Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): school re-opening arrangements for January 2021

Published: 21 Jan 2021
Last updated: 21 Jan 2021 - see all updates

Guidance for schools, local authorities and parents setting out plans for a phased start to the spring term 2021.

15 page PDF

446.0 kB

15 page PDF

446.0 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): school re-opening arrangements for January 2021
Children of keyworkers

15 page PDF

446.0 kB

Support for children of keyworkers

The definitions of key workers agreed with local authorities previously during the pandemic will continue to apply. The need for local flexibility to suit local circumstances is acknowledged. The definition of key workers sets out that:

There should be a particular focus on key workers in posts which ensure that essential services can be delivered and cover tasks within the local community which support the vulnerable and aid community resilience. This may be slightly different in each community to allow the country to address local priorities. Whilst decisions will be taken at the local level, we would expect this to include consideration of:

  • Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID-19 response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff.
  • Category 2 – All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (for example: fire, police, prisons, social workers), as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.
  • Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised).

These categories are relevant only to consideration of the allocation of exceptional places for children and young people for in-person learning. They are not intended to inform decisions about which staff should be asked to attend work in person (employers should refer to Coronavirus: Guidance on working from home for further information on this). As noted earlier in this guidance, only school staff who, in the judgement of the local authority and schools, are required to attend in person to give effect to these revised school reopening arrangements should do so.

These categories are intended to support prioritisation of the allocation of places where they are limited. For example, Category 1 and 2 workers would take precedence over Category 3 workers if schools do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all requests.

For the avoidance of doubt, during these exceptional arrangements we would expect that all school staff and staff providing daycare of children’s services, including early learning and childcare, who are required to attend their work in person, or who cannot otherwise provide essential support for remote learning while working from home, would qualify as category 1 or 2 key workers. Wider groups of healthcare and other workers who have been brought in to support vaccination rollout and Test and Protect would also be expected to qualify under category 1.

While there are differences between the current situation and the previous strict lockdown (from March 2020), the gravity of the situation and the overarching aims of the exceptional school closures are judged to be sufficiently similar to support a similar approach as previously to the application of the definition of key workers and the provision of in-person schooling. The following key principles should be applied by local authorities and schools, and communicated clearly to school communities and local employers:

  • there should be clarity on the way in which key workers or their employers can apply for places in schools
  • the number of children taking up these places in schools during the strict lockdown period should be kept to the absolute minimum necessary
  • only key workers who are physically attending their workplace or who cannot fulfil their critical functions when they are working remotely from home while supporting their children’s remote learning may qualify for places
  • where alternative options are available – e.g. where childcare/remote learning can be provided or supported by one non-key-worker parent or carer who is able to work from home – these should be used instead of children attending school in person. Consideration should be given to ensuring application of this approach does not limit the ability of health and care staff (in category 1) to support the COVID-19 response during this period of acute pressure.
  • if it is possible for children to be at home during this exceptional period, until schools reopen to them, then they should be. Whole workforces or entire groups of staff should not be designated as key workers. Doing so would undermine the collective effort we must all make to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives during this period of strict lockdown.

Advice for employees

The following advice is for employees who are considering requesting a space in school for their child during this exceptional period on the basis that they are key workers.

During this period of strict lockdown, employees should first talk to their employer if they are an employee and they believe:

  • they are a key worker
  • it is absolutely necessary for them to attend their place of work to fulfil their critical functions; and
  • they have no access to appropriate alternative childcare/remote learning arrangements. Alternative childcare arrangements may include informal childcare or accessing a childminding service (which remain open to all children at present). See the guide to childcare on the Parent Club website for further information

Together with your employer, you can then make appropriate decisions about whether and how to apply for a place, drawing on local authority guidance.

Employees may also seek advice and support from their trade unions in these matters.

Advice for employers

The following advice is for employers who believe their employees may be key workers and are considering supporting them to request a space in school for their child during this exceptional period on that basis.

During this period of strict lockdown, employers should:

  • only contact the relevant local authority to make the case for key worker designation for employees if it is a measure of last resort
  • please contact your local authority for information about the arrangements they have in place. Further information: contact details for your local authority
  • think critically about what staff they consider to be key workers, to ruthlessly prioritise those providing absolutely essential services to the public in these emergency times
  • revisit work with unions and workers to identify only the absolute minimum number of staff performing essential roles to deliver the COVID-19 response and provide basic, safe services
  • reduce in-person staffing levels to the lowest possible number required to maintain the production of essential goods
  • have discussions with staff to identify if they can access any appropriate alternative childcare or remote learning arrangements. This may include another parent/carer who is not a key worker and is able to provide such support effectively from home. Alternative childcare arrangements may also include informal childcare or accessing a childminding service (which remain open to all children at present).

You can then support your employee to make appropriate decisions about whether and how to apply for a place, drawing on local authority guidance.

Please contact your local authority for information about the arrangements they have in place. Further information: contact details for your local authority.

Complex queries and issues regarding key worker access to in-person learning

The main port of call to resolve any issues or challenges over key worker status should always be the local authority concerned.

To help co-ordinate and offer support to complex queries, we have re-established the Key Worker Hub. This option is intended as a last resort, and contact with the Hub should only be made following the exhaustion of all discussions with the relevant local authority. Enquiries should be sent to

Implementation of reducing risks guidance (including approach to groupings)

All staff (including student teachers on placements) and pupils attending schools on an exceptional basis for in-person learning should continue to implement and strictly observe the mitigations set out at Level 4 in the coronavirus: reducing risks in schools guidance, including with regard to face coverings and existing requirements on distancing between secondary pupils (and any additional mitigations that may be identified within updated risk assessments; for example, additional mitigations that are appropriate as a result of fewer people being in schools). The small number of local authority areas in Level 3 should implement Level 3 restrictions, although they will also be subject to the timeline for the reopening of schools set out in this guidance.

It has been agreed with clinicians that schools may, if absolutely necessary during the phased start to the term, re-group vulnerable pupils and children of key workers (i.e. move them into different groups to those they were in prior to the festive break). This should be kept to the minimum necessary to ensure effective, safe learning and teaching arrangements are in place. It should be done in a way which meets children’s needs and enables them to engage in learning and teaching which is age and stage appropriate.  Upon a full return to school, children and young people may return to their original groupings.

All staff, student teachers and pupils should continue to be vigilant for coronavirus symptoms. Unless staff are symptomatic or are advised to get a test by a healthcare professional, 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.

First published: 21 Jan 2021 Last updated: 21 Jan 2021 -