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.

School staff


Attending school in person

The recently issued Coronavirus (COVID-19): school re-opening arrangements for January 2021 contains further information on supporting clinically vulnerable staff.

47) A quarter of the teaching workforce are over the age of 50 and around one in twenty are over the age of 60[39].

48) Following consideration by clinicians of the increased risks of transmission of the new strain of coronavirus, new guidance for individuals on the shielding list has been issued for the duration of the lockdown period. Staff at the highest clinical risk (individuals on the shielding list) should work from home, and if they cannot do so, they should not work.

49) For the teaching workforce and classroom assistants, it will therefore be important for school leaders to consider practical options for members of the workforce supporting pupils currently attending school.

  • To support with educational continuity, whilst allowing for teachers to stay at home where necessary, and ensuring teacher workload doesn't grow, local authorities are supported to identify additional workforce capacity. This may include:
    • Supporting GTCS registered teachers not currently teaching to return to the workforce;
    • Ensuring that supply staff are fully utilised; and
    • Ensuring that teachers who have not yet secured permanent employment are considered as an integral part of planning.
  • The Guidance on reducing the risks in schools sets out a suite of important mitigations that local authorities and schools will be asked to implement. These include risk assessments, enhanced cleaning regimes, good hand and respiratory hygiene, ventilation, use of PPE where appropriate, continuous vigilance for symptoms, and surveillance, testing and outbreak management.
  • £50 million has been allocated to support the recruitment of additional teaching staff.

50) For other members of the workforce, including cleaners, catering staff and technicians, similar considerations will need to be taken to ensure staff can, when required, return to work safely, with awareness of factors unique to each role taken into consideration. For example, cleaners who have previously worked across more than one school site, may be restricted to one school site to begin with.

  • The Guidance on reducing the risks in schools states that risk assessments should be completed that may consider hygiene, ventilation, staff and pupil movement as well as physical distancing, use of PPE where appropriate, continuous vigilance for symptoms, and surveillance, testing and outbreak management.


Staff with disabilities

51) It is likely that a higher number of school staff with physical disabilities will need to take precautions when returning to school compared to school staff without a disability.

  • Therefore, guidance on preparing for the new school term highlights that employers should remain mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010, and consider additional support from a wellbeing or occupational health angle if appropriate.

52) For members of staff with additional support needs it will be important for any changes to routine to be clearly communicated.

Staff mental wellbeing

53) Staff suffering with mental ill health may have found the move to remote learning to have a greater negative impact on their wellbeing than their peers. The same group of people may be more likely to be anxious about supporting face to face teaching for vulnerable and key worker pupils.

  • Local authorities should ensure that managers in school have sensitive, supportive conversations with staff who have concerns about their mental health with wellbeing support services being promoted as part of that.


Caring responsibilities

54) Women make up an overwhelming majority of the education workforce with around 77% of all teachers being women, ranging from 64% in secondary schools to 89% in primary schools[40]. Women also generally carry out the majority of childcare, particularly if lone parents or grandparents with a caring role, who may be without their usual sources of support.

55) Women who are teachers are therefore more likely to have been juggling caring responsibilities with supporting remote learning whilst working from home or whilst working in school. With schools open to vulnerable and keyworker pupils, staff who support that in-school learning, who are also parents or carers, will be dependent upon childcare being available to enable them to work from school.

56) Women who are parents or carers, and who make up the wider education workforce for example learning assistants and cleaners are also likely to be dependent upon childcare being available to enable them to return to their contracted working patterns.

  • Employers are to be cognisant of caring responsibilities and shape responsibilities and expectations accordingly.

Women's safety and wellbeing

57) There is a risk that there has been an increase in domestic abuse during lockdown. For women impacted by this, a return to the workplace is likely to have a positive impact overall, but support should be available to support these members of staff.

Women's health

58) At any one time, a proportion of the female education workforce will be dealing with the often debilitating effects of the menopause and other menstrual health issues such as endometriosis. Stress - which we know has increased for some as a result of the pandemic - can exacerbate a number of the symptoms associated with these conditions and returning to a repurposed school estate where access to toilets might have changed may be challenging. With workplaces moving towards being 'menopause friendly' schools should consider how they offer support in this context.

59) It is also worth noting that early research indicates that women aged 50-60 are at the highest risk of developing long-COVID[41].

Gender reassignment

60) Transgender members of the workforce may have experienced delays to gender-affirming treatment due to COVID-19, which could have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. There is no data available to know how many members of the workforce may be impacted.

Pregnancy and maternity

61) Current clinical advice states that pregnant women of any gestation are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health. Pregnancy itself however, by altering the body's immune system and response to viral infections in general, can occasionally cause more severe symptoms. Therefore following social distancing guidance is important for all pregnant women and in particular those who are 28 weeks and beyond, in order to lessen their risk of contracting the virus. For women with other medical conditions in addition to pregnancy, this should be considered on an individual basis.   

62) A TUC report of 3,400 women who are pregnant or on maternity leave found that 1 in 4 had experienced unfair treatment or discrimination and that low-paid pregnant women were more likely to have lost pay during COVID-19[42].

Returning to work

63) Some members of staff will be returning to the workforce after maternity leave and will not have experienced home learning in the same way as their colleagues. Experts have warned Covid-19 has had a negative impact on maternal mental health beyond that seen in the general population, where reported rates of anxiety have more than doubled. Consideration should be given to their re-induction to the workforce, with individual risk assessments to be completed where appropriate.


Support in the workplace

64) Discourse in the media and on social media during the COVID-19 crisis has included narratives which contribute to racial stereotypes. Schools should be aware of the increased risk of racist incidents or bullying against particular members of staff, as well as the possible impact on the mental wellbeing of staff. Minority Ethnic (ME) communities make up approximately 1.8% of Scotland's teaching workforce[43].

65) 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[44].

  • Therefore guidance highlights that employers should remain mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010, and provide additional wellbeing or occupational health support for example in the form of risk assessments if requested.

Religion or belief


66) With the widely recognised impact of school closures on the wellbeing of pupils and staff, it is likely that staff with a religious role may play a significant role in supporting staff and pupils as schools reopen.

  • The impact of this aspect of the role on the health and wellbeing of those staff should be taken into account when assessing their specific occupational health support needs.

Sexual orientation

67) There are not considered to be any areas of this policy area that disproportionately impact groups with this protected characteristic.

Marriage & civil partnership

68) There are not considered to be any areas of this policy area that could disproportionately impact groups with this protected characteristic.

Socio-economic disadvantage

69) Some members of the workforce, including those with lower incomes, may be more dependent upon the use of public transport to travel to work. Employers should be aware of the impact of wider restrictions across Scotland.

Island communities


70) When considering the teacher workforce, staff working in rural locations, including on islands, will need to be taken into consideration at a local authority level. This may be a particular issue when a member of staff is required to undertake inter-island travel in order to get to work, if restrictions are required on public transport.

Digital equity

71) Staff within remote, rural and island areas, if working from home and engaging in remote learning from January will require digital connectivity.

Gaelic medium education

72) There are 310 FTE GME teachers in Scotland. In line with the general teaching population around a quarter of them are 50 years of age or older[45]. When considering the teacher workforce, GME teachers will also need to be taken into account.



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