Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Non-statutory guidance to ensure a safe and supportive environment for learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

69 page PDF

637.0 kB

69 page PDF

637.0 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools
Scientific and public health advice

69 page PDF

637.0 kB

Scientific and public health advice

Key public health measures

This section of the guidance 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, when implemented alongside updated risk assessments, will help substantially mitigate the risks to children, young people and staff. 

This guidance is designed to promote a consistent and equitable approach against the context of the nationwide health emergency and is aligned with the COVID-19 Strategic Framework. Every school and setting is different, however, and local authorities and schools will understand best how this guidance can be applied in their settings. They should do so in a way that prioritises the health, safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff, and ensure that the risk mitigation measures set out in this guidance are implemented effectively.

Risk assessment

Employers must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect children, young people, staff and others from COVID-19 within the education setting.

It is a legal requirement that local authorities and headteachers ensure that risk assessments are conducted and regularly reviewed and updated.  Implementation of the mitigations set out in this section will also help manage risks effectively for children, young people and staff in school.

All aspects of school life should be considered, including transport to and from school and for learners attending college and work placement activities. Specific risk assessments should be completed regarding school cleaning and the use of school kitchens, including those used for home economics. This does not replace the need for other risk assessments required by law, such as under fire safety legislation. All risk assessments should be proportionate to the relevant protection level of the local area, and reviewed and updated as appropriate as circumstances change.

Schools should ensure that they implement pragmatic and proportionate control measures which reduce risk to the lowest reasonably practical level. They should have active arrangements in place to monitor that the controls are:

  • effective
  • working as planned
  • aligned with the appropriate mitigations for their protection level
  • updated appropriately as per the above, including considering any issues identified or changes in public health advice

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 staff and trade unions, including catering and facilities management teams and contractors where appropriate.

Schools should communicate with all school staff, children, young people and parents/carers regarding health and safety. It is imperative that all members of the school community understand what measures are being put in place and why, and can cooperate to make them work. Schools may wish to consult children, young people and parents/carers on these arrangements to help ensure that they feel safe and comfortable in school.

While intended for wider use, the Health and Safety Executive has produced helpful guidance on COVID-19 risk assessments.  

Read more information on what is required of employers in relation to health and safety risk assessments.

Public health measures to prevent and respond to infections

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:

  • enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements
  • minimising contact with others (groupings, maintaining distancing for young people in secondary schools and physical distancing for adults)
  • wearing face coverings or appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary
  • a requirement that people who are ill stay at home
  • 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 COVID-secure personal hygiene throughout the day.

The key COVID-secure personal hygiene measures that all children, young people and staff should follow 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
  • 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 COVID-secure 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. 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.

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 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
  • 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 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. Resources such as sand, water and playdough should be used only by consistent groupings of children and 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. Assist FM have also published complementary guidance on cleaning for local authorities with helpful practical advice on cleaning schedules.

Fomites (objects or materials which may carry infection – including text books and jotters, etc.) 

The updated advice of the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues notes that recent studies suggest that environmental contamination leading to transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely to occur in real life conditions, provided that standard cleaning procedures and precautions are enforced. In schools, the sub-group noted that this means following the general guidance on hand washing and respiratory hygiene, including cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces, and careful hand-washing with soap and warm water and / or use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling jotters, text books (or other pieces of equipment). This section of the guidance has been updated in light of this more recent evidence.

There are two potential approaches to mitigating risks from surface contamination of jotters, textbooks and library books. Schools should consider which of these approaches is most appropriate for their circumstances as part of appropriately updated risk assessments.

  • quarantining books for 72 hours remains an effective measure to mitigate the risks of handling them. The amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surface is likely to have decreased significantly after this time. School libraries adopting this approach may wish to develop quarantine procedures for returned books and resources. Book drops and book trolleys can be used as they are easy for staff to wheel into a dedicated quarantine area and can be easily labelled. This approach may be best suited to reducing transmission during outbreak situations. In other circumstances it may  be disproportionate to the risks involved, particularly if it has a significant impact on learning and teaching. 
  • careful hand washing with soap and warm water/use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling text books, jotters (or other pieces of equipment) mitigates the need for quarantine for 72 hours before, and 72 hours after. As far as possible and in line with effective practice, staff should avoid touching their mouth, nose and eye area. Good hand hygiene should be sufficient to prevent transmission of infection from these items, even if they are contaminated, as long as the person handling the item does not touch their face between handling the item and decontaminating their hands. Good respiratory hygiene ('Catch it, kill it, bin it') is also required at all times.

Ventilation and heating

This section of the guidance was updated on 12 October to take account of colder weather during autumn and winter. It has been 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 23 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.

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 importance of far-field aerosol transmission 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.

Measures to improve ventilation should be viewed as just one part of the overall package of control measures in schools. 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 developing a package of viable options in consultation with trade unions and staff in those schools.

Schools should ensure that risk assessments are updated appropriately for the autumn/winter period, 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 17 degrees C. Reference should also be made to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 minimum temperatures.

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 Regulations 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 pragmatic approaches which recognise the importance of user comfort may help overall behavioural adherence to guidance in relation to ventilation.

Potential approaches, 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)
  • providing flexibility in permissible clothing while indoors. Support for parents in relation to additional clothing may be available in some circumstances. Local authorities should ensure that, where individual children and young people cannot access warm clothing necessary for the local strategies adopted, appropriate support is provided on a case-by-case basis. Local authorities should also be aware of the needs of staff who may be unable to access clothing appropriate to local strategies adopted.
  • designing seating plans to reflect individual student/staff temperature preferences. This is an approach which has been trialled in some schools and proven to be a useful measure when used in combination with other strategies.
  • adjusting indoor heating to compensate for cold air flow from outside (e.g. higher system settings, increased duration)

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 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 school day and allow it to continue after classes have finished


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

Local authorities should consider whether CO2 monitors may play a useful role in their overall ventilation monitoring strategies, particularly in areas of the school estate that are identified as higher risk or of concern. 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.

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 already while others may, in consultation with relevant local authority teams, choose to use portable devices for periodic or ongoing monitoring in areas where particular risks are identified. 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. This advice will be factored into consideration of any wider advice on restart of these activities.

Local authorities should consider how to apply lessons learned from parts of the estate with CO2 detectors installed in other 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 pragmatic, 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.


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. Local authorities are currently modelling 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, and the findings of this work will be shared across networks as soon as they are available.

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

Minimising contact between individuals and groups

The COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues published scientific advice on physical distancing in schools. This advice was reviewed in October 2020. The original advice states:

“Subject to continued suppression of the virus, and to surveillance and mitigations being in place, the balance of the evidence suggests that no distancing should be required between children in primary schools. The evidence is less clear for older pupils but at present we support the same approach being taken in secondary schools on the basis of the balance of known risks, the effectiveness of mitigations and the benefits to young people of being able to attend school.”

It goes on to state:

“In both primary and secondary settings, the preference would always be to avoid large gatherings and crowded spaces and, wherever possible, to keep children and young people within the same groups for the duration of the school day. In giving this advice we recognise the practical challenges. Where possible, timetabling should be reviewed to reduce movement of groups of pupils around the school estate as much as possible.”

It is important to understand that this advice has been developed by the sub-group 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 sub-group has since reviewed this advice in light of the changed position on infection and transmission rates, the evidence and experience of school re-opening between August and October 2020, and recent scientific evidence. Following that review, the sub-group has concluded that its previous advice on physical distancing in schools should be maintained, and the need for compliance should be strongly reinforced, particularly in areas where lapses leading to incidents have been observed by public health teams (e.g. adult-to-adult distancing).

The sub-group acknowledged that the guidance in this section goes further than the sub-group’s July 2020 advice by encouraging distancing between young people where possible in secondary schools, particularly for those in the senior phase. It acknowledged that feedback from independent HSE inspections and public health teams suggests that this guidance is being implemented successfully in many schools and the success of these additional mitigation measures may well be contributing to current low transmission rates observed in secondary schools August-October 2020. The sub-group indicated it would therefore encourage continuation of this precautionary approach wherever possible in secondary schools. 

Physical distancing between children in primary schools

On the basis of the scientific advice, and subject to all other risk mitigation measures set out in this advice being appropriately implemented, there is no requirement for physical distancing between children in primary schools.

Maintaining distance between young people – secondary schools

The scientific advice is that physical distancing between young people in secondary schools is not required to ensure safety in schools.

The evidence for this is less clear for older pupils, but at present this approach continues to be advised for secondary schools on the basis of the balance of known risks, feedback from public health teams, the effectiveness of mitigations and the benefits to all young people of being able to attend school.

However, to provide additional reassurance to young people, staff and parents/carers, where there are opportunities to further minimise risk these should be actively encouraged. As a precautionary approach therefore secondary schools should encourage distancing wherever practicable between young people, and particularly in the senior phase

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 – this does not have to be strict distancing of 2m if this is unachievable, but 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
  • encouragement of set seating plans, even across different subject classes, is likely to reduce the number of close contacts needing to self-isolate if a case of COVID arises in a pupil
  • 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.
  • in special schools and units, and where there are groupings of children with complex additional support needs, the balance of the staffing complement, the groupings 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 continuity of learning guidance.
  • secondary schools should consider which of these possible mitigations are achievable in their establishment and look to implement as many as is practicable, while also bearing in mind that this distancing is an additional, precautionary step, which goes beyond what continues to be recommended in the latest scientific advice.

Minimising contacts (groupings)

In line with the scientific advice, in both primary and secondary settings, wherever possible, efforts should be made to keep children and young people within the same groups for the duration of the school day. Consistent groups reduce the likelihood of direct transmission, allow for quicker identification of those who need to self-isolate and may reduce the overall number of children, young people and staff who need to isolate in the event of a positive test or COVID-19.   

Schools should make efforts to keep groups apart from other groups where possible.  In open plan settings with large numbers of children or young people (for example multiple classes in one open plan space) consideration should be given to ensuring clear demarcation and separation between the areas in which different groups learn. Schools should consider how to reduce the movement of groups across different parts of the school estate where possible. In particular, schools should avoid assemblies and other types of large group gatherings. 

Where it is necessary to bring groups together, alternative mitigating actions should be put in place, such as 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.

The approach taken to configuring groups should be risk-based and adapted to the specific circumstances of the school. The general approach should be to keep groups consistent where practically possible, taking into account the feasibility of doing this while delivering as broad and meaningful a curriculum as is possible during the recovery period, and promoting children, young people and staff’s health and wellbeing.

Examples that schools should draw on when considering the most appropriate approach for their setting include:

  • in primary schools it may be appropriate to have groups organised according to full-class sizes. Where staffing within the school allows it, schools may consider altering class sizes and composition to intensify support for children and create more space
  • for young people in secondary schools within the BGE, consideration may be given to keeping pupils in the same groupings across the curriculum. Where possible, consideration may be given to teaching whole/ half year group blocks in as close to tutor group sections as possible while the guidance on “minimising contacts” is in place
  • for those young people in the senior phase where consistent groups cannot reasonably be maintained, schools will wish to consider the most appropriate delivery and timetabling models to keep mixing of young people to the minimum necessary while ensuring a full range of subjects can be offered. One option which has demonstrated success may be working together in a group for extended blocks of time. Another may be for the senior phase to be considered as a group in and of itself, with senior pupils kept away from other age groups where possible. Where staffing within the school allows it, schools may consider altering class sizes and composition to intensify support for young people and create more space. Schools may also wish to consider other ideas such as timetabling in double periods (or more) to minimise contacts if this is practical or achievable in their context.

In special schools and units, and where there are groupings of children with complex additional support needs, risk assessments should be conducted in full consultation with staff and their trade unions, aligned to the relevant protection level and reviewed on a regular basis, to consider:

  • the minimum space required to ensure the required 2m physical distancing between all adults who might be in a classroom at any time over the day
  • the appropriate mitigations which may require to be adopted according to the nature of activity being undertaken and individual pupil needs
  • the level and balance of risk in relation to infection control and pupils' needs, and the appropriate mitigations needed to address these risks and keep children, young people and staff safe
  • the risk associated with planned learning activities which require adults to be in close contact with each other and with pupils in order to provide support. Appropriate risk mitigation measures should be identified, the resources needed to implement them should be made available, and mitigations should be adopted to reduce the risk identified.
  • the risks involved in and the mitigations required to be in place for situations where adults require to be in close contact with each other and/or with pupils in order to provide support and intervene, e.g. in de-escalation procedures
  • the appropriate mitigation measures which should be adopted in situations where opaque face coverings may act as a barrier to communication.  Consideration should be given to the use of transparent face coverings or appropriate alternative mitigations adopted which will properly safeguard both pupils and staff. Further guidance on meeting the needs of children with additional support needs is contained within the continuity of learning guidance

The practical and timetabling challenges of these approaches, particularly in secondary schools, are recognised. The variation in size, context and physical structure across schools is also recognised. If groups cannot reasonably be maintained, or if groups require to be larger in size with some mixing permitted, the application of other risk mitigation measures becomes even more important. 

These will require coordination of other services such as transport, catering and cleaning. Mitigations should be considered as part of risk assessments and may include:

  • ensuring access to hand washing stations or hand sanitiser whenever children and young people move between groups
  • minimising frequency of change of groups for children and young people in a day
  • arranging for staff to move to class groups (as opposed to vice versa)
  • encouraging distancing where possible when in different groups (in secondary schools)

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.

It is recognised that break times will also require careful consideration – public health teams report examples of schools where large numbers of pupils have been isolated because of groups mixing at break 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.

For children and young people who attend multiple education settings, either in other educational establishments or the wider community, consideration should be given to their groupings and 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.


It is important to emphasise that both the approaches of maintaining distance between young people (in secondary schools) and the use of groups are not all-or-nothing approaches. These will bring public health benefits even if logistics mean they can be implemented only partially (e.g. with groups maintained for the majority of the day but some limited mixing into wider groups permitted for specialist subjects or transport, etc.). Schools should apply proportionate, risk-based approaches to implementation of distancing and the use of groups.

Physical distancing and minimising contact for adults

Two metre physical distancing between adults, and between adults and children and young people who are not from the same household should be maintained.

This includes non-staff adult visitors to the school e.g. contractors, deliveries etc. Adult visitors to schools should be strictly limited only to those that are necessary to support children and young people or the running of the school and arrangements should be communicated clearly to staff and the wider school community.

Maintaining 2m distancing between adults and children whenever possible 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 2m 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 of the guidance 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 (see below) 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.

Movement between schools (e.g. of temporary/supply/peripatetic staff etc) should be kept to a minimum. Those providing essential services key to the delivery of children’s care or educational plans, for example visiting teachers, psychologists, nurses, social workers, youthworkers and those providing therapeutic support, should be able to visit schools; however, appropriate mitigations to prevent transmission of the virus in and between settings should be undertaken. Mitigations should be determined via a risk assessment carried out by the school in co-operation with the service provider

Schools and local authorities should, in partnership with related partners and local public health teams, pay very close attention to any evidence suggesting the potential for emerging bridges of transmission between settings. In the event that any such evidence is identified, they should consult immediately with local public health teams on any requirement to pause or further reduce such movement between schools. They should ensure that appropriate contingency measures are in place for any required period of time to e.g. protect the wellbeing of children and young people and staff. 

As cleaning regimes will be enhanced, the extent to which cleaners will be able to move between locations may be constrained depending on local circumstances (see “Enhanced Hygiene and Environmental Cleaning”, above).

Where movement across locations is necessary to deliver school operations the number of interactions should be minimised, the 2m distancing between adults should be adhered to wherever possible, and face coverings should be worn as set out in this guidance.

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 2m 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 is permitted but 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.

The Strategic Framework notes that travel restrictions between areas of different prevalence will be set out in guidance. Exceptions will apply for essential travel including work and education.

Schools should plan how shared staff spaces 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 2m 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.

Drop off/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 unless required. 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 of 2m, 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
  • 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

PPE and other protective barrier measures


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 due to COVID-19, 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 (COVID-19: guidance 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 and 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:

  • a FFP2/3 respirator
  • gloves
  • a long-sleeved fluid repellent gown
  • 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:

  • 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
  • minimise clutter to make the process of cleaning the room as straightforward as possible
  • 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 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues provided updated advice on the issue of face coverings in schools, in light of the latest scientific evidence and the advice of the World Health Organisation, which was published on 22 August 2020. A further update was published on 30 October 2020.

The advice notes that the volume of evidence supporting the initial scientific position on a key benefit of face coverings (protection of others from infection by the wearer) has grown. There is also emerging evidence to suggest that the wearer of a face covering can be protected.

Considering the changed position on infection and transmission rates, the evidence and experience of school re-opening between August and October 2020, and recent scientific evidence, the sub-group has since concluded that its previous advice on face coverings in schools and ELC settings should be further strengthened and augmented to manage the main area of risk within schools, which is adult to adult transmission. Their advice has, therefore, been brought in line with current advice in the community, and the need for compliance should be strongly reinforced. This section of the guidance has been updated accordingly.

The advisory sub-group has moderated its advice regarding requirements to wear face coverings when adults are interacting within 2m with children in primary schools. However, reflecting a precautionary approach, this guidance maintains a consistent approach to the use of face coverings for adults across primary and secondary schools, with the exception of where schools are making use of ELC models in early stage (P1-2).

A definition of face coverings (which should not be confused with PPE) can be found in Covid19: staying safe and protecting others. Use of face coverings in the circumstances set out in this guidance should be seen as just one mitigation within a package of measures. The other mitigation measures in this guidance, including physical distancing for adults, environmental cleaning, personal hand and respiratory hygiene, grouping of young people, maintaining distancing between young people in secondary schools where possible and remaining off work and school when COVID-19 symptoms develop, remain vitally important.

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 2m 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, and adults and young people in secondary schools (including special schools and independent and grant aided schools), are moving around the school in corridors, office and admin areas, canteens (except when dining) and other confined communal areas, (including staff rooms and toilets)
  • in line with the current arrangements for public transport, where adults and children and young people aged 5 and over are travelling on dedicated school transport (see School Transport section)

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 within two metres of primary, secondary or special school pupils, should wear face coverings as a general rule (see 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 (see Outbreak Management)

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 which are increasingly available. Some children and young people may need additional support/reassurance about the reasons for adults wearing face coverings. However, as face coverings become more prevalent in wider society, this may 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 COVID-19: staying safe and protecting others.

There should be regular messaging from schools to adults and children and young people 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.

No-one should be excluded from education solely on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering. 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. 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.

Any additional costs of implementing this updated guidance (for example in respect of contingent provision of face coverings, or additional cleaning costs) will be considered via the arrangements for funding of Education Recovery that have been agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA.

Enhanced measures apply to schools in local areas at Protection Level 3 onwards.

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 The National Clinical Director has also written an open letter to parents and carers providing guidance on how COVID-19 symptoms differ from those of other infections circulating at this time of year. 

Some of the key points to ensure that children, young people and staff are aware of are as follows:

  • it is essential that people 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).
  • people who live in the same household as a person with symptoms must also self-isolate straight away and stay at home. Only those developing COVID symptoms should be tested. Other members of the household do not require a test, unless they are also symptomatic. If the test result for the symptomatic person is negative, and they are not already isolating as a ‘close contact’ of a confirmed case, they can end isolation and return to work or school when they are well enough and have not had a fever for 48 hours assuming also that they are not quarantining for foreign travel reasons. The rest of their household can end isolation straight away. Ideally, testing should be undertaken in the first 3 days of symptoms appearing, although testing is effective until day 5.
  • school staff who opt to undertake asymptomatic testing do not need to self-isolate while awaiting results, as long as no symptoms develop
  • if the test is positive, the symptomatic person must remain in isolation until 10 days from symptom onset, or longer if symptoms (e.g. fever or breathlessness) persist (with the exception of cough or loss of/change of sense of taste or smell, as these symptoms can persist for several weeks after the infectious period). They must otherwise be well and remain fever-free for 48 hours without medication. The rest of the household must remain in isolation for 10 days from symptom onset in the symptomatic person, even if they don’t have symptoms themselves, as they may be incubating the infection.
  • everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be put in touch with the local contact tracing team so that other close contacts can be identified. All close contacts who are in the same household as confirmed cases must self-isolate immediately. They will usually be contacted by Test and Protect to reinforce self-isolation for 10 days from symptom onset in the symptomatic person. Contacts from outside the household of the confirmed case will be asked to self-isolate at home for 10 days from the date of last exposure to the case. Sometimes this advice is given locally via the school on the advice of the Health ProtectionTeam.
  • everyone who needs to self-isolate as close contacts of confirmed cases must continue to do so for 10 days, even if they have a negative test result.
  • unless otherwise advised by Test and Protect or local Incident Management Teams, where children, young people or staff do not have symptoms but are self-isolating as a close contact of person who is a confirmed case, other people in their household will not be asked to self-isolate along with them.
  • the Protect Scotland app from NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect is designed to help people and reduce the spread of coronavirus. It is suitable for people aged 16+. 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.
  • schools are defined as complex settings for contact tracing purposes, meaning any positive case who has spent time in a school during the infectious period will be escalated to the local Health Protection Team. If relevant, the school will be contacted directly by the Health Protection Team to help identify potential contacts and to ensure appropriate decontamination.

Symptomatic children, young people and staff can book a test through, 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 your local areas. Education departments in these areas should liaise with their local Health Boards to ensure priority access to symptomatic testing for school staff.

Unless staff are symptomatic or are advised to get a test by a healthcare professional, then testing is not a requirement. However, if members of school staff are concerned that they have been at risk from infection, then they may request a test whether or not they have symptoms. Staff should make such requests via their local authority employer, who can book a test for them using the employer portal, or for staff in Orkney, Shetland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, can advise school staff on the testing arrangements with their local Health Board.

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. Assist FM have also produced complementary guidance on cleaning in schools.

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 SettingsAssist 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). Also see section on PPE.

Schools should manage single cases and outbreaks (i.e. 2 or more confirmed cases within 10 days) in line with the guidance on outbreak response by contacting the local Health Protection Team.

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.

International travel - self-isolation arrangements

The Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing Officer and National Clinical Director wrote to all Directors of Education on 17 August to clarify the arrangements for children and young people returning to Scotland who are not exempt from self-isolation (“quarantine”) rules. 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 require all those returning‎ to Scotland from non-exempt countries to self-isolate at home or another appropriate location for 10 days. Those self-isolating should not go out to work or school or visit public areas. This point is covered prominently in the sector advice card  which should be displayed in all schools. The list of exempt countries is kept under constant review, and schools and local authorities should ensure they are familiar with the most up to date list.

Headteachers and heads of early learning and childcare settings should ensure that  arrangements are in place to identify and support children and young people who need to self-isolate including appropriate safeguarding measures. This includes engaging with children, young people and their families to ensure adherence to the legal requirements. Directors of Public Health and local health protection teams are available to offer further support where there are concerns.

Read guidance on international travel and quarantine as well as the list of exempt countries.   

Enhanced surveillance, testing and outbreak management

The public health measures set out above will go a long way to ensuring that schools are a safe environment for everyone.

There will also be, in parallel, a number of measures, involving testing, identifying close contacts and other steps, designed to monitor developments and allow for rapid response to any cases of COVID-19. This will include the following key elements.

Enhanced surveillance programme

Scotland has an excellent programme of community surveillance. This 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.

We have launched an additional surveillance programme (CASS), introducing antibody testing for substantial numbers of educational staff volunteers to identify the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies over time. This will be alongside an infections survey, within a sample of schools, using repeated PCR/serology testing and survey data to establish symptoms and infections in the school population to inform the ongoing development of guidance. The principal focus of this at least initially will be young people and staff in S4, S5 and S6. Participation is voluntary and careful consideration is being given to ensuring acceptability in school populations.

A further surveillance study will look at risk in teachers which will improve our understanding of the likelihood of COVID-19 infection and illness within this education workforce, and the effectiveness of measures to reduce transmission.

Taken together, these sources will allow regular reporting on indicators such as: overall incidence and swab positivity for Scotland; incidence and swab positivity for school-age children; number and proportion of all cases that are among school workers; hot spots by local authority area; number of clusters or outbreaks that are under investigation within educational settings; levels and changes in antibodies in educational staff; risks in teachers; and asymptomatic transmission among older children and school workers.

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.

Test and Protect

The effective application of Test and Protect in the school environment will be an important means of preventing any spread of the virus and will be led by the local Health Protection Team. Schools should ensure that they understand the Test and Protect process and how to contact their local Health Protection Team (HPT). Further information on Test and Protect is available. All educational establishments are considered complex settings and cases will be prioritised and escalated to specialist HPTs.

The key initial step is the self-isolation and rapid testing of all symptomatic children, young people and staff (see above). Other children, young people and staff members will not be required to self-isolate unless they live with a confirmed case, a suspected case (pending testing of the suspected case), or are specifically advised by the school to do so or contacted by the contact tracing service. If a child, young person or staff member tests positive, they must continue self-isolation for at least 10 days. The HPT will assess what other action is needed, taking into account the close contacts the person has had within the school and wider community and other factors such as the implementation of mitigating measures, eg cleaning, ventilation and PPE.

If a child, young person (or their parent/carer if under 16 years) or staff member is contacted by a contact tracer and told to self-isolate for 10 days, the person should leave school to self-isolate at home and, if possible, wear a face covering en route and avoid public transport if symptomatic. The Scottish Government has published advice for employers on how to support people who are asked to self-isolate. 

Outbreak and case management

The management of outbreaks (if schools have two or more confirmed linked cases of COVID-19 within 10 days) and cases of infectious disease in schools is led by local health protection teams (HPTs) alongside local partners, such as schools and local authorities. Schools should ensure that they know how to contact their local HPT and who will usually be responsible for doing so.

The procedures for outbreak management are well established. Public Health Scotland now ask that if there is either a single confirmed (test positive) case of COVID-19 or any suspicion that there may be an outbreak of cases in a setting (e.g. an increase in background rate of absence due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19), schools should make prompt contact with their local HPT and local authority so they can assess the situation and offer advice. Note that settings with increased rates of respiratory illness should also be alert to the possibility that this could be due to COVID-19 and contact their local HPT for further advice.

Schools and local authorities will be expected to work closely with their local HPT to resolve the situation. COSLA and Public Health Scotland have developed a national toolkit for managing cases and outbreaks in schools. Actions that they may need to be involved in include (but are not restricted to):

  • attendance at multi-agency incident management team meetings
  • communications with children, parents/carers and staff – these are vital to provide reassurance to school communities
  • providing records of seating plans / school layout / attendance / groups
  • implementing enhanced infection, prevention and control measures

The HPT will lead the incident management team (IMT) and agree control measures on self-isolation and on testing of children and staff and the arrangements for doing this. The IMT will discuss and agree additional measures to deal with the specific situation faced in a school. These may include reviewing risk assessments and compliance with existing guidance,increased cleaning regimes, the greater use of face coverings, reviewing and reducing higher risk activities, and/or moving to remote learning approaches. Any discussion of possible school closures will be determined through the multi-agency IMT. Schools should maintain appropriate records to support outbreak control measures, e.g. children, young people and staff attendance, details of pupil groups, seating plans, visitors to schools, and clinically vulnerable/extremely vulnerable children and young people who are attending school. 

In order to protect pupils and staff and to maintain access to education, confirmation of pupils or school staff with a confirmed COVID-19 test or who have been instructed to self-isolate should be shared in confidence by NHS Scotland and/or Public Health Scotland with the relevant school. To ensure this information is handled in accordance with data protection requirements, local authorities should ensure that an appropriate Data Protection Impact Assessment is in place and that the data handling arrangements in their schools are compliant. A framework data sharing agreement has been developed by Public Health Scotland and local government, which local authorities are encouraged to support and consider when framing their own data handling arrangements and impact assessments.

Special considerations for certain groups

Shielding and people at the highest clinical risk

This guidance applies to those who are at the highest clinical risk from coronavirus (known as the shielding category). Information on shielding including who would be considered within the highest risk group is available in Covid-19: shielding advice and support.

The approach to shielding is based on the following principles:

  • advice must be proportionate to the level of infections in the local community
  • it should be set at a level which optimises the benefits of protection and minimises health, social and economic harms
  • it should be practical, empower people to make decisions which are right for them, and be culturally appropriate and tailored to ensure reach and accessibility

There are new levels of advice to protect people with the highest clinical risk (shielding), setting out clearly how advice will change depending on the rates of infection in local areas. As the levels in a local area change, the protection advice for people on the shielding list in that area will change as well. People at highest risk should still follow the advice for the general public as a minimum.

In Protection levels 0 – 2, pupils with the highest clinical risk can continue to attend schools and follow the advice to the general population. Staff with the highest clinical risk can continue to work in schools, following a dynamic risk assessment, and arrangements should be made to enable appropriate physical distancing staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, in line with current advice on maintaining a safe school environment. If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, they should wear face coverings and settings must carefully assess and agree with them whether this involves an acceptable level of risk, taking account of all relevant clinical and occupational health advice.

The majority of workplaces can be made safe. Workplace risk assessments should take account of age, sex, ethnicity, BMI as well as clinical conditions and recommend practical protective measures. The outcome of those risk assessments may include implementation of specific mitigations in the workplace, undertaking different duties, working remotely, including from home, or being advised not to attend work, in line with medical advice to do so. Local authorities should ensure that clinical advice is taken fully into account when agreeing appropriate mitigations with employees.

To support individualised risk assessment in the workplace, shielding advice also contains links to the Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on individual risk assessment for the workplace. 

Information in relation to pupils’ attendance and absence is published by Scottish Government Education Analytical Services. This may assist individuals’ and employers’ understanding of case numbers in relation to schools, which may be helpful as part of risk assessment within the school setting.

Enhanced measures apply to children and young people, and staff, at highest clinical risk in schools in local areas at Protection Levels 3 and 4

It is important that appropriate arrangements for remote learning are in place for children and young people who cannot attend school in person due to shielding (or self-isolation) requirements. Further guidance on arrangements for remote learning is provided in the contingency planning section.

Parents/carers may wish to have a discussion with their child’s healthcare team if they are unsure or have queries about returning to or attending school because of their own health condition.

Support for those who have underlying health conditions

Clinically vulnerable staff (including those who have underlying health conditions, but who would not be on the shielding list) can continue to work in schools, subject to a dynamic risk assessment confirming it is safe to do so. Arrangements should be made to enable appropriate physical distancing staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, in line with current advice on the return to school. If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, settings must carefully assess and agree with them whether this involves an acceptable level of risk and face coverings should be worn.  

Where any concerns do exist, guidance for people with underlying health conditions has been prepared and will continue to be updated. School staff who have underlying health conditions will wish to be aware of this advice in order to inform discussions with their employer, trade union and/or healthcare team.

Considerations related to pregnancy

Schools and local authorities should follow the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advice to try and keep the risk of exposure as low as is practically possible to pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester. Normal pregnancy risk assessments should also be undertaken, and appropriate attention paid to mental health and wellbeing.

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), 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. 

Support for anxious children, young people, families and staff

The past few months have been a time of considerable change and there will undoubtedly be moments of anxiety. It will be important to take gradual steps in terms of reintroduction to safe practices and intervention with others. It will be important for schools to support ongoing family interaction, particularly for children and young people with additional support needs. It will also be vital for relevant services to consider mental health awareness.

Support for minority ethnic children, young people and staff

There is some wider evidence that children, young people and adults from a Minority Ethnic background who are infected with COVID-19 seem to be at higher risk of severe disease. The recent report by the National Records of Scotland on the breakdown of COVID-19 deaths in Scotland by ethnic group, concluded that over the course of the pandemic to date, COVID-19 was a relatively more common cause of death for people in the South Asian ethnic group compared to people in the white ethnic group. Work is ongoing to build upon these data and to improve understanding. The Scottish Government continues to work with experts from a range of fields, including our new Ethnicity Expert Reference Group, to develop actions to help mitigate any disproportionate effects.   

Consequently, the concerns within Minority Ethnic communities must be recognised and individual requests for additional protections should be supported wherever possible. Responding to requests for additional protections may include offering access to support from occupational health services (OHS) and the provision of individual risk assessments.  Care should be taken to ensure that Minority Ethnic children, young people, families and staff are involved in decisions about additional protections - automatic referrals to OHS should not be made. Local authorities should ensure that managers in school have sensitive, supportive conversations with all Minority Ethnic staff, which also consider their health, safety and psychological wellbeing and personal views and concerns about risk.  Wellbeing support services should be promoted to all Minority Ethnic staff. 

Employers should be mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010 at all times. All Minority Ethnic staff from South Asian backgrounds with underlying health conditions and disabilities, who are over 55, or who are pregnant, should be individually risk assessed, and appropriate reasonable adjustments should be made following risk assessment.

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.    

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 to complete these courses. On this basis, the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group have maintained their previous advice on attendance by these students, but noted the need for compliance with protective measures to be strongly reinforced.

As set out in the sectoral guidance, schools and college should work together to consider first whether remote or blended learning arrangements can be put in place for school pupils. Where students do attend in person, consideration should be given to maintaining them in consistent groupings (some colleges have put in place arrangements to segregate school students from the wider college cohort). 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. They should have reference, also, to Scottish Government guidance on individual risk assessment for staff in the workplace. 



First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 14 Dec 2020 -