at home.  Given the wider impact of the pandemic, the wellbeing of all children, young people and staff will continue to be the central focus for schools.  The Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach is key to that, ensuring that local services are co-ordinated, joined up and multi-disciplinary in order to respond to children and young people who require support, and everyone who works in those services has a role to play.  

Guidance on support for continuity of learning and Curriculum for Excellence in the Recovery Phase both reinforce the importance of wellbeing as a critical focus in recovery. Balancing progress in learning with children and young people’s social and emotional needs should be a priority.  The guidance on support for continuity in learning also highlights the expected impacts on children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse, and those who are in need of care and protection as a result of lockdown, and an increased need for support for mental health and wellbeing.  Children and young people may not immediately disclose these concerns, and therefore there is a need for a sustained approach.

Local authority and health board partners must be engaged in local planning to ensure that the health and wellbeing needs of children and young people in school can be met. This will be particularly important in GIRFEC planning, prevention activity including surveillance (vison screening) and immunisations, and health developmental interventions.

The psychological impact of the outbreak and the necessary public health control measures are likely to have had significant social, emotional and developmental effects on many children and young people and, consequently, achievement. Many children and young people may experience anxiety about returning to school, many of them will also have enjoyed the experience of spending more time at home.  Children and young people may need additional time and support as they return again to the school environment. For some children and young people who were unable to access therapeutic support, the return to that support will have been welcome, but the changes within school environments, and routines, may continue to impact on their wellbeing.  

It will be important for schools to be able to recognise that children, young people and staff may be affected by trauma and adversity, and to be capable of responding in ways that prevent further harm and which support recovery. The National Trauma Training framework and plan are designed to support the development of a trauma-informed workforce and may have relevance to school plans.  Schools should ensure that all staff, including catering and cleaning staff, are aware of safeguarding procedures.

As would be usual, if there are any concerns about a child or young person behaving or acting in a way which doesn’t align with school policy or procedure, their behaviour or actions should be discussed with them to resolve those concerns as quickly as possible.  If that does not resolve the concerns, then the usual school and authority policy and procedures for dealing with concerns should be implemented, within the context of positive relationships and behavioural approaches, including discussing the matter with the child or young person, parents and carers as appropriate.  

Vulnerable children and young people – definition

The definition in place since the start of January 2021 continues to apply.  Children and young people may be vulnerable because of factors related to their personal development, features of their family life, or because of wider influences that impact on them within their community.

Those children and young people who were considered to be vulnerable prior to the pandemic should have been known to services, and are likely to have had a child’s plan. The pandemic has brought others into this category, for example through loss of family income.

Where a child or young person requires co-ordinated support from more than one agency, this is likely to suggest greater vulnerability, and the plan would be co-ordinated by a lead professional. This would include a range of children and young people, such as those:

  • at risk of significant harm, with a child protection plan
  • looked after at home, or away from home
  • ‘on the edge of care’, where families would benefit from additional support
  • with additional support needs, where there are one or more factors which require significant or co-ordinated support
  • affected by disability
  • where they and/or their parents are experiencing poor physical or mental health
  • experiencing adversities including domestic abuse and bereavement and those
  • requiring support when they are involved in making transitions at critical stages in their lives

Children ,young people and families may also experience adversity because of the impact of poverty and disadvantage (including entitlement to free school meals), and many will be facing this because of the necessary measures to respond to the pandemic.  This will include families with loss of income, experiencing social isolation, or otherwise struggling because of the lockdown.

Young people in the senior phase who attend colleges 

Young people in the senior phase may require to spend time in college environments. They should ensure that they follow the guidance on the appropriate approach to these specific circumstances while on campus. This has now been included in updated guidance for colleges.    

Colleges are now able to facilitate the return of senior phase school pupils studying at college who require in-person provision for the 2021/22 academic year. All reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing students and staff, taking into account local circumstances. It may be helpful for pupils to continue their learning remotely for those course elements where this is possible.

Evidence to date suggests there has not been significant transmission in the educational aspects of HE / FE settings, while it is clear that there would be significant disadvantage to young people in these circumstances were they not to be able to attend HE / FE for their courses. On this basis, the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group have noted the need for compliance with protective measures to be strongly reinforced.

All public health measures that apply in colleges should be strictly observed, including in circumstances where school students are being taught separately from the wider college population.

Schools and local authorities should, in partnership with FE/HE institutions and local public health teams, pay very close attention to any evidence suggesting the potential for emerging bridges of transmission between school and FE/HE settings. In the event that any such evidence is identified, they should consult immediately with local public health teams on any requirement to pause in-person attendance at FE/HE institutions by senior phase students. They should ensure that appropriate contingency measures for remote learning are in place for any required period of time.

Individual risk assessments

Local authorities will already have individual risk assessment processes in place to support individuals in the groups above. However, staff in all sectors can still use the Scottish Government individual risk assessment guidance if they remain concerned about their health condition, or are anxious about returning to work.


Contact

Email: CERG@gov.scot  

First published: 25 Mar 2021 Last updated: 1 Oct 2021 -