Going to School During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Last Updated 19/01/2021 at 15:21

We answer lots of questions you might have about going to school this year during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

What are the plans for returning to school?

Schools across whole of Scotland will stay closed to most pupils until at least mid-February.

At present, only children of key workers and those who are vulnerable are physically in school. Learning is online and will continue in this way until at least part way through February.

At the moment it is hoped schools will be able to open to pupils again sometime during the middle of February, but a further update will be given on 2nd February about whether it is safe to do so. You and your parents or carers will be kept informed as soon as plans are confirmed for a full return.

Make sure you take a look at your school website or social media pages, for the latest information from your school about their plans for online learning. 

How will exams be affected?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has announced the following changes to the SQA exams schedule for 2021:

  • National 5 exams have been cancelled, and instead students will be awarded grades based on their coursework throughout the year, and the grades estimated by their teachers. 
  • It is likely that your grade will be based on between two and four pieces of coursework. There is more information about how this might impact the subjects you are studying on the SQA website
  • Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled. Grades will be based on teacher judgement of evidence of learner attainment. Information will be published shortly on how this will work. 

The SQA has also said that a range of scenarios are being considered regarding the alternative certification model that will be used to award grades this year. This may include extending the date for when schools and colleges send provisional results to SQA.

What does it look and feel like in school?

Schools have plans in place to make sure you can attend as safely as possible.

You should always remember FACTS, as much as possible.

FACTS stands for:

  • 😷 Face coverings
  • 🙅 Avoid crowded spaces
  • 🧼 Clean your hands regularly 
  • ↔️ Two metre distance
  • 🌡 Self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms

Check out more of our information about FACTS at high school.

What about transport to and from school?

As far as it is safe to do so, you are encouraged to travel to school by foot, bike or scooter. We’ve seen an increase in the number of people walking and cycling during lockdown! You can get further advice on cycling to school from the Sustrans website. You can also find information about Bikeability Scotland, the national cycle training programme for school children, and whether your school takes part in the scheme.

The national guidance on attending school says that “dedicated school transport” – in other words, a school bus which is organised by your school rather than a public transport bus - should be treated as an extension of the school estate.

This means that if you travel on a school bus, or similar shared school transport, you will be asked to comply with the new arrangements required as if you were in school.

If you're at secondary school

You should try as much as possible to physically distance from other pupils but this may not always be possible. Again, you will to be asked to maintain good hand hygiene which might include hand sanitiser. Unless you're exempt, if you're using transport providing by the school such as a school bus, you should wear a face covering when boarding the bus, during the entire journey and when leaving, until you're off the bus.

If you're at primary school

If you're travelling on a dedicated school bus or other school transport you won’t need to physically distance from other students or wear face coverings. Although you might to be asked to use good hand hygiene which might include hand sanitiser.

Public transport

The rules are different for public transport.

Anyone over five years old who uses public transport to get to and from school, will be asked to wear face coverings and must follow the rules on physical distancing, unless exempt. More information on public transport can be found on the Transport Scotland website.

However you get to and from school, it’s a good idea for you and your parents/carers to plan your journey ahead of time.

Your safety in school

Schools now have new hygiene and cleanliness procedures, including more cleaning of buildings and regular hand washing for students and staff.

Your school will be trying to limit the amount of times you and other students move around the school. They will try to limit physical contact between students and teachers or other staff, where this is appropriate. They might stagger your break and lunchtimes and there may be slightly different start and finish times.

Your school will want to ensure that school spaces are well ventilated. This means that you might find that windows are open more often than before. You might also have more learning in the outdoors. There may be one-way systems in corridors and there might be different timetables to reduce the amount of mixing children and young people have to do.

Will you need to physically distance from my friends and other students?

Physical distancing means staying at least two metres apart from other people.

Primary school pupils don’t need to distance from one another.

The evidence on physical distancing is less clear for older young people (aged 12 and above). Secondary school pupils are encouraged to distance from one another where possible when in the school building and grounds.

If you're aged 12-17 inclusive, you don't need to physically distance in a group of up to six people, from 6 households, with the same age range.

The classroom layout at your high school might be a bit different, to maintain class numbers but support physical distancing where this is practical. However, it's up to individual schools to make arrangements according to their rooms/buildings. For example, where there are three maths sets in a year group (one set with 30 pupils, another with 20 pupils and another with ten pupils) the class size may be altered to improve the spread of pupils and create three sets of 20 pupils.

It's tricky to be specific about what this will mean in national guidance like this, as it will depend on the layout of the school.

At both primary and secondary school, you should keep physical distance from your teachers and other adults in school.

You can find more information about the evidence that has informed the decisions at the Scottish government website.

Will you need to wear a face mask or face covering?

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF advise that if you are aged 12 or over, you should wear a face covering in the same circumstances as adults. For example, when physical distancing is more difficult to maintain. Research has found that wearing a face covering helps protect yourself and those around you.

At high school, pupils and teachers are asked to wear face coverings when moving in corridors, between lessons, at break and lunch time and when in communal areas (like the assembly hall), as well as on school transport. If your school is in Level 3 or Level 3 under the new COVID-19 protection levels framework, and you're in S4-S6, you will need to wear a face covering in the classroom too. Your teachers will also need to wear them as well. Find out more about the levels framework.

This is because there has been an increase in the number of positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in young people since schools have went back in August 2020, and the Scottish Government wants to make sure the schools are as safe as possible.

Some people are exempt from wearing a face covering, this could be because:

  • they have a disability or health condition that means they cannot put a covering on,
  • a covering will cause them severe distress or anxiety, and/or,
  • they need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading.

If you are exempt from wearing a face covering, don't worry - you won't be asked to wear a face covering. If you need support or guidance, speak to your teacher or someone you trust at school for support. 

Remember, if you see someone at school not wearing a face covering, they might be exempt from wearing a face covering.

If you don’t have access to a face covering, lose yours during the day or it becomes dirty, go to your school office, they should be able to provide you with a new one.

Find out more about wearing a face covering at secondary school. 

Will your parents/carers be allowed into the school building?

It is likely that your school might be asking parents and family members not to enter school buildings.

This is to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. There may be new arrangements for dropping you off at school and limits on the use of school and community facilities like swimming pools or community centres or libraries in the school.

You should speak to your school about how this might affect you, as each school will be different.

Will you need to wear school uniform?

The national guidance does not require any changes to schools’ existing school uniform policy, but it does recommend that school uniforms and staff clothing should be washed regularly – as would be recommended normally.

What will happen at lunchtime?

Your school might now have staggered break and lunch times. This means that you might have your lunch at slightly different times, and you might take their lunch in smaller groups.

National guidance doesn't require all schools to follow the same policy and it states that schools should come to arrangements which suit them. It is recommended that students and parents/carers should be involved in discussions. Please look out for any specific advice from your school.

If students go out of the school grounds for lunch, they should follow the rules in place for wider society, for example wearing a face covering when entering a shop.

How will coronavirus be monitored to help prevent future outbreaks?

Your school will be taking extra care to look out for any symptoms of coronavirus. They will move swiftly to support people if anyone connected to the school community develops symptoms.

If there is a coronavirus outbreak at your school, your parents or carers will be contacted as soon as this has been identified. Steps will be taken to test anyone showing any symptoms and they will be asked to 'self-isolate'.

It’s important that you and your parents or carers look out for symptoms of the virus amongst you and your family.

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

If you believe that you, your parents or family members may have coronavirus it is important to follow the latest NHS inform guidance on coronavirus.

If you're aged 12 or above, you can also download the Protect Scotland app. Find out more about the app.

If you were shielding

If your school is in an area that is in Level 0, 1 or 2 in the new levels framework, unless you or your parents or carers are given advice from a GP or healthcare provider not to, you should attend school as normal.

If your school is in an area that is in Level 3 you, as well as your parents or carers, should chat to your GP about whether you should go to school.

If your school is in an area that is in Level 4 you should not attend school. 

If you or your parents or carers have any concerns you may want to discuss these with your school or local council. If you are unable to go to school due to health advice, the school will have plans in place to allow your learning to continue, through distance learning.

If you're anxious about being at school

It's totally normal for you to feel anxious or worried and for your parents to have these feelings too. You can get lots of advice from our #AyeFeel page on mental wellbeing.

You should feel confident in asking any questions of your school, and your parents or carers should feel confident in doing the same. Remember - guidance teachers, counsellors and other support staff are there to help, and to answer any questions that you might have.

How your education might be impacted by COVID-19

This has been a difficult time for everyone - in particular young people. Whilst you're at school, your teachers will spend time focusing on helping you, your friends and other pupils feel more settled and this will support your learning.

Wellbeing will be a high priority, and this is a very important aspect of the curriculum. Your school might be taking a phased approach to giving you formal schoolwork, to ease you in to the 'new normal'. They might ask you for your concerns or questions as part of an effort to ensure that students’ priorities are taken account of in the return to schools.

Practical activities, sport and music

There are no plans for schools to teach a reduced curriculum or to provide fewer subject choices than they did prior to coronavirus.

However, for 'hands-on' learning and activities, your teachers will be likely to adapt the way they deliver lessons to allow learners to carry out these activities in a safe way. Certain activities may not be taking place in the same way when you first return at the start of the new term.

Scientific and medical advice is still being developed on activities such as singing, talking at loudly, for example in drama performance, or playing wind/brass musical instruments, and how these can be managed safely.

Senior phase pupils and subject choice

It is important that all young people can succeed in the areas that they are most passionate about. Schools and teachers will be doing all they can to make sure that this continues to happen.

Lots of senior pupils will already be thinking about their subject choices for the next school year. Your school should support you to learn in a way which is best for you. If you have any concerns about the delivery of a subject due to changes which may be in place, you or your parents or carers should talk to your teachers.

What about after school care and clubs?

Your school should be in contact with your parents or carers to make them aware of any new arrangements regarding after-school care and clubs.

Measures should be taken to ensure that when you attend after school clubs you are kept safe and the chance for the virus to spread is minimised. Where possible, your parents or carers are being asked to try to limit the number of out of school care settings you attend, as it’s still important to minimise the number of people that children have contact with.

What about people with additional support needs?

For many young people with additional support needs the recent school closures before summer and disrupted routines has been extremely difficult. Schools and local authorities know that many pupils and their parents or carers are anxious to ensure that you receive the ongoing support that you need.

Your school should be in contact with your parents or carers to discuss your individual needs. You and your parents or carers can find further guidance about additional support needs on the Enquire website.

What if you need to self-isolate for ten days?

If you need to self-isolate, the school will have plans in place to allow your learning to continue in a distance-learning arrangement.

What about my Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)?

If you get EMA to help you continue learning, you will still get the amount you are entitled to, even if you have to take time off from school or college because:

  • you need to self-isolate
  • you have the virus
  • your school or college closes

Find out more about EMA here.

What you can do to help

Dealing with the coronavirus outbreak has been challenging for you, your teachers and your parents or carers. The future will also be challenging too.

The Scottish Government, your school and your local authority would appreciate your help in following the advice and supporting the new rules that have been in place in school from August onwards.

Remember FACTS:

  • 😷 Face coverings
  • 🙅 Avoid crowded spaces
  • 🧼 Clean your hands regularly 
  • ↔️ Two metre distance
  • 🌡 Self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms

Check out more of our information about FACTS at high school.

More Information

Information for you

Check out our coronavirus web pages for more of our information about coronavirus.

You and your parents or carers have a right to ask questions, to seek the information you need and discuss any issues with your school. Please contact your school or local authority if you have questions about local arrangements. Your school will likely have a Pupil Council or other pupil voice groups if you wish to play a part in ensuring that student views are heard in your own school.

Information for your parents or carers

The Parent Club website has information and advice for your parents or carers.

Parents and carers can also access Guidance for Parents and Carers from the National Parent Forum of Scotland. This guide includes contact details for your school’s local authority.

NHS Inform has a wide range of guidance, including physical distancing measures and advice for infected households.

The official Scottish Government guidance

All of the Scottish Government official guidance documents are available from the Scottish Government website.

Scroll down to 'Education and Children' for the return to school guidance.

Visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) information pages.