School reopening arrangements for January 2021: impact assessment

Considers the impact of the extended school holiday period by a week, and the introduction of remote learning from January 2021 in light of COVID-19 on children and young people, parents and carers, and the education workforce.

Children and young people


1) It is acknowledged that the move to remote learning is likely to have generally a negative impact on the wellbeing and development of most children and young people. As remote learning continues, for some or most groups, this will likely impact different age groups in a variety of ways.

2) We know that on 28 January 2021, across all sectors and local authorities, the percentage of pupils physically in school was 7.3%, with a majority being in the primary age range. Around 37% of children in attendance are vulnerable children and 63% are children of key workers[8].

Child protection

3) With the extension of the holiday period (for most pupils) and a period of remote learning (again, for most pupils) there is an additional risk of exposure to abuse, with likely reduced or no opportunity for disclosure, particularly for younger children.

  • In these circumstances, and in line with the National and Supplementary National Child Protection Guidance a rights-based, child-centred approach to assessment, intervention, and planning to meet needs will be essential, drawing together support from partners and third sector organisations in order to ensure appropriate support for children and young people.
  • In order to support Scotland's most vulnerable pupils, the approach to school openings is different to in 2020 when 'hubs' were open for pupils across a geographical area. Throughout remote learning from January 2021, all schools are open to vulnerable pupils, as well as children of key workers. We consider that vulnerable pupils are more likely to attend their own school, with familiar staff in a familiar setting. Therefore concerns are more likely to be noticed or disclosed.

4) There is increased awareness of learners, who were not previously identified as vulnerable, but who may have experienced child protection issues in this time. Due to continuing social/economic stresses, as well as the pause of breakfast and after-school clubs, there is the potential for more pupils to "become" vulnerable.

  • The Scottish Government published guidance for local authorities and schools in January to inform the period of reopening schools, this guidance provided clarity on arrangements for school education, including support for vulnerable children and young people. Local authorities have been prioritising support for children and young people who are considered vulnerable and have ensured that arrangements are in place to ensure that contact is maintained. A number of authorities have also used surveys to understand children and young people's wellbeing needs, as well as a support from educational psychologists and partnerships with third sector organisations and children and health services.

Transition years

5) All pupils may find the transition to the next academic year more challenging than previous years due to reduced in-school learning since the start of the pandemic. The introduction of remote learning may contribute to this negative impact. Those within key transition years in session 2020/2021, i.e. those starting P1, P7 and S1 in August 2021, those learners making subject choices and those planning on leaving school during, or at the end of, session 2020/21, may feel that impact most greatly and may, depending on a school's calendar of activities, be at risk of missing out on support that previous year groups have received.

  • Schools may be able to provide support to some pupils via remote learning, and it is hoped that many will be able to compensate for any time lost towards preparing for transitions as a phased return is introduced.

Senior phase pupils

6) Pupils who are due to sit national qualification exams in 2021 will understandably be nervous about the reduced in-school learning they will have received during remote learning. The Lockdown Lowdown Survey from November 2020 reports that the most pressing concern for respondents was the impact of coronavirus on their exams[9]. The continuation of remote learning will (a) reduce face-to-face teaching time (b) more negatively impact practical-portfolio based subjects due to reduced time to demonstrate skills to inform teacher assessment.

  • Consideration is being given to flexibilities and contingencies that may need to be in place to ensure certification of 2020/2021 learning and to accommodate prevailing public health advice. This includes the work of the National Qualifications 21 Group and the Alternative Certification Model being developed.


Clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable pupils may have a health condition which would be considered as a disability.

7) Guidance for January 2021 states that children and young people at the highest clinical risk (individuals on the shielding list) should not attend school in person. As schools moved to remote learning for most pupils from January, this is not expected to have a differential impact on pupils at the highest clinical risk in comparison to the majority of their peers.

8) Some learners with physical disabilities which make it difficult for them to access school may be positively impacted by the move to remote learning if they have the appropriate support in place at home. However, those with more severe physical disabilities may be missing out on the use of specific equipment or resources to support them.

Additional support needs (ASN)

9) Pupils with additional support needs have had to adapt to many changes throughout the pandemic, and it is recognised that there are anecdotal reports of some pupils, including some with ASN or anxiety, having found benefits to home learning in 2020.

10) Some pupils with ASN may be entitled to attend school in person through being either vulnerable or the child of key worker parent(s)/carer(s). However for pupils with ASN who are not eligible to attend school in person while remote learning is in place, there is a risk that they will be impacted by not receiving face-to-face teaching more than their peers without ASN. This impact may be greater for pupils who usually benefit from the support of Learning Support Assistants when in school.

  • The emotional wellbeing of our pupils with ASN as they engage with remote learning will require careful planning, including discussion with them and their parents and carers. A first step will be to review plans, including co-ordinated support plans, to ensure that planned approaches build upon and recognise any additional needs which have arisen. In planning these approaches, engagement with parents and carers, as well as the children and young people themselves will be key. Support may be drawn from other partners such as Social Work Services, Allied Health Professionals, agencies such as Skills Development Scotland, and third sector organisations. This process should take into account communication of routine changes where appropriate.


Academic progress

11) A higher proportion of girls than boys achieved the expected Curriculum for Excellence levels across both literacy and numeracy and all stages. In 2018-19, the largest difference in performance at primary was in writing in P7, with girls outperforming boys by 15 percentage points. The smallest differences at primary for the literacy organisers were in reading and listening and talking for P1, at six percentage points each[10].

12) School leaver attainment figures show females are continuing to outperform males at SCQF Levels 4 to 6 or better with the gap being wider at higher SCQF levels. In 2018/19, the gap between females and males achieving one pass or more at SCQF Level 4 or better was 1.4 percentage points, with this gap growing to 4.9 percentage points at SCQF Level 5 or better, and further widening to 12.3 percentage points at SCQF Level 6 or better[11].

13) Factors, inherent in remote learning, which may further widen this gap include the suitability of subjects to on-line learning and any gender bias in uptake rates within these subjects. Examples would be delivery of certificated PE – especially with indoor sports, and the ability to support pupils when coding in Computing (normally done with teacher and pupil in close proximity at a computer). It is therefore possible that male pupils may be more greatly impacted by the move to remote learning, and this may be reflected in course outcomes.

14) We see evidence of gender segregation in participation in different subjects in the senior phase at school with, for example, females more likely to take up subjects such as languages and males tending to take up subjects such as computing[12]. This gender segregation persists in courses in further and higher education and in apprenticeships and in the labour market and leads to women's poorer labour market outcomes, gendered pay inequality, and the gender pay gap. We do not know if gender segregation in subjects and the sexist bullying and harassment which can contribute to this segregation will have been exacerbated throughout the pandemic. If so, there is a risk that this impact augments with the implementation of remote learning.

  • Education Scotland's Improving Gender Balance and Equalities Programme is helping practitioners and school leaders tackle gender segregation and its underlying causes through learning and teaching and whole school approaches. A literature review of the key issues has been published here, and resources for practitioners and sector specific action guides are here.


15) It is widely recognised and acknowledged that the period of school closures and lockdown in 2020 will have had increased impacts on mental health and wellbeing. It would be reasonable to think that a similar impact may be felt from the move to remote learning.

  • The Scottish Government and Education Scotland has continued to engage with all education authorities about the support that they have in place for children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. All education authorities have arrangements for this in place. These include a wide range of approaches such as telephone helplines, education psychology support, bespoke support packages and resources and virtual and telephone counselling, as well as whole-school approaches. Scottish Government and Education Scotland have worked jointly to ensure that advice and guidance including sources of quality support from external organisations is available. This has included the publication of learning resources, hosting of webinars, professional learning opportunities and signposting to key resources and organisations.

16) Almost 4000 children took part in the Children's Parliament's How are you doing? survey in April, May and November 2020[13]. There was a noticeable improvement in positive responses amongst 12-14 year olds to 'Generally, I feel cheerful and I am in a good mood', in the period where schools were open. Although boys were more likely to respond positively than girls both during and after lockdown[14].

17) It is known that some risks to children and young people will have increased during the pandemic and that risks increase as a result of not attending school in person. With children and young people spending more time at home due to remote learning, it would be fair to expect a rise in the numbers who experience domestic abuse, as well as a possible intensification of abuse for previous victims. This typically affects more girls than boys[15], and also affects the children of parents who experience domestic abuse.

Several approaches have been introduced since lockdown in March 2020 to minimise this impact:

  • A central focus of schools guidance throughout the pandemic has been to support and nurture children and young people's health and wellbeing as they engage with remote learning and return to school.
  • On-line learning and check-ins, as outlined in Education Scotland's guidance on remote learning[16], may provide opportunity for identification of concerns and/or provide disclosure opportunities
  • Supplementary guidance[17] for residential boarding/hostel accommodation in educational facilities issued.
  • All local authorities have access to a school counselling service in place and due to the impact of the pandemic have altered how this is service is being made available to meet local needs and circumstances.

18) We know that it is important for young people to have access to period products, and pupils have welcomed the Scottish Government's initiative to make period products available for free in schools, colleges and universities[18].

  • The Scottish Government continues to fund access to free period products during lockdown and, as during school closures in 2020, asks local authorities to make alternative arrangements to ensure products can still be accessed by those who need them.

Gender reassignment

Pastoral support

19) Young people who are transitioning may benefit from pastoral support from school. The same level of support may not be available as a result of remote learning and therefore may negatively impact wellbeing. Additionally, transgender young people may regard school as a place of safety. Some may be deemed as vulnerable and will continue to be able to attend school in person, others may be newly vulnerable, and there is a risk that this group will not have the same access to in-person support.

  • Vulnerable pupils are invited to attend school in person through remote learning.

20) The Online in Lockdown Report indicated that 26% of young people responding to the survey saw prejudice-based posts, comments, attitudes online since the lockdown began which related to transphobia.

Pregnancy and maternity

Support for pregnant pupils and young parents

21) Pupils who experience pregnancy and parenthood whilst at school should receive additional support to be able to continue with their education. It may be challenging for schools to continue to provide the right support to young pregnant pupils and young parents at school age. Regular contact with school is likely to be reduced during remote learning, and this could lead to poor engagement or even a disengagement from education among this group of pupils. This could have a profound long-term impact on, not only young people's health and wellbeing, but also their socio-economic circumstances.

  • Extending holidays and time spent at home through remote learning may require additional consideration as to how these supports are offered by appropriate staff.

22) While attending school in person, as a vulnerable or keyworker child, could restore the support this group of young people need, careful consideration should be given to pregnant pupils who may be at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms of COVID in their third trimester.

  • It is important that all pregnant pupils should follow advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists[19]
  • It is also advised that an individual risk assessment should be conducted for all pregnant young women returning to school.
  • Additionally, lead professionals and parent(s) of a pupil (if appropriate), should be involved to help decide how school should continue to best support them.


23) According to 2019 data, 78% of Scotland's pupil population is from a White (Scottish) ethnicity, while 12% have a White (other) ethnicity and 8% are from a non-White Minority Ethnic (ME) group[20].

24) An analysis of hospitalisations and more severe outcomes among people who have tested positive for COVID-19 has been updated with more recent data to further improve precision of statistical estimates of risk among ethnic minority groups. These results point to further evidence of around a 2-fold increase in risk of admission to critical care or death due to COVID-19 among those of South Asian origin. This increased risk was particularly evident among the Pakistani group and was still apparent after accounting for deprivation, residential care home status and diabetic status. There is evidence of an increased risk of hospitalisation due to COVID-19 among those of Caribbean or Black ethnicity[21].

Public perception

25) Discourse in the media and on social media during the COVID-19 crisis has included narratives which could contribute to racist bullying. Respectme[22], Scotland's National Anti-Bullying service has published updated resources to support local authorities and schools to address any incident of racist bullying, they are also developing enhanced professional learning to support staff in schools recognise and address any incident of racist bullying.

26) 1,015 young people from across Scotland took part in a survey issued by the Time for Inclusive Education Campaign during the period of lockdown in March to June 2020. The survey explored the impact of lockdown on young people's emotional wellbeing, as well as the rates of online bullying and online prejudice during the lockdown period. Overall, the survey found that instances of online bullying increased during the lockdown period, and young people reported witnessing more online prejudice than usual - the most common forms of which were racism and homophobia[23].

  • Schools will want to consider how learning and teaching in the curriculum and whole school approaches can help all pupils develop an awareness and understanding of human rights and equality with a specific emphasis on race, both now and in Scotland's past.
  • A new race equality in education programme has been established to address curriculum reform, racism and bullying, diversity in the teaching profession, and professional learning and leadership.
  • Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People provides the overarching framework for all adults working with children and young people. A resource is also available that was prepared on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Coalition of Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) and Respectme on effectively challenging racist bullying in schools in line with 'Respect for All' [24]

Language development

27) Pupils who speak English as an additional language risk being disproportionately affected by the introduction of remote learning and reduced face-to-face teaching time due to the impact on their proficiency of the English language, particularly if English is not their main home language. 2019 data shows that 9.6% of the pupil population have a language other than English as their main home language[25].

Religion or belief

Denominational schools

28) Denominational schools are defined by their religious ethos which permeates through the life and culture of the school. School closures in 2020 negatively impacted upon denominational schools' ability to support pupils' spiritual development via participation in religious practices and religious education. This impact is expected to continue for most pupils during remote learning.

29) Restrictions around large group gatherings may impact upon religious practices and celebrations.

Sexual orientation

Pastoral support

30) For some LGBT+ young people, the family home may not feel like a safe environment, and so they may have experienced increased levels of abuse due to spending more time at home. There is a risk of this leading to homelessness; we know that LGBT+ young people are disproportionately represented in the young homeless population, with as many as 24% of young homeless people identifying as LGBT+[26].

31) A significant number of LGBT+ young people displayed indicators of poor mental health prior to the pandemic[27], and this may be heightened with reduced access to support through school or other resources.

32) 36% of young people who responded to an online survey indicated that they had seen prejudiced based posts, comments or attitudes online related to homophobia. 52% of LGBT+ young people described their emotional wellbeing as being negative due to being away from their place of education. These findings were published in the Online in Lockdown Report.

  • Extending holidays and time spent at home through remote learning may require additional consideration as to how supports are offered. Attendance at school if a young person is vulnerable and/or check-ins will support learners.

Marriage & civil partnership

33) There is a risk that with most pupils not attending school in person, some pupils may experience enforced marriage.

Socio-economic disadvantage

It is recognised that some groups in society are at greater risk of poverty than others[28], including single women with children, people from non-white minority ethnic groups, and households with a disabled family member.

Engagement, academic progress & digital equity

34) Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels by SIMD[29] for 2018-19 shows a pre-COVID poverty-related attainment gap between pupils in least and most deprived areas. For primary school pupils, the gaps were 17.1 percentage points for Reading, 19.1 for Writing, 13.0 for Listening and Talking, 20.7 for Literacy and 16.8 for Numeracy. At S3, the gap was 11.5 percentage points for Reading, 12.2 for Writing, 10.0 for Listening and Talking, 13.8 for Literacy and 13.5 for Numeracy[30].

35) Extending time spent at home through remote learning may disproportionately affect more deprived households through reduced engagement with learning and/or reduced access to digital resources. An appropriate (comfortable, warm, well lit, quiet etc.) physical space may be more limited in more deprived households.

  • On 30 November, the First Minister announced that all families in receipt of free school meals would receive a £100 payment to support families in winter with the economic impact of the pandemic[31].
  • For the first time, more than £250 million in Pupil Equity Funding will be available to 97% of schools in 2020/21 and 2021/22.
  • A new £45 million package will support with the provision of further digital devices and connectivity solutions, additional staffing as necessary and any further support needed by families.
  • It is recognised that schools know their learners best, and therefore headteachers have the flexibility to develop localised plans to mitigate the impact of remote learning on the most disadvantaged pupils and families.

Remote learning

36) Throughout school closures in 2020, all children were at risk of experiencing some loss of learning. However, we know that children from less deprived homes were more likely to have greater access to home schooling facilities and materials, and to have parents who can assist, to offset lost instruction time (London School of Economics – Centre for Economic Performance[32]). With remote learning in place, this impact is expected to continue, albeit hoped to a lesser extent, with the improving quality of remote learning provision.

37) Similarly, a report published in June 2020 by the Education Endowment Foundation on best evidence of impact of earlier school closures on the attainment gap[33] included key findings such as:

  • School closures are likely to reverse progress made to close the gap in the last decade since 2011;
  • Supporting effective remote learning will mitigate the extent to which the gap widens;
  • Sustained support will be needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up.

38) Children from less deprived households across the UK were more than twice as likely to have had more than £100 spent on their education during school closures in 2020 (19% of middle-class children verses 8% of working class). Almost 1 in 10 children have had £150 spent on their education at home, and just under a quarter of children have had £50 spent on them[34]. It is presumed that pupils from less deprived households will continue to benefit from this over time.


39) We know that for those affected by poverty and disadvantage, free school meals are a vital measure for families, children and young people across the country and that it is essential to ensure that children and young people continue to have access to nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to healthy and nutritious school meals is essential, given the clear benefits for pupils' learning and health. Free school meals provide much-needed support and assistance, saving families, on average, £400 a child, per year.

  • Guidance makes clear that local authorities and schools should continue to provide free school meals or alternatives, for children and young people who are eligible for free school meals. These can be provided using a range of methods in line with family preference including: cash payments to families of eligible children; supermarket vouchers; home deliveries or through attendance at school. These options are not exhaustive and there may be alternatives which would better suit local needs and circumstances. Local authorities and schools will use different approaches depending on their individual circumstances and in response to local need. These approaches may also need to change due to health protection advice.

40) We know that people affected by poverty are more likely to be at risk of illness or death from COVID-19. Therefore pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to have experienced illness or bereavement since the start of the pandemic.

  • Schools should follow existing guidance on supporting pupils in these circumstances.

41) The move to remote learning, coupled with further restrictions across society due to COVID-19, will have meant the closure of youth, sports and other community facilities that may have previously taken place after the school day. This is expected to have a negative impact on the wellbeing of children and young people, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Digital equity

42) The cost of learning in lockdown[35], a June 2020 report by Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG) showed that families with access to resources such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and Show my Homework amongst others, were grateful for the continued tasks, ideas, learning and support from schools that this enabled.

  • It is estimated that with the rollout of digital devices and the increasing quality of remote learning resources, that a growing number of families would feel similar benefits.

43) However, some pupils may be disadvantaged in comparison to their peers through not having access to digital devices, particularly younger children who are more likely to have to share devices with other members of the household. Through accessing the internet, pupils are able to access learning resources, as well as interact with school staff and peers. In 2018, the ONS reported that 12% of those aged between 11 and 18 years in the UK (700,000) reported having no internet access at home from a computer or tablet, while a further 60,000 reported having no home internet access at all[36].

  • To help ensure as many children and young people as possible are able to connect with their schools, continue their learning, access support and engage with their peers, £25 million is being invested to support digital inclusion amongst school-aged children.
  • At end-January 2021 over 63,000 devices and over 11,000 connectivity solutions had been distributed to learners across Scotland. Over 70,000 disadvantaged children and young people are expected to benefit as devices continue to be distributed by local authorities.
  • In addition, a further £45 million of funding was made available to councils in January 2021. This funding can be used flexibly for additional devices, additional staff and wider family support measures.

Island communities

Digital equity

44) Digital connectivity is a key enabler for education in general, particularly in Scotland's more remote, rural and island areas. The importance of this has been magnified throughout 2020, and again as remote learning is introduced. The National Islands Plan recognises that access to good quality digital infrastructure for all is essential to improving the educational outcomes for children and young people on the islands, and good digital connectivity is increasingly vital for education.

Some island communities may have more experience of delivering remote learning due to the development and delivery of e-Sgoil prior to the pandemic, which may have a positive impact on the confidence amongst staff and pupils to adapt to remote learning. However, this is dependent on access to digital devices and connectivity.

Gaelic medium education

Immersion learning

45) In 2019 there were 4,631 learners in the GME sector. In the same year there were 541 learners with Gaelic (Scots) as their main home language[37]. Therefore we can assume that a majority of GME learners do not speak Gaelic at home, and consequently school closures in 2020 will have had a negative impact on the language development of these pupils, particularly younger pupils who may not yet be confident engaging with the written language independently. It is reasonable to expect this impact to continue as schools deliver remote learning to most pupils.

  • A variety of online resources are available to GME pupils to support with language development and immersion learning through Storlànn, E-Sgoil, e-Storas, Education Scotland and BBC ALBA.
  • Most GME resources can be found on the Comann nam Parant website[38].
  • To provide further support while remote learning is taking place Storlànn has recently extended its site to support parents as well as learners and teachers. Also, Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been working with a range of organisations to develop new online facilities, including 'Cleachd i aig an taigh' ('Using Gaelic in the home').

46) Throughout school closures, and into the future if blended learning were to be required, all pupils will be dependent on digital resources for some of their learning whilst at home. GME pupils will naturally require resources to be available in Gaelic.

  • All local authorities have been offered grant funding for devices and connectivity as part of our £25m investment to tackle digital exclusion.
  • There are a variety of online resources available to GME pupils to support with language development and immersion learning through Storlànn, E-Sgoil, e-Storas, Education Scotland and BBC ALBA. To provide further support while home learning is taking place Storlànn has recently extended its site to support parents as well as learners and teachers. Also, Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been working with a range of organisations to develop new online facilities, including 'Cleachd i aig an taigh' ('Using Gaelic in the home').



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