Publication - Strategy/plan

Coronavirus (COVID-19): strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision

This strategic framework "Excellence and Equity During the COVID-19 Pandemic" has been jointly developed by the Scottish Government and local government, with crucial support from key partners across the education system including the Education Recovery Group, established in April 2020.

23 page PDF

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23 page PDF

709.8 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision
Section 4 – Implementation in schools

23 page PDF

709.8 kB

Section 4 – Implementation in schools

A combination of factors mean that a blended model of in-school and in-home learning is likely for most pupils, at least during the initial phase of re-opening of schools.

There must be a level of consistency in local authorities' approaches to blending in-school and in-home learning for pupils. However, given the different contexts that local authorities and individual schools are working under, it is clear that there will be a need for some degree of local flexibility within clear and consistent guidelines. There cannot be a "one size fits all" approach to implementation across all education settings in Scotland, or perhaps even within a local authority area, due to the size, scale, location and geography of the country.

This Strategic Framework, therefore, provides direction for the whole of Scotland to enable consistency and equity in a national approach for children and young people that is underpinned by local planning and delivery.

In addition to this framework, local authorities will prepare Local Phasing Delivery Plans to provide a level of operational detail. The plans should translate the principles and expectations in this framework, and supporting guidance, and set out what this looks like across different localities. To ensure confidence across the system a peer-support model will be adopted to help the development of the plans, including support across the Regional Improvement Collaboratives and from Education Scotland. In developing the plans local authorities should also engage with other partners where appropriate, including trade unions and parent representatives.

Physical distancing and impacts upon capacity

We will adopt a maximalist approach. That is, provided it is consistent with the health and wellbeing of both pupils and staff and a quality learning environment, to enable as many pupils as possible to return to education settings, to some extent, at the earliest date possible.

The majority view of the Chief Medical Officer's Advisory Group is that it would be appropriate to consider actions to support distancing guidance in schools and situations where children are in indoor environments for extended periods of time. Given the noted weakness of evidence around the transmission in children, the Chief Medial Officer's Advisory Group did not reach a unanimous view on this. There was a minority view that, once the timing was appropriate to enable opening of schools in any form, physical distancing in classrooms may not be a necessary measure and that fully re-opening schools should be considered. As a consequence, our initial approach from August 2020 will be a blend of in-school and in-home learning for almost all children and young people. This will be kept under constant review and time spent in-school will be increased further as and when it is safe to do so, working towards full-time in-school learning for all.

The implementation of physical distancing will impact upon the capacity for in-school learning within a specific setting. For the first phase of re-opening, schools should assess the maximum number of pupils they can safely accommodate at any one time while maintaining a quality learning environment, having regard to supporting guidance that will cover factors such as:

  • Teaching in smaller groups, with a degree of rotation / alternation.
  • Where practicable, minimising the mixing of such groups.
  • Seating positions being reorganised so that pupils are a safe distance apart (for example, 2m when seated at desks).
  • Increased use of outdoor spaces.
  • Staggered arrival and departure times and clear guidance to parents to avoid congregating in playground areas.
  • Breaks being staggered by class, to avoid pupils from different classes coming into contact where possible (particularly when indoors and some more enclosed outdoor spaces).
  • Considering whether teachers, rather than pupils, should move round classes where practicable.
  • How pupils and staff will get to and from school in a safe manner.
  • Dining provision.
  • Enhanced hygiene practices.

Periods spent outdoors or during transitory periods (e.g. moving through corridors for short periods of less than 15 minutes) are thought to be of lower risk.

Additional space will be required for some children and young people with additional support needs who rely upon the use of equipment, such as hoists, particularly where this provision is provided in a mainstream school setting. Appropriate arrangements should be made to cater for individual needs on a case by case basis and particularly for children with severe and complex needs where handling and personal care is required, in line with legislative requirements.

This capacity assessment for the initial phase of re-opening will equally need to make consideration of the total number of available staff (both teaching and support staff), including estimates on staff absence rates based upon shielding requirements and the impact of successful TTIS practices. Physical distancing in staff spaces (such as staff rooms, toilets etc.) will also form part of the capacity considerations.

Depending on each school setting this will mean that a higher or lower proportion of the pupil population can be accommodated at the school at any one time. Local authorities should look to maximise their capacity for pupils to benefit from in-school learning, while ensuring a high quality nurturing and learning environment for children, through innovative approaches which include both:

  • The potential to expand the 'learning estate' by e.g.: the use of outside space or halls; repurposing other parts of the public estate, including libraries, community halls, leisure centres, etc.; using stadia or conference venues; and/or taking short-term leases of vacant business accommodation. All of these approaches will need to be subject to appropriate risk assessments and health and safety assessments/modifications.
  • Ensuring that existing workforce capacity is fully utilised to respond to local challenges, and considering with partners other options to supplement the existing workforce where required. These are under active consideration by local authorities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), and could, for example, involve calling on former teachers to return to teaching during the crisis (either in classrooms or virtually to support in-home learning, depending upon personal circumstances and training logistics). If such measures prove necessary, GTCS will work with partners to streamline registration processes and ensure expedited Protecting Vulnerable Groups procedures are in place to maintain public confidence in those involved in learning and teaching.

Distribution of places

As implied above, capacity constraints and a finite number of daily places available for in-school learning necessitates that those places will need some form of distribution.

To support NHS capacity and other essential work, an ongoing priority should be to ensure that there is a sufficient access to education and childcare for children of keyworkers. This should only be in circumstances where this is absolutely necessary and to ensure that parents/carers with no other option for childcare can continue to work in their role of delivering essential services. It might include attendance in-school on a full-time basis or a mix of education and childcare provision[4]. Local Phasing Delivery Plans should consider the respective merits of the two potential approaches, taking particular account of impacts upon equity and knowledge of local priorities, with the option of mobilising the out of school care sector to support such childcare where beneficial.

Remaining in-school provision should be distributed across all year groups to ensure that every pupil in Scotland benefits from in-school learning wherever possible. Local authorities and schools should use their capacity assessments plus knowledge of local circumstances to determine both the optimal pattern of such attendance (e.g. on a part week model, or one week on / one week off) and also the need to prioritise any groups where need is greatest. Particular consideration should be given to:

  • The appropriate pattern of attendance/rotation for different age groups, including consideration of wellbeing issues.
  • Provision that best supports children and young people with additional support needs.
  • Those from disadvantaged backgrounds &/or those who have been less able to engage with learning.
  • The respective uses made of time spent either learning in-school or in-home, along with related staffing requirements.

All pupils are deemed in scope except for those who are unable to attend because they are following public health guidance. NHS Inform have provided advice specifically for people who are shielding, and the document 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in education and childcare settings' provides advice for schools and childcare settings who are providing care to children during the pandemic, including for children at increased or very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The GIRFEC vulnerability and resilience matrix should be used to support the above considerations.

A blended model of learning that enables excellence and equity

A blended model of in-school and in-home learning is reliant on consistent, easy to use in-home learning materials which are intended to support and complement, but not replicate, in-school learning. This includes consideration of the specific needs of children and young people with additional support needs and other families most in need of support.

There should be a strong focus on pupil health and wellbeing, including mental health and resilience, alongside both literacy and numeracy during this period. While recognising that in-home learning takes many forms (including support from families) and is by no means all IT based, an approach to digital learning should be implemented to mitigate negative impacts on equity. There will be a specific focus on providing digital access for pupils who do not have this at present. Consistency in provision will be especially important for senior phase pupils.

Education Scotland will ensure learning materials are available on a national basis both to support in-home learning and to augment and support schools' own arrangements for children and young people. This will include the development of education, community and family capacity to enable this work and to achieve effective learning.

With the model of learning that pupils experience during a phased return to schools opening fully, assessment to plan for progression in learning should continue. Local authorities, schools and other settings should consider the needs of children and young people after a prolonged period of remote learning and absence from school. It will be important to promote reconnection and recovery within the curriculum. Further guidance on curriculum and assessment will follow from the Education Recovery Group.

For young people in the senior phase, the models of learning must also support the requirements of National Courses, including coursework, and as young people prepare for certification in 2021, the details of which will be confirmed in due course. Continuity of learning and teaching for all, as far as that is possible, will be key in this period of phased return.

Additional factors

In all of the above Local Phasing Delivery Plans should make consideration of:

  • The needs of pupils with additional support needs. Special schools should make many of the same considerations as primary and secondary schools. There will be a need in all schools to consider the equipment and spaces to be used, for learning and teaching, and other support activities, including therapy provision, lunch provision, physical activity and break times. Schools should give consideration to the potential of increased needs for support as a consequence of disrupted learning, for example behavioural support as a result of increased distress. The above also include the need to consider the needs of teaching and support staff in settings providing this support (including but not limited to PPE). This may mean there is a need for increased numbers of appropriately trained staff and the identification of spaces in schools which can be used to support distressed children.
  • The phasing of all pupils attending schools will need careful consideration for the emotional, physical and mental health and wellbeing of learners. Leaders and teachers will need time to work with the school community to explain local approaches and provide reassurance and support to learners and families.
  • The speed and ease with which phasing could be reversed if the situation deteriorates and health requirements suggest it is necessary (either nationally, locally or at the school level) due to TTIS.
  • Equally, if evidence allows, plans will need to enable increased in-school learning time for all, working towards the resumption of full-time in school provision when possible. Staff awareness and understanding of any relevant evidence will be crucial in building confidence for any return which is different from the current physical distancing guidelines[5].
  • Key points where models of provision must be aligned across sectors if recovery is to support children and families' needs effectively. These include:

- Provision of critical childcare for designated groups (incl wraparound and out of school care).

- Provision of support in transition, for example from ELC into P1, or P7 to S1.

- Provision for family groups. Families will benefit from access to provision for brothers and sisters , as much as possible, being aligned across ELC, primary and secondary.

All of the above must sit alongside a full risk assessment around the operation of school buildings (and any temporary additions to the school estate) to ensure that they are compliant with all health and safety requirements.

Steps for the initial phase of re-opening

We aim to restart in-school learning for almost all children and young people in Scotland in August.

Subject to public health guidance, teachers and other school staff should be returning to schools at some point during June, to plan and prepare for the new blended model of learning to be implemented from August. Health and safety guidance, including risk assessments, will be in place prior to staff returning to school in June.

The start date of the new term will be standardised to 11 August 2020 only for the purposes of managing Covid-19, which will mean an earlier than planned start for some schools. The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers will give advice to Local Negotiating Committees for Teachers on how to manage this locally and how to reach agreement on when lost holiday time should be taken back. A universal approach will bring benefits for children, including an earlier return to school for many, and the ability for all learners to engage with weekly in-home learning tasks.

Mindful of the impact of lockdown on many of our most vulnerable children, local authorities will work with partners to increase the numbers of children attending critical childcare provision including hubs. This will include both keyworker children and children whom teachers, ELC professionals and other partners, in consultation with the local authority, think would benefit most from early direct contact with education and care staff. There should be a particular focus on supporting children at key transition points (e.g. due to start P1 or S1) which may include some in-school experience in late June, so that they are fully supported to make the next steps in their education.

Critical childcare will need to continue throughout May, June and the summer break to ensure ongoing provision for key worker and vulnerable children. When school staff return in June to prepare for the new school session in August, local authorities should consider carefully how to resource hubs during this period. It will be important that school staff have time and space to work and plan together to prepare for the start of session 2020/21.