Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term in August 2020 - version 2

This guidance has been developed to support a safe return to school for all children, young people and staff taking full account of progress made in suppressing COVID-19 in Scotland, the scientific advice received and the advice of the Education Recovery Group and other key stakeholders.

51 page PDF

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51 page PDF

793.7 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term in August 2020 - version 2
School Operations

51 page PDF

793.7 kB

School Operations

Promoting attendance and reducing absence

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

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

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

Curricular and assessment matters

Outdoor learning

132. Schools may wish to consider the increased use of outdoor spaces when they reopen. The outdoors can provide extra space for distancing between consistent groups of learners, help to decrease the risk of transmission and improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people.

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

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

135. The Outdoor Learning Directory provides links to a variety of resources that can be filtered by subject area and curriculum level. Support and guidance on risk assessment can be found on the Going Out There framework.

Practical activities, experiments and investigations

136. Practical, "hands-on" learning and activities, experiments and investigations are an important part of the curriculum across all subject areas. We recognise that practitioners may need to adapt their approaches to enable learners to carry out these activities in a safe way. SSERC has produced guidance on carrying out practical work in Sciences and Technologies for early, primary and secondary levels, including links to helpful resources. Education Scotland have prepared guidance on safe practice in physical education, which will be available in time for the return to school in August, and guidance on safe practice in home economics which will be available in the autumn. Both will be available from the National Improvement Hub.

Physical activity and sport

137. Opportunities to participate in physical activity and sport have the potential to enhance children and young people's mental and physical wellbeing and will support children and young people to lead healthy, active lifestyles now and in the future. Guidance on organised outdoor sport for children and young people should be considered when planning and preparing for physical activity and sport.


138. Scientific and medical advice around how activities such as singing, talking at volume e.g. in theatre performance, or playing wind/brass musical instruments can be managed safely is still being developed. These activities should be avoided during the initial return to schools.

Senior phase/SQA National Qualification Courses

139. Further details will be provided separately before schools return on 11 August, regarding the approach for the assessment of national qualifications for the 2020/21 session.

The provision of activities or clubs outside the usual school timetable

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

Improvement Planning and Reporting

141. The Director of Learning at the Scottish Government wrote to all Directors of Education on 2 June to set out the latest guidance on recovery and improvement planning. This made it clear that planning for 2020-21 should focus on recovery, and then continuity of provision under these changed circumstances. There will be a continued emphasis on issues such as: supporting student and staff health and wellbeing; transitions at all levels; the impact of tragedy in communities; identifying gaps in learning; and a renewed focus on closing the poverty related attainment gap. In particular, there should be a focus on what can be done to remedy any impact that there has been around the widening of inequalities of outcome experienced by children and young people.

142. Schools and local authorities should also complete annual reporting, as a record of progress towards meeting improvement priorities up until the period when schools closed on 20th March 2020. It is important to capture the impact of work which has been undertaken during this academic session.

143. Effective school and local improvement plans are also essential to ensure that the improvement activity which will be set out in the 2021 National Improvement Framework will be informed by local and school-level priorities, and that it will reflect the school and local authority response to supporting children, families and school communities throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

School transport

144. This guidance is intended to inform local authority planning of school transport services. Local authorities are responsible for implementation of this section of the guidance, working with the operators with whom they contract to ensure necessary measures are put in place in line with risk assessments (which should involve appropriate consultation with trade unions and staff). Parents and school staff should all play a role in educating children and young people on acceptable behaviour on school and public transport.

145. This guidance has been informed by the scientific advice of the COVID-19 Advisory Sub Group on Education and Children's issues, published on 16 July, and updated advice on face coverings received from the Sub Group in w/c 24 August 2020. The key messages from the scientific advice include:

  • Dedicated school transport should be regarded as an extension of the school estate and it is not necessary to maintain distance between children and young people of all ages (subject to continued low levels of infection within Scotland).
  • Important mitigations include: hygiene, ventilation, improved cleaning regimes including regular and thorough cleaning of surfaces, and regular handwashing. Hand sanitising should be required for everyone prior to boarding dedicated school transport and schools should also consider a process for children and young people which enables them to wash their hands immediately on arrival (as is the case for all children and young people), dispose of temporary face coverings in a covered bin or place reusable face coverings in a plastic bag they can take home with them, and then wash their hands again. Effective from 31st August, face coverings should be worn on dedicated school transport (subject to exemptions), to align with the position on public transport.
  • Children, young people and adults must not board dedicated school or public transport if they, or a member of their household, have symptoms of COVID-19. If a child or young person develops symptoms while at school they will be sent home. They must not travel on regular home-to-school transport. The school should contact the parent/carer who should make appropriate and safe arrangements to collect the child or young person. In this situation, the wearing of a face covering by the child or young person on the journey home is strongly advised.
  • Where public transport (including buses, taxi, trams, subway, trains, ferries and air) is required for school-aged children to attend school, the general advice and guidance from the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland should be followed. This currently includes the mandatory use of face coverings unless exemptions apply and physical distancing where possible.
  • Drivers and staff on public transport, and to a lesser extent on school transport, are at relatively higher risk of exposure and particular attention should be paid to ensuring that they are protected from airborne and surface transmission.

National Transport Guidance and local authority arrangements

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

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

148. Some general points for consideration are:

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

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

Encouraging active travel

150. As far as it is safe to do so, the use of active travel routes by parents/carers, staff and children and young people should be encouraged. Walking and cycling, scooting, wheeling etc should be strongly encouraged. In view of the potential for capacity constraints on public transport to impact on children and young people's ability to attend school, all sustainable and active travel modes should be considered. If bikes are stored in bike sheds/racks consideration should be given to the cleaning of these areas and to reducing time spent at the bikes stores/shed.

Dedicated school transport [note: updated effective from 31st August]

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

152. This guidance also reflects the scientific advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children regarding the requirements for the safe travel of children and young people to/from school published on 16 July, and updated advice on face coverings received from the Advisory Sub Group in w/c 24 August.

  • Enhanced cleaning: Local authorities should work with transport operators to agree what supplementary arrangements are needed alongside operators' existing programmes for cleaning vehicles. It is recommended that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned appropriately after each journey wherever possible - especially important where vehicles are used for other purposes before and after transporting children to and from school - and that enhanced cleaning takes place at the end of each day. Ensuring an effective enhanced cleaning regime is in place will play an important role in suppressing transmission and building confidence among parents, children and young people in school transport services.
  • Children and young people: the updated scientific advice is that face coverings should be worn by children aged 5 years and over on dedicated school transport (unless exemptions apply).This means that the position on face coverings on dedicated school transport is consistent with the position on public transport. See the section on Face Coverings under Key Public Health Measures for further information.
  • The scientific advice makes clear that maintaining distance between young people on dedicated school transport is not necessary. However, where feasible and provided they do not introduce capacity constraints, the following precautionary approaches may help further minimise risk:
    • Where possible, arrangements should be put in place to allow family groups and children and young people from the same class groupings to travel together. This will reduce unnecessary mixing and is one way to further lower risk.
    • While logistics may prevent this in many cases, where possible, school-aged children and young people should be assigned seats which they use consistently, although this is not essential. This could be allocating specific seats or having rules such as sitting in ascending year groups: front to back, youngest to oldest. Queuing arrangements for picking up children and young people may be important considerations in this regard.
    • Wherever vehicle capacity allows, distancing between individual passengers, or groups of passengers, is helpful. In particular, local authorities should consider whether distancing is possible for secondary pupils or those in the senior phase, in circumstances where children attending different schools travel on the same vehicle, and for certain children and young people with complex needs e.g. those that spit uncontrollably.
    • Where possible, avoid the use of face-to-face seating on dedicated school transport.
  • The consumption and sharing of food and drink should not be allowed.
  • Any such arrangements will rely on clear communication between schools and families/children, including as part of their education to develop as responsible citizens. Drivers are unable to monitor and enforce seating arrangements.
  • Transport operators should be asked to keep windows on dedicated school transport open, where possible, and to ensure that mechanical ventilation uses fresh rather than recirculated air; or use air conditioning with attention paid to the appropriate frequency for changes of filters.
  • Drivers, staff and other adults: particular attention should be paid to ensuring drivers, staff and other adults are protected from the risks of COVID-19 in vehicles. Risk assessments should consider whether changes within a vehicle are required, with changes made on that basis. This may include leaving seats behind/beside the driver empty or fitting a physical barrier or screen. Any adults travelling by dedicated school transport should conform with the requirements for public transport (1 metre distancing with appropriate mitigation measures in place and the wearing of face coverings, at the time of writing). Drivers and passenger assistants may wish to use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser at intervals throughout the journey, and should always do so after performing tasks such as helping a child into the vehicle or handling a child's belongings. Drivers of school transport services may also have other driving tasks as part of their job role, for example delivering meals to care homes, day centres and sometimes transporting others who may be vulnerable. Local authorities should pay particular attention to effective implementation of the preventative measures set out in this guidance in these circumstances to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Adults travelling with children and young people with Additional Support Needs: Adults travelling with children and young people with Additional Support Needs should be very alert to them displaying symptoms. As a general rule, these adults should wear face coverings. However, this requires to be balanced with the wellbeing and needs of the child: face coverings may limit communication and could cause distress to some children and young people. Advice should be provided to parents/carers to support the effective cleaning of specialist equipment for children and young people with additional support needs who are using school transport. Local authorities should consider the support available for children and young people with complex Additional Support Needs using school transport, and take appropriate actions to reduce risk if adherence to hygiene rules and physical distancing for adults are not possible.
  • All (children, young people, drivers, other adults) travelling on dedicated school transport: All passengers and staff should sanitise their hands prior to boarding dedicated school transport. Schools should regularly reinforce the importance of this key message with all children and young people. Hand washing/hand sanitising should be done regularly throughout the day including on each and every entry to the school building and prior to boarding the school bus. Good respiratory hygiene should be encouraged ("Catch it, kill it, bin it") and children and young people should be encouraged to carry tissues on home to school transport. It is crucial that someone with symptoms does not enter a bus and travel. Drivers and adult passengers must self-isolate and book a test if they display coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. Families must get a test for children and young people displaying symptoms.

Public transport

153. Children and young people travelling to and from school normally form a significant proportion of the journeys on public transport during peak times, particularly in city schools and by secondary school children and young people. While physical distancing remains in place on public transport, it will not be practicable for those to resume in the same numbers or mode as previously. Journeys by public transport may take longer and timetables may change. Children, young people and staff who have no alternative to public transport should therefore be advised to plan their journey in advance and leave additional time where possible. Information on public transport services can be found at Local authorities may wish to engage with bus operators to identify routes where capacity constraints may be particularly severe and to work with them to agree measures to improve capacity for school pupils.

154. To help address capacity constraints on public transport, local authorities may wish to work with operators and schools to consider the following approaches:

  • consider making additional dedicated school transport available in such circumstances. Transport Scotland intelligence suggests there is significant spare capacity in the coach sector currently, due to reduced demand from the tourism sector.
  • where consistent with a full time return to school, consider options which could reduce or spread the number of staff and children and young people travelling at peak times, for example by adjusting traditional start and finish times to avoid the morning and evening rush hours. This would, however, have knock-on impacts for staff and parents/carers. Feedback from some operators is that, in view of the shift in travel to work patterns occasioned by COVID-19, usual school timings may be achievable.
  • consider introducing dedicated zones (e.g. seating or carriages) for school-aged children and young people on public transport at peak school journey times. The scientific advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues includes this recommendation. Discussions with local authorities and operators indicate this approach is likely to be suitable only for services that primarily carry children and young people to school, with limited numbers of adult passengers (i.e. a similar composition as for dedicated school transport). The following considerations apply:
    • In dedicated zones, on both local authority-contracted school bus services and all other public transport services, the same arrangements regarding physical distancing, hygiene, face coverings and cleaning, etc. should apply as for dedicated school transport (see above).
    • Ensure sufficient separation and clear demarcation between zones for the general public and zones for school-aged children and young people. For example, use the top deck of a double decker bus for school children where this is available, or a separate train carriage.
    • Where this is not possible, and zones are on the same level, ensure there is at least 1m distancing, where operators have deemed that acceptable through the introduction of appropriate mitigation measures, and clear demarcation between the zone for the general public and the zone for school-aged children and young people. There should be clear signage and communication to inform the general public of any such arrangements prior to boarding.

155. Where dedicated zones are not in use, the latest guidance on how to travel safely on public transport will apply.

156. Where children and young people have more complex public transport arrangements to and from their school, for example involving air, ferry or multiple transfers which may be operating on a reduced or different timetable, authorities should explore options with local operators, to inform what pattern and location for in-school learning may be practicable in the immediate term.

Taxis and private hire vehicles

157. Some children and young people, including those with additional support needs, rely on taxi transfers to get to school. Where taxis are used solely for the purpose of transporting children and young people to school, as with dedicated school bus and coach services, physical distancing requirements are not necessary. It is recommended that in private hire vehicles (which are typically saloon cars) children and young people travel on the back seat only and, where appropriate, wear face coverings.

158. There should be careful consideration of how children and young people with additional needs can be provided with safe, bespoke transport arrangements. This could include the use of Perspex shields in taxis (taking into account relevant safety concerns) or finding larger vehicles for transportation. Local authorities and schools should liaise with their local private hire providers on the measures they are putting in place to protect passengers, including for the arrangements for carrying multiple passengers.

159. When travel by taxi or private hire vehicle is necessary, passengers should follow the advice of the driver, including sitting in the back-left hand seat of the car when travelling alone. Appropriate cleaning and sanitising measures will also be necessary.

Private cars

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

Remote learning and special considerations for people who are unable to attend school

161. While the presumption is of full-time learning in school, there will be some children and young people whose health prevents them from learning in schools for some or all of the time. In these circumstances, appropriate provision should be made for remote learning pursuant to local circumstances. Where children and young people are unable to attend school due to ill health, provision should be made elsewhere than a school, in line with statutory responsibilities. There should be a particular focus on addressing digital exclusion as part of these arrangements.

Free school meals

162. Local authorities' duty to provide free school meals to children and young people who are eligible for them remains. The universal provision of free school meals to all children in P1-P3 who are attending school should continue and all food provided should comply with the School Food and Drink Nutritional Standards.


163. Guidance from Food Standards Scotland (FSS), which includes a risk assessment tool and checklist should be followed. Further advice around mitigating any issues identified by the risk assessment can be requested from the local environmental health team. Additionally, this Q&A from FSS may be useful. Assist FM have also produced updated catering advice.

Workforce planning and support

164. Additional workforce capacity will be needed to provide a range of additional support to help with recovery work. The Scottish Government is making additional funding available to local authorities for the recruitment of additional teachers and other staff to support COVID-19 recovery.

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

166. In preparing for a full-time return to school in August, schools may require additional staffing and the flexibility to deploy staff appropriately over the next year to best support children and young people whose progress with learning has been impeded during lockdown, as well as to bring much needed resilience to the education system at this time (e.g. to cover for staff absence). Additionally, we cannot be sure what the future path of the virus will be. If circumstances were to deteriorate again, resulting in further lockdowns (whether nationally or regionally), additional capacity in the teaching workforce should be considered if there is a requirement to switch to a blended model of learning at any stage.

Workforce capacity

167. Local authorities should consider carefully their requirements for additional wider workforce staff, such as cleaners and other facilities management staff to implement enhanced environmental cleaning regimes, in order to support a successful reopening of schools.

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

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

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

Identifying additional workforce capacity

170. If the existing capacity in the teaching workforce is insufficient to meet the challenges of a full-time return to school, partners have agreed that the following actions will be expedited to quickly mobilise additional teachers, for what may be a temporary period:

  • if required, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC Scotland) will contact teachers who are on the register of teachers where the information held suggests that they are not currently teaching. This can facilitate their contact with employers to establish their willingness and availability to return to teaching should this be required based on local need. GTC Scotland will guide registrant contact with individual HR departments in local authorities.
  • if required, GTC Scotland will contact individuals whose teacher registration has lapsed within the last 3 years, including recently retired teachers, to facilitate their contact with employers to establish their willingness and availability to return to teaching, should this be required based on local need.
  • any such approaches to individuals would be accompanied by an offer of appropriate professional learning if necessary (for example, extension of existing return to teaching courses) and a focus on ensuring that the quality of teaching would not be compromised. It may be that a focus on deploying this group of additional teachers to support remote learning would be appropriate if required.

171. The Scottish Catholic Education Service has highlighted existing flexibilities for school session 2020/21 to ensure that sufficient probationers can be allocated to denominational schools for their Teacher Induction year if this is necessary to support local challenges.

172. Guidance has been developed on the management of student teacher professional placements in recognition of the fact that schools are likely to face challenges in effectively supporting students on initial teacher education (ITE) programmes from the beginning of the new school year. It confirms that no students will be placed in schools prior to the October 2020 school break and that GTC Scotland will work with universities to ensure any adjustments to individual programmes align with their accreditation standards. To ensure that maximum flexibility is maintained, the guidance also confirms that ITE providers will develop contingency plans to allow student teachers to undertake some of their teaching practice through the use of remote learning, should opportunities for direct classroom experience not be available from mid-October 2020.

173. Local authorities should ensure that capacity in the wider workforce in the school environment is sufficient to meet the challenges of a phased return to school and keep this under constant review. For example, depending on local circumstances, there may be a particular need to recruit additional cleaning staff for enhanced hygiene arrangements.

Workforce support

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

175. Local authorities and settings may wish to access the Joint Communication document providing a summary of available resources, produced by partners working under the Education Recovery Group (Workstream 6 - Workforce Support). The COVID-19 Education Recovery Group is continuing to discuss the provision of additional professional learning designed to support staff on return to school in August.