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Coronavirus and additional support for learning


Will it be safe for my child to return to school or nursery?

Local authorities, schools and nurseries are working hard to make sure it is safe for your child to return. Everyone is aware of the risks and will follow the latest guidance to make sure that they have taken all the steps they can to keep pupils and staff safe from coronavirus.

Your child’s school or nursery staff have been busy thinking about how to adapt their spaces and practices for reopening. They will have also been thinking about things like your child’s journey to and from school, including arrangements for you to drop off and pick up your child safely.

Teachers and staff have been planning for reopening in August in a way that will keep pupils and staff safe. Your local authority, and their schools and nurseries, are aware of the risks of coronavirus. They will do all that they can to follow the latest guidance and to reopen in a way that is safe for your child.

Schools and nurseries have been planning for pupils to return to a ‘blended model’ of learning, spending some time in school or nursery, and some time learning at home. This is because if stricter rules around things like physical distancing are needed, there will not be space in schools and nurseries for all pupils to return full-time at once.

As part of planning for ‘blended learning’ schools and nurseries have done capacity assessments to see how many children and young people they can safely support in-person if they need to follow stricter health guidance on things like physical distancing. Each school and nursery will have different capacities, depending on things like how large their building is, and whether there are alternative spaces like assembly halls and outdoor areas that can be repurposed into new learning spaces. Some children with additional support needs may also need extra staffing, resources or space to benefit from a positive learning environment which should have been taken into account.

Schools and nurseries have also been carrying out risk assessments that look at lots of other factors to plan for reopening safely. For example, they have been thinking about how they can avoid a morning or end-of-day rush, to help them decide things like if they will need to stagger start and finish times or ask different children to use different entrances and exits. They will have been considering how pupils and staff can regularly wash their hands and follow other health guidance. They will also have been looking at how they can keep the learning environment clean, which may include removing some items that are more difficult to wipe down like soft furnishings.

The planning that has taken place for pupils returning to a blended model of learning is now the back-up plan. As Scotland has made good progress in suppressing the coronavirus, most pupils should be able to return to school full-time in August. Blended learning may still need to happen in some schools. For example, if your local area has a higher rate of people being infected with the coronavirus, your child’s school or nursery may need to take a more cautious approach to reopening.

However, if most pupils can return full-time in August they will not be expected to follow the current physical distancing rules of keeping 2 metres distance from their peers. It is likely there will still be some changes and adaptions needed to keep pupils and staff safe, but this will depend on the scientific advice and health guidance nearer the time. We will update our website as any new guidance or information comes to light.

Many schools and nurseries will still be working on their plans for reopening into the summer holidays. This means they may not yet have all the answers or be able to tell you exactly what nursery or school life is going to look like when they reopen. However, they should be keeping you up to date as best they can, and letting you know when they have more information about your child returning. It will be really important that schools, nurseries, parents and carers work together to make sure there is a clear understanding of what the new changes will look like for your child.

When schools and nurseries are planning and preparing for reopening, they should take account of the individual needs of children. This will be important for many children who have additional support needs. Your child may need extra support to understand or follow new school rules, for example some schools may use a one-way system when moving around the school to reduce congestion in the hallways. The school needs to consider how they can communicate and support the changes carefully, and they may use things like large signage to help explain these and remind pupils of the changes they need to follow.

There are many different reasons why there may be specific things that need to be taken into account for your child to make sure they are kept safe and have a positive return to school or nursery. Your child may need close contact with staff to support their learning or to get assistance with intimate care like using the toilet. Your child may be affected by other people wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), for example if they are hearing impaired and lip-read.

The school or nursery need to think about how they can keep your child and their peers safe, and how they can do this in a way that takes account of your child’s individual needs. While there will be a lot of changes due to the coronavirus, your child still has a right to an education, and they still have a right to get extra help or support if they need it to benefit from their learning.

If you are worried about your child returning to school or nursery, and feel there are particular things that need to be taken into account, you can contact the school or nursery to discuss how your child’s individual needs are being considered within their planning.

This could include asking for a risk assessment to be done for your child if you think their safety, health or wellbeing are at greater risk than for other pupils. An individual risk assessment should consider the specific risks that returning to school or nursery would pose to your child, taking account of their additional support needs. It should consider how likely these risks are to happen, and if they do happen how serious they would be for your child. Once the risks are considered, the assessment should then look at what actions can be taken by the school, nursery and other professionals involved in your child’s care and support to reduce the risks.

Your local authority needs to put in place local arrangements and provide advice about how your child can travel to and from school or nursery in a way that is consistent with the latest national coronavirus guidance.

For example, if you live in a more rural area, this may include your local authority working with their public transport teams to plan how schools and nurseries can minimise and, where possible, stagger the use of public transport.

Local authorities will also need to consider support for children with additional support needs who need to use school transport. For example, there may be changes made to reduce the risk where hygiene rules and physical distancing are not possible, for example if your child needs help to access the vehicle or fasten their seatbelt.

Some pupils with additional support needs rely on taxi transfers to get to school. Again, there should be careful consideration of how this can be done safely, taking account of your child’s individual needs. It may include things like the use of perspex shields in taxis, or using larger vehicles so more physical distance can be maintained between your child, the driver, and any other staff who need to be in the vehicle to support your child during the journey.

The school or nursery may also consider staggering the start and finish times for different children, and arrange different access and exit points, to avoid a morning or end-of-day rush.

Particular consideration should also be given to arrangements for parents and carers of children with complex needs or disabilities. For example, if you normally drop your child off within the school or nursery building, they will need to consider how to best manage this moving forwards.

Nurseries have been making plans based on strict public health guidance that would mean that all children could probably not return to nursery at once. These plans recognise that it wouldn’t be appropriate for young children to follow physical distancing rules, but do put other safety measures in place. As things have moved faster than expected in Scotland suppressing coronavirus, it is now hoped that nurseries can reopen to most children in August (or earlier for some nurseries that provide childcare during school holidays), so these plans are now the back-up and may not all be needed.

However, if the situation changes and your child’s nursery needs to reopen more cautiously, they will use these back-up plans based on stricter public health guidance. This would include grouping children into small groups of up to 8 children that will stay together with the same adult(s) each time they are at nursery. If this approach is needed, different groups of children would not mix so that each child only has contact with a limited group of the same children. Under these plans, children at nursery would not be expected to stay at a distance from their key worker.

As long as Scotland continues to make good progress with suppressing the coronavirus, most pupils will be able to return to school in August full-time. Pupils will not be expected to keep a 2 metre distance from their peers. It is likely there will still be some changes and adaptions needed to keep pupils and staff safe, but this will depend on the scientific advice and health guidance nearer the time. We will update our website as any new guidance or information comes to light.

If Scotland does not make as much progress suppressing coronavirus by August as expected, the back-up plan is for a blended learning model, with pupils returning to school part-time, and learning at home the rest of the time.

Under a blended learning model, pupils would be expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other wherever possible. There might be some brief times when pupils need to pass each other more closely, such as in corridors, but schools will try to plan ways to reduce the chance of this happening. For younger primary school children for whom keeping to the 2 metre rule might be particularly difficult, children are likely to be organised into small groups with consistent membership. Older children may also be organised into small, consistent groups. They would still be expected to follow the 2 metre rule wherever possible, but if this was broken for any reason (whether accidental or planned for a particular activity) the risk would be reduced by having a limited number of pupils that they interact with.

Individual arrangements will need to be made for some children with additional support needs who might struggle to keep apart from others or who need closer contact with adults, for example for intimate care like using the toilet. Schools will need to think about each child’s support needs and how practical and safe it would be for them to follow physical distancing guidelines. Individual support plans and risk assessments will need to be followed for each child to help support their wellbeing and keep them and others safe.

If your child has an underlying health condition, you may be particularly worried about them returning to school or nursery. If your child’s health condition means they are at greater risk from coronavirus (sometimes referred to as being ‘clinically vulnerable’) it is important that their school or nursery takes this into account and follows any medical guidance necessary to keep your child safe.

If your child’s health condition means they are ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ and they need to follow shielding guidance, it is unlikely that they will return to school at the same time as other pupils in August and they will continue to learn from home instead with support from school. There is more information on whether your child’s medical condition means they fall into this category from the NHS Inform coronavirus guidance on shielding. It is important to remember they still have a right to an education and to get support with their learning at home. There is more information about this on our page ‘My child is not able to return to school’.

If your child does not need to follow shielding guidance, but their health condition means they are ‘clinically vulnerable’ and are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus, their return to school or nursery will need to be considered and planned carefully. There is more information about this from the NHS Inform coronavirus guidance on physical distancing. Your child’s school or nursery should do an individual risk assessment to consider your child’s needs and what measures are needed to keep them safe. You should also get advice from health professionals that are involved in your child’s care, including their GP.

An individual risk assessment should consider the specific risks that returning to school or nursery would pose to your child’s health and wellbeing. It should consider how likely these risks are to happen, and if they do happen how serious they would be for your child. Once the risks are considered, the assessment should then look at what actions can be taken by the school, nursery and other professionals involved in your child’s care and support to reduce the risks involved.

When making a decision about what is in the best interests of your child moving forwards, the school or nursery should take account of:
- current public health guidance
- any specific medical advice relating to your child or their health condition
- your child’s individual risk assessment
- the school or nursery’s wider risk assessment for reopening
- the views of you, your child, and any other professionals working closely with you to support your child.

If the risks remain too high, your child may not be able to return to school yet. There is more information about this on our page ‘My child is not able to return to school.’

If the risks can be reduced enough for your child to safely return to school or nursery, a plan should be put in place for any specific arrangements or supports that will be needed. It is important that the school or nursery works with you and any relevant health professionals to review the arrangements they have in place for things like what to do in an emergency or if your child falls ill, or how to give them medication or intimate care that they need.

If your child has an existing healthcare plan, it may be helpful to ask the school to review and update their existing plan. If they do not currently have one, it may be helpful to ask the school to put a healthcare plan in place before your child returns to school or nursery. There is more information about healthcare plans in our factsheet on ‘Supporting pupils with healthcare needs’.

If your child lives with someone who is ‘clinically vulnerable’ (but not ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ and shielding) it is likely that they can still attend school or nursery when they reopen. For example, this includes if someone in your child’s household is pregnant.

If your child is living with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable and is shielding, it will be important to follow the latest NHS and Scottish Government guidance in August. The school or nursery may need to complete an individual risk assessment before a decision is taken about whether your child can return to school. Contact your child’s school or nursery to discuss your concerns and what steps might need to be taken if your child does return.

When planning for reopening, local authorities, schools and nurseries should be considering the support needs of pupils who are living with people who are shielding.

If your child is living with someone who needs to follow shielding guidance, this may also have an impact on their wellbeing or learning. For example, they may be a young carer helping to support a family member living with an illness at home. Our website for children and young people, reach.scot, has lots of great advice including 5 Top tips for young carers during coronavirus.

There is more information about which medical conditions mean a person is either vulnerable or extremely vulnerable to coronavirus from NHS Inform coronavirus guidance on physical distancing and shielding.

The current Scottish Government guidance on reopening schools and related changes to the law currently only apply to local authority educational settings. However, the Scottish Government guidance states that independent schools may find it helpful to use the same guidance.

This means it is up to individual independent schools to consider their own arrangements for continuing education arrangements for their pupils, including arrangements for international pupils and pupils who ‘board’ or live at school for part of the school year.

Independent boarding schools may also find it helpful to consider the Scottish Government coronavirus guidance on Residential childcare, however again this guidance currently only needs to be followed for residential childcare that is arranged by a local authority.

If your child attends an independent school and you are concerned about their return, you can contact the school to discuss your child’s individual needs and how they are taking these into account. There is more information about your child’s rights to support in our factsheet on Independent schools and additional support for learning.

It is completely normal and understandable to be worried about your child going back to school or nursery after months of them staying at home. Hopefully, this webpage has been reassuring and explained some of the steps your child’s school or nursery should be taking to make sure reopening is done in a safe way that takes account of your child’s individual needs.

However, if you are still concerned about your child’s safety and worried about sending them back, it is important you speak to their school or nursery about this. If your child is at increased risk from coronavirus, you can ask their school or nursery for an individual risk assessment which should help you work with them to identify and address your concerns.

If you are not feeling happy with what has been arranged so far, there are a few steps you can take to try and find a way forward that will address your concerns and get your child to school. Our factsheet on Avoiding and solving problems explains some of the steps you can take. Because of coronavirus, there might be delays to some of these steps so it might be most helpful to focus on working together with the school or nursery.

If you are not able to come to an agreement with the school or local authority, it is important to know that you have a legal duty to make sure your child gets a ‘suitable and efficient’ education from when they are five years old until they turn 16. During coronavirus, this normal legal duty has been suspended if you have not been able to send your child to school because it has been closed. However, when the schools reopen, you will need to make sure your child gets a suitable education and attends school if it has been deemed safe for them to return.

We know some people will still be concerned about what schools and nurseries reopening will mean for their child’s safety, wellbeing, education and support for learning.

If you would like to talk to someone about what this means for your child, you can contact our helpline for further advice.


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