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
School operations

School operations

Promoting attendance and reducing absence

It is recognised that some parents and carers may be concerned about their child being in school, and consider withholding their child until reassurance is provided. In these circumstances, schools and local authorities should engage with those parents and carers to provide reassurance on any concerns, overcome any barriers to learning, and support attendance. National guidance on promoting attendance and managing absence makes clear the importance of relationships with families in promoting good attendance.  

Parents are required under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to provide education for their child.  It is important that children and young people are able to benefit from their right to education; are able to see their friends and have social contact and benefit from the learning, care and support that schools provide. The ongoing need to reconnect to normal patterns and routines in children’s lives will be important and reassuring to them.

National guidance is clear that measures of compulsion for attendance should only be used as a last resort once all other approaches to support attendance have been undertaken. Additional codes have been developed within SEEMiS to support the recording and monitoring of attendance and absence, including specific codes relating to COVID-19.

One way systems

To support physical distancing requirements, risk assessments should consider the ways in which busy corridors, entrances and exits could be avoided, and could include one way and/or external circulation routes.

Staggered break and lunch times

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.

Catering

Guidance from Food Standards Scotland (FSS), which includes a risk assessment tool and checklist should be followed.  Any school or local authority wishing to provide a breakfast service should follow this risk assessment tool and checklist.  Further advice around mitigating any issues identified by the risk assessment can be requested from the local environmental health team.  Additionally, this Q&A from FSS may be useful. 

In the circumstances where a school has a breakfast club which is organised by the third sector, parents and carers or volunteers, rather than by the school itself, the guidance on unregulated children’s services will apply. That guidance does not apply to breakfast clubs which are provided by a school or authority themselves (these are considered regulated services), and the arrangements set out in this guidance will apply.

Outdoor learning

Schools should consider the increased use of outdoor spaces. The Covid-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues has commented that there “is consistent evidence that the risk of transmission outdoors is low, and the benefits of outdoor activity are well recognised”. The outdoors can provide extra space for distancing between consistent groups of learners, help to decrease the risk of transmission and improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people. 

Suitable facilities may include school playgrounds, local greenspaces and/or community areas. When enhancing existing outdoor space within their own grounds, schools may find it necessary to consider temporary shelters or the periodic use of established buildings for activities such as handwashing, regrouping or the relaying of instructions. An appropriate cleaning regime should be introduced along with appropriate bins for disposal of any rubbish and hand washing stations/sanitiser to ensure hygiene. 

Schools should ensure that children and young people with additional support needs are not disadvantaged. In addition, if outdoor equipment is being used, schools should ensure that multiple groups do not use it simultaneously, as well as considering appropriate cleaning between groups of children using it. Appropriate clothing should be worn for the particular outdoor activity.

Education Scotland provides a summary of outdoor learning resources which can support schools and practitioners in taking more learning out of the classroom.  The Outdoor Learning Directory provides links to a variety of resources that can be filtered by subject area and curriculum level and the Teaching Learning Outdoors and Supporting Learning Outdoors professional learning courses are available free to all teachers and support staff. Specialist outdoor educators from organisations supporting outdoor learning can also provide advice, training and information, and can work alongside school staff. A map of outdoor education providers is available as well as a directory of residential providers - some of whom may be able to provide advice and support to schools. Further support can be accessed through the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education who will be able to put school staff in contact with their local authority outdoor learning lead.

Support and guidance in relation to off-site outdoor learning (to be planned in reference to the most up-to-date Scottish Government school visits guidance) can be found on the Going Out There framework

In order to make the best use of outdoor learning opportunities, local authorities should draw on the expertise of their outdoor learning lead officers to share the outdoor learning advice within this guidance. This includes the benefits of learning in the outdoors in relation to reduced COVID-19 transmission, the benefits of outdoor learning on progression across curriculum areas and the health and wellbeing of young people and opportunities for professional development in relation to outdoor provision. 

Practical activities, experiments and investigations

Practical, “hands-on” learning and activities, experiments and investigations are an important part of the curriculum across all subject areas.  We recognise that practitioners may need to adapt their approaches to enable learners to carry out these activities in a safe way.  Practitioners should consult Education Scotland’s practical activities guidelines for further advice. In addition, SSERC has produced guidance on carrying out practical work in Sciences and Technologies for early, primary and secondary levels, including links to helpful resources. 

Home economics

Guidelines on safe practice in home economics have been prepared by Education Scotland and were published on 16 February 2021 on the Education Scotland website. 

Activities or clubs outside the usual school timetable 

These are important for wider health and development of children and can be conducted subject to following guidance for schools, and guidance for the general public where applicable.  Schools should consider the need for out of hours cleaning when scheduling activities.

Remote and blended learning

eSchools should continue to invest in digital learning and teaching. This should include having plans in place to be prepared for sudden or partial school closure and to provide continuity in the provision of education for individuals when small groups of learners are unable to attend school. The National eLearning Offer (NeLO) remains in place for session 2021/2022 providing a range of live, recorded and supported learning materials to support schools.

Remote learning plans should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are current and appropriate, and updated as required. The following provides an indication of the key issues to consider as part of this ongoing process: 

  • ensure that staff and pupils have access to the necessary digital devices and connectivity solutions. Digital infrastructure, both in the classroom and the home environments will need to be considered, including cameras, microphones, laptops, and access to data connectivity, as well as wider considerations around safeguarding and online safety
  • how best to support children and young people with additional support needs, including those with English as an additional language
  • how best to organise staff time and associated resources and arrangements to ensure that staff can access advice and professional development via the local authority, Regional Improvement Collaborative or Education Scotland
  • communicate relevant updates and information to parents, carers and learners
  • continue to consider Education Scotland’s guidance, advice and additional support relating to remote learning (see below) and
  • continue to consider the findings of the National Overviews of Practice and exemplars of what is working.  National overview of practice: reports | National overviews | Supporting remote learning | National Improvement Hub (education.gov.scot)

The Education Scotland website includes a single landing page for all guidance and practical support on remote learning. 

Resources to support remote learning to complement arrangements and support in place via individual schools, local authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives have been developed via the National e-Learning Offer. This offer includes access to live, recorded and supported learning resources, as well as professional development support via Education Scotland’s Digital Learning Community.

The National Improvement Hub provides learning resources, webinars and links to Glow Connect, providing information, help and support for Glow. Regional Improvement Collaboratives have further information and support on Curriculum and blended learning for teachers which can be accessed through Glow. 

Readiness and assurance 

In the event of a local outbreak of the virus, a school or a number of schools may be closed temporarily to help control transmission.  Schools and local authorities should prepare and maintain clear, strong contingency plans for providing education remotely. Local authorities and schools should ensure that parents/carers are fully informed of the contingency plans in place. It is important to identify the essential items and information that would be needed in the event of a school closure, for example access to contact information, and the correspondence that would be used to inform parents and others of the arrangements for closure and subsequent re-opening. Key scenarios (annex C) sets out the scenarios, expectations and actions that local authorities are expected to familiarise themselves with. 

School transport 

This guidance is intended to inform local authority planning of school transport services.  This includes transport which takes learners between home and school and between school and other places where educational delivery is planned. Local authorities are responsible for implementation of mitigation measures, working with the operators with whom they contract to ensure necessary measures are put in place in line with risk assessments (which should involve appropriate consultation with trade unions and staff).  Parents and school staff should all play a role in educating children and young people on acceptable behaviour on school and public transport and in emphasising the need to abide by key mitigations such as the wearing of face coverings.  

This guidance has been informed by the scientific advice of the COVID-19 Advisory Sub Group on Education and Children’s issues, published on 30 October and by its discussions and advice during January to March 2021 and its advice published on 3 August 2021. The key messages from the scientific advice include:

Dedicated school transport should be regarded as an extension of the school estate and it is not necessary to maintain distance between children and young people of all ages. However, it remains important to remain cautious and exercise personal responsibility, recognising that, where possible, it is safer to keep a distance from other people.  It is acceptable for children from different schools to share dedicated school transport.  

  • important mitigations include: hygiene, ventilation, improved cleaning regimes including regular and thorough cleaning of surfaces, and regular handwashing. Hand sanitising should be required for everyone prior to boarding dedicated school transport and schools should also consider a process for children and young people which enables them to wash their hands immediately on arrival (as is the case for all children and young people), dispose of temporary face coverings in a covered bin or place reusable face coverings in a plastic bag they can take home with them, and then wash their hands again. Face coverings should be worn on dedicated school transport (subject to exemptions), in line with public transport
  • children, young people and adults must not board dedicated school or public transport if they, or a member of their household, have symptoms of COVID-19. If a child or young person develops symptoms while at school they will be sent home. They must not travel on regular home-to-school transport. The school should contact the parent/carer who should make appropriate and safe arrangements to collect the child or young person. In this situation, the wearing of a face covering by the child or young person on the journey home is strongly advised
  • where children aged 12 and above use public transport, they are required by law to wear a face covering unless an exemption applies. Face coverings must be worn before boarding and must not be removed before alighting public transport services. Face coverings must also be worn whilst in or at public transport premises such as train and bus stations, ferry terminals and transport interchanges. Transport Scotland`s guidance on how to travel safely during Covid-19 should also be followed
  • drivers and staff on public transport, and to a lesser extent on school transport, are at relatively higher risk of exposure and particular attention should be paid to ensuring that they are protected from airborne and surface transmission
  • compliance with the above should be strongly reinforced

National transport guidance and local authority arrangements

Schools should be aware of the latest guidance on how to remain safe when walking, cycling and travelling in vehicles or on public transport as we transition through and out of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Local authorities should ensure that local arrangements and advice to staff, parents/carers and children and young people for travelling to and from their school are consistent with the latest national guidance. Schools should work with their local authority public transport teams to inform their local planning. As part of risk assessments, local authorities should work with schools, transport operators and trade unions as necessary to identify the risks arising from COVID-19 and work through the measures in this section of the guidance to minimise any risks to children, young people and staff travelling on transport to school.

Some general points for consideration are:

  • local authorities and schools should ensure they maintain an appropriate understanding (e.g. through a survey of families or other engagement) of how children and young people travel to school, to aid in quantifying the potential public transport issues in local authority areas
  • ensure understanding is shown to children, young people, staff and parents/carers who may be delayed in getting to school due to transport issues
  • additional support should be available for vulnerable families for planning their journey to school
  • include colleges and other relevant partners in planning for school transport, as young people in the senior phase may also be doing some of their learning in colleges, on work placements, or through consortium arrangements
  • ensure that all children and young people travelling on dedicated or public transport have access to hand sanitiser.  The precise arrangements for doing so are for local authorities to decide in consultation with operators and school communities. Options may include provision of personalised supplies to those travelling on school transport

A strategy for communicating and disseminating clear information about school transport provision to parents/carers and children and young people, drivers and other staff should be developed.

Encouraging active travel

As far as it is safe to do so, the use of active travel routes by parents/carers, staff and children and young people should be encouraged. All sustainable and active travel modes should be considered and encouraged, such as, walking and cycling, scooting and wheeling etc. If bikes are stored in bike sheds/racks consideration should be given to the cleaning of these areas and to reducing time spent at the bikes stores/shed.

Dedicated school transport 

Dedicated school transport is, broadly, transport services which carry children and young people to and/or from their homes and any educational establishment where they receive school education. It is important to note that dedicated school bus vehicles may be used for other purposes before and after transporting children to school – effective implementation of the preventative measures set out below is particularly important in these circumstances.

This guidance also reflects the scientific advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children regarding the requirements for the safe travel of children and young people to/from school published on 16 July 2020 and the updated advice published 30 October 2020:

  • enhanced cleaning:  Local authorities should work with transport operators to agree what supplementary arrangements are needed alongside operators’ existing programmes for cleaning vehicles. It is recommended that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned appropriately after each journey wherever possible – especially important where vehicles are used for other purposes before and after transporting children to and from school – and that enhanced cleaning takes place at the end of each day. Ensuring an effective enhanced cleaning regime is in place will play an important role in suppressing transmission and building confidence among parents, children and young people in school transport services
  • children and young people: face coverings should be worn by children aged 12 years and over on dedicated school transport (unless exemptions apply). See the section on Face Coverings for further information
  • transport operators should be asked to keep windows on dedicated school transport open, where possible, and to ensure that mechanical ventilation uses fresh rather than recirculated air; or use air conditioning with attention paid to the appropriate frequency for changes of filters
  • drivers, staff and other adults: particular attention should be paid to ensuring drivers, staff and other adults are protected from the risks of COVID-19 in vehicles.  Risk assessments should consider whether changes within a vehicle are required, with changes made on that basis.  Drivers and passenger assistants may wish to use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser at intervals throughout the journey, and should always do so after performing tasks such as helping a child into the vehicle or handling a child’s belongings. Drivers of school transport services may also have other driving tasks as part of their job role, for example delivering meals to care homes, day centres and sometimes transporting others who may be vulnerable. Local authorities should pay particular attention to effective implementation of the preventative measures set out in this guidance in these circumstances to prevent the spread of infection. As far as possible, windows should be opened
  • adults travelling with children and young people with Additional Support Needs: Adults travelling with children and young people with Additional Support Needs should be very alert to them displaying symptoms.  As a general rule, these adults should wear face coverings. However, this requires to be balanced with the wellbeing and needs of the child: face coverings may limit communication and could cause distress to some children and young people. Advice should be provided to parents/carers to support the effective cleaning of specialist equipment for children and young people with additional support needs who are using school transport. Local authorities should consider the support available for children and young people with complex Additional Support Needs using school transport, and take appropriate actions to reduce risk if adherence to hygiene rules for adults are not possible. As far as possible, windows should be opened.
  • all (children, young people, drivers, other adults) travelling on dedicated school transport: All passengers and staff should sanitise their hands prior to boarding dedicated school transport Schools should regularly reinforce the importance of this key message with all children and young people. Hand washing/hand sanitising should be done regularly throughout the day including on each and every entry to the school building and prior to boarding the school bus. Good respiratory hygiene should be encouraged (“Catch it, kill it, bin it”) and children and young people should be encouraged to carry tissues on home to school transport. It is crucial that someone with symptoms does not enter a bus and travel. Drivers and adult passengers must self-isolate and book a test if they display coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. Families must get a test for children and young people displaying symptoms

Taxis and private hire vehicles

Some children and young people, including those with additional support needs, rely on taxi transfers to get to school. Physical distancing in private hire vehicles is not required, however, it is important to remain cautious and exercise personal responsibility, recognising that, where possible, it is safer to keep a distance from other people. Young people aged 12 years and over must continue to wear face coverings in private hire vehicles, and it is recommended that in private hire vehicles (which are typically saloon cars) children and young people travel on the back seat only.  As far as possible, windows should be opened. There should be careful consideration of how children and young people with additional needs and adults supporting them can be provided with safe, bespoke transport arrangements. This could include the use of Perspex shields in taxis (taking into account relevant safety concerns) or finding larger vehicles for transportation. Local authorities and schools should liaise with their local private hire providers on the measures they are putting in place to protect passengers, including for the arrangements for carrying multiple passengers. Appropriate cleaning and sanitising measures will also be necessary.

Private cars

Routes to and from some schools may also be different as areas have made changes to enable physical distancing on pavements and on existing or pop-up cycle routes. While continuing to encourage walking or cycling where they can, parents or carers taking their children to school by car should be encouraged to plan their journey in advance and ensure that their chosen route is accessible. Local authorities may consider introducing park and stride for those children and young people who have to travel by car. Sustrans guidance on school streets provides advice. Where it is possible to do so, family groups should travel together. 

Workforce planning and support

Additional workforce capacity will be needed to provide a range of additional support to help with recovery work. The Scottish Government has made additional funding available to local authorities for the recruitment of additional teachers and other staff to support COVID-19 recovery.  Local authorities should ensure that these resources are used appropriately to bring additionality into the system to support young people.

Local authorities and headteachers, working in close partnership with unions and staff, are best placed to make judgements about how to make best use of available workforce capacity safely and effectively. Many of these decisions will be based on agreements reached within Local Negotiation Committees for Teachers (LNCTs) or local Scottish Joint Council arrangements.  This section sets out some high level expectations to ensure consistency, and some information on national initiatives to support local authorities in these efforts.

Schools may require additional staffing and the flexibility to deploy staff appropriately over the current school year to best support children and young people whose progress with learning has been impeded during lockdown, as well as to bring much needed resilience to the education system at this time (e.g. to cover for staff absence). 

Additionally, depending on the course of the pandemic, there may be additional strain on workforce capacity, for example as a result of fit notes for those in the highest risk groups or increased requirements for self-isolation, in the event of a deterioration in the situation with the pandemic. The need for additional capacity in the teaching workforce should be considered in order to deal with such impacts.

Workforce capacity

Local authorities should consider carefully their requirements for additional wider workforce staff, such as cleaners and other facilities management staff to implement enhanced environmental cleaning regimes.

Local authorities should work through the following actions as part of any teaching/auxiliary education workforce planning activities for school premises:

  • ensure that teachers who have not yet secured permanent employment are considered as an integral part of their planning
  • consider the potential for teachers with strong digital teaching skill sets to support remote learning. This may be an important aspect of maintaining educational continuity
  • ensure that supply lists are as up to date as possible and include the full pool of available staff. Supply staff are an important aspect of maintaining educational continuity and should be fully utilised in local planning around workforce capacity where needed
  • consider at a local level how all staff who are having to stay at home due to self-isolation can support educational continuity, for example by supporting remote learning
  • consider the availability of health and social care and other multi-agency partners as part of planning for support for children and young people and
  • consider any other opportunities to ensure existing qualified teaching staff and wider workforce capacity, such as classroom assistants, cleaners etc, can be effectively deployed

Throughout this process potential workload issues should be carefully considered, and local authorities should be conscious of the wellbeing of all and the need to implement flexible working practices in a way that promotes good work-life balance for all staff.

Covid-19 Guidance: Student Teacher Professional Placements in Scotland was developed by the Scottish Council of Deans, GTCS, SPMG and ADES on the management of student teacher professional placements in school session 20/21 and the beginning of the new school year.  A small number of 20/21 students did not have sufficient direct classroom teaching experience in the current session to be recommended for the award of the Standard for Provisional Registration to the GTCS. This guidance, issued on 19 February, sets out the arrangements to be adopted for student placement and observation of students from March and into the beginning of the new session. Agreement has been made as to the treatment of student placements for 21/22 students with the majority of placements planned to take place from October 2021.  Some exceptions to this arrangement have been agreed with SPMG and these will be communicated through usual contact arrangements in line with the management of the Student Placement System. 

Local authorities should ensure that capacity in the wider workforce in the school environment is sufficient to meet the challenges of full-time schooling and keep this under constant review. For example, depending on local circumstances, there may be a particular need to recruit additional classroom assistants to support learning or cleaning staff for enhanced hygiene.

Workforce support

The health and wellbeing of staff is a key principle of education recovery and support should be developed collegiately with staff. Local authorities and settings should ensure that appropriate support for professional learning and wellbeing is provided to all staff, some of whom will be working in unusual circumstances. Local authorities, employers and a range of national organisations already provide a wide range of support to the workforce.  This includes a range of employee assistance programmes and online professional learning and support that covers the health and wellbeing of the workforce, colleagues/staff and of children and young people.

Local authorities and settings may wish to access the summary of available resources, produced by partners working under the Education Recovery Group (Workforce Support Workstream). 

The Workforce Support Workstream agreed and implemented a package of additional workforce support designed to aid school staff manage Covid-19 in establishments. The package is focused on staff wellbeing and includes new mental health support on reflective supervision from Place2Be and Barnardo’s Scotland, greater access to coaching and mentoring and more professional learning for post-probation teachers. The package also confirms continued SG funding for values based leadership with Columba 1400. 

Communications 

Communication and dialogue with trade unions, staff, parents/carers and children and young people should be carefully considered, to ensure confidence in safety arrangements across all school users. Clarity on what and how these arrangements will work in practice and what is expected of all parties will be key to ensuring things run smoothly.

The channels of communication through which trade unions, children, young people, staff and parents/carers can raise concerns about the implementation of safety measures in individual settings should be made clear and the importance of adhering to mitigations should also be reinforced with all members of the school community.

A range of information is available to provide clarity for parents, school staff and children and young people on how the scientific evidence/clinical advice translates into Government decisions to keep schools open. This will help to reduce anxiety for children, young people, parents and school staff through positive messaging on what is in place (testing, vaccinations, other mitigations etc). The importance of compliance with all protection measures (in school and in the community) continues to be integral to this.

Parents and carers

The main concerns for parents and carers are likely to be the safety and wellbeing of their children in schools and a desire for timely and clear information on the current rules for their child’s school and why those arrangements are in place.  In line with requirements under the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006, local authorities and settings should make arrangements to involve and communicate with all parents and carers (the “parent forum” for the school) as well as the Parent Council.  Advice and support are available from those in the local authority who are responsible for parental involvement. Two-way communication is vital, as is ongoing dialogue and gathering of parental feedback. 

Schools and authorities should consider how they continue to engage parents and families as part of the school community and in school decision making during the pandemic. As part of this, it will be important to consider the impact of parents not routinely going into the school buildings, and to ensure that this does not pose a barrier to open ongoing communication. There are a range of steps that can be taken to continue and support activities such as Parent Council meetings, parents’ evenings and subject choice discussions. In relation to parents’ evenings, the supplementary CERG practice guidance on parental involvement and engagement states that “[a]lternative methods and approaches to reporting will need to be used”. The guidance points to digital and online approaches as alternatives to face-to-face meetings,  In relation to all matters of parental involvement and engagement, including parents’ evenings and reporting to parents, equalities considerations remain key, and may be heightened due to coronavirus restrictions limiting parents’ physical access to school buildings. Consideration should be given to matters such as the needs of separated parents (having regard to the appropriateness of both parents being provided with information), parents for whom English is an additional language and parents/carers with disabilities. Further guidance on communicating effectively with parents and families during Covid-19 is available from the Education Scotland website. 

National information, Q&As and other material on Covid-19 arrangements, education recovery, parental communication and home learning can be used to complement any communications locally and at school level. This includes Parent Club’s dedicated COVID-19 web pages, the National Parent Forum (website and newsletter), Education Scotland’s “Scotland Learns” micro site,  Parentzone Scotland website and other sources.

Children and young people

Schools and settings will wish to develop arrangements for good quality dialogue and communication with children and young people. A variety of methods can help to gather children and young people’s views, questions and issues, and can help to clarify and address difficulties. Examples include Pupil Councils, pupil panels and broader pupil participation methods. General advice on good principles and methods for learner participation is available from Education Scotland as well as a range of third sector organisations.

Schools and local authorities will wish to consider the young person information available via Young Scot’s Covid-19 micro site. This information is updated in line with all key updates to guidance. Young person survey work includes the joint work by Young Scot, Scottish Youth Parliament and YouthLink Scotland. Further guidance and information is available from Children’s Parliament and Children in Scotland. Practical support on poverty-sensitive approaches is available via the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland's survey report on the cost of learning in lockdown.  Local community learning and development services, Parent Councils and local parent umbrella groups may be able to work with authorities and schools, to ensure that consistent information and advice reaches children and young people.  

Access to information

Education Scotland have developed an Education Recovery webpage that provides a single point of access to information about education recovery for practitioners and education stakeholders. This resource continues to highlight any published changes to guidance


Contact

Email: CERG@gov.scot  

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