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
Purpose of this guidance

Purpose of this guidance

The guidance applies to all local authorities and schools (primary/secondary/special/school hostels/residential) under their management. Local authorities and schools should exercise their judgement when implementing this guidance, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children, young people and staff taking into account local circumstances. 

Local authorities should ensure that any external organisations involved in delivering services in schools (e.g. contracted facilities management services) are required to follow this guidance.

Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of local authorities with regard to health and safety, public health and their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Local authorities must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance.

This guidance should also be used by grant-aided schools and independent schools to support their recovery efforts.

Recognising its specific context, separate guidance for the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and childcare sector has been developed.

Key context (including revised strategic framework)

We published our Strategic Framework update and Review of Physical Distancing on Tuesday 22 June 2021. This includes important context for the return to school/ELC.

It sets out a change to the Scottish Government’s overarching strategic intent, from: 

‘to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible’.

to one where we work: 

to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future’.

In considering arrangements for schools, this guidance has drawn on expert advice from the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues.  In developing that advice, the Advisory Sub-Group took account of relevant evidence and the potential impact of proposed mitigations in schools. In reaching their conclusions, they specifically considered Long Covid, the impact on staff safety and wellbeing, the wider impact on children and families and the potential for disrupted learning in future. An advice note from the Advisory Sub-group and an evidence summary were published in August on the Advisory Sub-Group’s web page.

This guidance has also benefited from stakeholder input via the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG), the Education Recovery Youth Panel, and other key fora. It has taken careful account of the evolving risk environment in schools and wider communities.

The position with regard to vaccination of school staff, and the consequent change in the risk profile of the school environment, has been an important consideration in developing this guidance. For example, it is estimated that around 94% of teachers have taken up the offer of a first dose of vaccination, and 91% of wider education staff. PHS estimate that, by 11 September 2021, 100% of teachers who have taken up their first dose should have been offered their second dose. This means that 100% of teachers who have taken up their first dose should have developed a second dose response by 25 September 2021, equating to 94% of the total teacher population in Scotland. Similarly, the majority of wider education staff who have taken up their first dose should also have developed their second dose response by this date. The timeline of near-complete vaccination of over 18 year olds by late September also indicates widespread protection of adults in other settings, including universities and colleges, early learning and childcare, training providers etc. While vaccination cannot offer 100% protection, it is highly effective at preventing severe disease.

The unique features of the school environment have been carefully considered. These include the fact that, in line with current JCVI advice, only a minority of children and young people have been vaccinated at the current point in time. This means that large numbers of unvaccinated children and young people will come together in a way that is unlikely to happen in other parts of society. However, the adult population required to mix with this unvaccinated population in schools will have high and increasing levels of protection from vaccination.

Further careful consideration has been given to the harms that have arisen from those mitigations recommended to date which are disruptive to education, particularly including self-isolation requirements (the latter of which are primarily aimed at protecting more vulnerable adults). Avoiding, wherever possible, the sort of disruption we have seen to senior phase pupils’ certification processes during the past two years will be of particular importance from the point of view of fairness to young people.

The mitigations set out in this guidance take account of these, and other, factors, and seek to balance the range of harms arising from COVID-19 in the school environment.

The Scottish Government is 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. Both a Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) and a broader impact assessment on the arrangements for returning to school in August, have been published.

Local authorities and schools will continue to offer support to the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils as they return to schools. As previously, a particular focus on children and young people with Additional Support Needs will be essential during this latest phase of the pandemic. 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 continue to be a priority. Detailed guidance on supporting staff and children and young people’s wellbeing remains in place in the Mitigations in detail chapter (Annex A in the PDF) of this guidance.



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