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Scottish schools and coronavirus

Although schools are all now open again, unfortunately coronavirus hasn’t gone away yet. Here you can find out what schools are doing to keep everyone safe, and what we can all do to protect our families and communities, and ensure that schools are able to stay open. 

On this page you can find out about:


What are schools doing to keep everyone safe?

All schools are following guidelines to keep pupils and staff safe. Schools are being cleaned more often and everyone is washing their hands much more regularly. Classrooms should be well ventilated and pupils will have more time for outdoor learning. Other precautions may be put in place – each school building is different, so for more details on what your child’s school is doing you can contact them directly.

There are also further updates to the requirements on face covering in secondary schools (see below). 

You can find out more about what schools are doing to keep everyone safe on the website and in this letter from National Clinical Director Jason Leitch.

Why are things different in schools from elsewhere in society?

Throughout the pandemic, schools and the Scottish Government have done all they can to help keep children and young people in schools for face-to-face learning, while maintaining a safe and supportive school environment for staff and pupils.

There have been some important changes to the rules on self-isolation for under 18s at the start of term that should help achieve that. But to give public health experts time to monitor the impacts of those changes, and to ensure we can keep reducing the risks of COVID-19 in schools, many of the previous restrictions will stay in place in schools for the moment.

We know this can seem counter-intuitive when people look at things changing in wider society. But this approach reflects the unique features of the school environment, which involves large numbers of unvaccinated children and young people coming together with adult staff. This is very different from many other events and settings, where an increasing proportion of attendees will be vaccinated adults and can make risk-based decisions on attendance.

This restrictions are in line with what the expert Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s issues have recommended. The restrictions will be kept under close review and, when they  can safely be eased, they will be.

What can my child do to help keep themselves and everyone else safe?

All children and staff should follow good hygiene practices:

  • frequent washing/sanitising of hands for 20 seconds and drying thoroughly, and always when entering/leaving the building, before/after eating and after using the toilet
  • avoid touching their faces including mouth, eyes and nose
  • using a tissue or elbow to catch a cough or sneeze.

If your child’s in secondary school, they’ll be offered free kits to test themselves at home. This isn’t compulsory but really helps to keep everyone safe, so please encourage them to test twice a week and report the results online. Our page on testing in schools has more information.

What about physical distancing?

Primary school children do not need to distance themselves from each other. However, wherever possible, teachers, staff and other adults should stay at least 1 metre away from each other, and from the children. This still applies at the moment, even though physical distancing is no longer required elsewhere.

This may not apply to P1 and P2 children and some children with additional support needs, but measures are still being taken to keep them and their carers at home and school safe.

In secondary schools, children are still being encouraged to physically distance as much as possible from other children and staff. 

Will staff and pupils be tested for coronavirus?

All secondary school staff and pupils are being offered twice-weekly at home COVID-19 tests. Testing is voluntary, but participation is encouraged to help keep school communities as safe as possible. Our page on testing in schools has more information.

What can parents do to keep everyone safe?

There are some important things parents and carers can do to keep everyone safe and ensure that schools are able to stay open:

  • Wear your face covering at all times when you’re dropping your children at nursery or school and when you’re picking them up.
  • Although physical distancing is no longer required by law, it’s still a good idea to keep your distance from other parents at the school gates if you can.
  • Look out for symptoms at home and follow Test and Protect guidance if anyone shows any signs of COVID.
  • If your child is in secondary school, encourage them to test themselves regularly and report the results online. Our page on testing in schools has more information.

Will there be any changes to what my child is studying, or to extra activities like after school clubs?

After school clubs and other activities are likely to be carrying on as usual, with extra precautions in place to make sure everyone stays safe. Every school is different, so if you have any questions, get in touch with your child’s school to find out what’s happening there.

What if my child has been shielding?

Children who have been shielding can go into school as usual. If you’re worried about sending your child to school, get in touch with the school to talk through your concerns with them. The Scottish Government’s guidance states that schools should speak to any parent or carer who is thinking about keeping their child off school and provide reassurance and support attendance in any way they can. This could include making a plan to help your child settle in.


Does my child have to wear a face covering at school?

Children in nurseries and primary schools will not be expected to wear face coverings or personal protective equipment (PPE) at school. Any child or adult that has been advised or wants to wear a face covering or any PPE will be supported to do so. For more details see our page on face coverings.

At the moment, all staff and pupils at secondary school should wear a face covering at all times. This won’t be forever, however – the rule may change later in the school year.

Parents should also wear face coverings when dropping off or picking up children from school for the time being.

Secondary school children should wear a face covering on school transport. Primary school children no longer need to do so. This aligns with the rules on public transport.

How should my child wear and look after their face covering?

In order for your child’s face covering to keep them and others around them safe, it's important that they know how to wear and look after their face covering. 

Make sure you discuss the following with them:

  • Face coverings should not be shared with others. 
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting it on, and try not to touch your face. 
  • It’s important to make sure the face covering is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin and you shouldn't touch the front once it's on.  
  • When you take it off, try not to touch the part you’ve been breathing on. 
  • When you're not using your face covering, it should be placed in a washable bag or container. Avoid placing it on surfaces, due to the possibility of contamination. 
  • If it's a fabric face covering, keep the face covering in a plastic bag until you can wash it, then wash it at 60 degrees centigrade after each day of use. It can go in the wash with other laundry. 
  • If you're using a disposable face covering, wrap it in a bag and put it in the bin. 
  • Every time you apply or remove a covering, it's important that you wash or sanitise your hands first and avoid touching your face. 

Why should my child wear a face covering in some areas in secondary school?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have found that wearing a face covering helps protect yourself and those around you. 

When moving in corridors, at break time, lunchtime and in communal areas, there are larger crowds of different age groups. The larger the crowds, the more noise, which can make people have to raise their voices. Raising your voice means you project your sound further, but it also means you project air droplets further too. 

At the moment, all staff and pupils at secondary school should wear a face covering at all times.

What if secondary school pupils do not have a face covering?

If your child doesn't have access to a face covering for school, or if they lose theirs during the school day or it becomes dirty, your child can speak to someone at your school who should be able to provide one for them. However, it's a good idea for them to keep a spare face covering in a washable bag or container in their school bag or locker, just in case.

You can make your own face covering from most fabrics. Find out how to make your own here.

You can also use something clean you already have lying around – anything that covers the nose and mouth that is made of textile, like cloth that you can breathe through, such as a scarf, is considered a face covering. 
Children aged 11 and over can also use their Young Scot card to get discounts on face coverings at the following shops: 

  • Firebox – 10% off 16+ year-olds 
  • Footasylum – 10% off when you shop in-store 
  • Topshop – 10% off when you shop in-store 
  • Cotswold Outdoors – 15% off with Young Scot Membership online 
  • As part of the Young Carers package, you can get Etsy vouchers that can go towards buying a mask. 

What about their school clothes?

School uniforms/clothing should be washed and cleaned as normal.


What should I do if my child has coronavirus symptoms?

It is extremely important that you continue to look out for symptoms of the virus amongst your own family. The most common symptoms are:

  • new, continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature (37.8C or greater)
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste

If your child has symptoms, they should not attend school and you should book them a test straightaway. They should remain at home and everyone in the household should self-isolate until they receive their test results. If the test is negative, everyone can stop isolating (and return to school). 

You can find out more about the COVID-19 test and what to do if your child tests positive here

Should I tell the school if my child as coronavirus symptoms?

Yes, it’s important to let the school know if your child is not attending and why. It’s also important for schools to record any COVID-19 symptoms among pupils and staff, as this can give early warning of any possible clusters of COVID-19 cases.  

What happens if my child needs to self-isolate?

If your child needs to self-isolate, the school will have plans in place to allow their learning to continue.

Our pages on staying at home and supporting your child's learning at home have information and tips to help you if they need to self-isolate.

If you can’t work while your child is isolating, you may be eligible for a Self-Isolation Support Grant.

What happens if my child develops symptoms of COVID-19 while in school?

All schools have plans in place for how to respond to any potential cases in school. If your child develops symptoms while they’re in school, they should let an adult know. Make sure your child knows what the symptoms are, so if they start to feel poorly they can tell someone straightaway. They’ll then be looked after safely until they can be collected. As with any child who feels unwell at school, the staff will do their best to comfort and reassure your child. 

Other siblings in the school, or in other schools or ELC settings, should also return home as soon as possible and self-isolate with their household. All members of the household should remain at home until the person with symptoms gets tested. 

What happens if my child comes into contact with someone who tests positive? Do they need to isolate?

The rules on self-isolation have been updated, which will meant that fewer young people will need to self-isolate, and when they do it will be for a shorter time – but that means it’s even more important that pupils self-test and follow the guidance on face coverings. These changes have been put in place to balance the risk of health harms and the harm caused by isolation that have changed due to the success of the vaccination programme.

Children and young people under the age of 18 no longer need to isolate for 10 days if they are a high-risk close contact of someone who tests positive, as long as they receive a negative PCR test result. Children aged 5-17, who are close contacts, must get a PCR test and isolate until the results come through. A close contact is likely to be someone in their household, or someone whose home they’ve stayed in, rather than someone who happens to be in the same class as them. If the results are negative they can return to school. If the results are positive, they must isolate for 10 days and everyone else in the household must book a test. Our page on staying safe from coronavirus has more information on this. 

Children under 5 don’t have to get a PCR test and don’t have to self-isolate as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, but it’s a good idea to book a test for them if you can. This reflects the lower risks of infection and transmission in this age group, and the fact that younger children may find it harder to tolerate testing.

If you're not sure whether you or your child should be isolating, this guide from NHS Inform can help you work out when you need to self-isolate and for how long.

What happens if someone in school tests positive?

Parents and carers will receive an information letter if there is a positive case in their child’s class. Upon receipt of that letter children and young people should continue to attend if they feel well. However, secondary school pupils should take a take a lateral flow device (LFD) test before going in. Parents of primary school children can also support them to take an LFD test if you and your child wish to do so. You can pick up LFD tests at your local chemist or at COVID-19 test centres – you can find out more on the website

If several people at your child's school test positive, the local Health Protection Team may carry out a risk assessment and support the school to decide what to do next. The circumstances and the next steps may be different in different schools. However, it’s unlikely that your child’s whole class will be asked to isolate.

Will everyone be told if someone in the school or class has symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19?

Personal information is confidential and will not be shared. But if your child has been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, they will be contacted through the information letter. 

Upon receipt of that letter children and young people should continue to attend if they feel well. However, secondary school pupils should take a take a lateral flow device (LFD) test before going in. Parents of primary school children can also support them to take an LFD test if you and your child wish to do so. You can pick up LFD tests at your local chemist or at COVID-19 test centres – you can find out more on the website

If you know of any children or families who have symptoms, or test positive, it’s best not to share this information. It is up to each individual to decide if information about their health is shared. 

What if there’s an outbreak of coronavirus at my child’s school?

All schools will be on the lookout for potential outbreaks. This means that if you or your child shows symptoms of coronavirus you should book a test immediately. Your family must then follow self-isolation guidelines. Schools have plans in place if there is an outbreak. Health Protection Scotland will also prioritise school outbreaks through Test and Protect.

What if there’s an outbreak of coronavirus in our area?

If there’s a local outbreak of the virus which affects your school, there will be a discussion between the school’s headteacher, the local council and local health protection teams, and they’ll decide what action needs to be taken. In very limited circumstances, they might decide to temporarily close the school. If this happens your child will be provided with work to do at home, and learning will move online for a while. Our page on home and blended learning explains more.

What happens if coronavirus rates start to rise again?

If at any point the evidence shows that it’s not safe for children to be in school on a full-time basis, whether at a national or local level, steps will be taken to reduce the risks. This may mean that for a period of time, in some areas, measures such as temporary remote learning may be taken. Schools, local authorities and the Scottish Government will continue to monitor the evidence and health advice closely.


Why is my child spending more time outside during the school day?

Schools are keen to make better use of the outdoors as the evidence shows that there is less chance of catching coronavirus when outside but there are other benefits too. When children spend time playing and learning in the outdoors they're more active, engaged and likely to have better concentration when returning to their classrooms. 

Won’t my child get sick if they're outside in all weathers?

It's not true that being outside in cold weather will make you more likely to catch cold or flu. Schools may ask you to provide warm clothing or waterproofs so your child can be comfortable and relaxed and get used to being outdoors in the rain. The outdoors will help them to be more active and have a healthier lifestyle as they grow up. 

Many schools have spare outdoor clothes that can be accessed or you may be able to get financial help through a clothing grant.

Will my child still be able to learn if they have lessons outside?

Learning across all subjects and stages can be delivered outdoors with great effect. It allows your child to develop and build their skills and knowledge, and can help your child to make sense of the world around them. The outdoors encourages children to think creatively and build up resilience, awareness of risks and can help with problem solving.  

Teachers can also take the class to different spaces – school grounds, local parks or further afield for visits to national parks, outdoor education centres, beaches and mountains.  

I’d like my child to learn more outdoors but my school are not providing the opportunity. What can I do?

Every school wants to develop their curriculum to meet the needs of its children and community so if you have any concerns or ideas you would like to see happening then speak to your child's teacher or contact the school.  


How will my child get to and from school safely?

Where possible your child should travel to and from school on foot, bike or scooter while maintaining physical distance. You and your child should wash or sanitise your hands before and after travelling.

If your child uses public transport they should follow current guidelines and wear a face covering while they travel, if they are aged 12 or over. Children aged 12 and over should also wear face coverings on school transport. Although they no longer have to physically distance on public transport, it’s a good idea for them to keep a safe distance from other passengers anyway.

Your school will provide you with local guidance on how your child can get to and from school safely.

Why is it so good to walk, wheel, cycle or scoot to school?

It’s been proven that children who do some form of exercise before school, especially a walk, do better in class because they arrive feeling refreshed, fit and ready to learn. So by walking, wheeling, skipping, scooting or cycling instead of going by car, your kids can start the day feeling active and energised.

And leaving the car at home is better for the planet too. During peak morning traffic times, one in five cars on the road are taking children to school, contributing to congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. So how about converting some of these rides to strides?
For tips and resources on making the journey to school active, safe and fun visit the Living Streets website.


Can I visit my child’s school?

While not usually the case, it’s possible for parents to arrange to come into school with their children if this is strictly necessary, for example, if your child needs additional support when starting P1. Contact your child’s school to discuss this if this is the case for you. Any visits have to be agreed in advance and the school's safety  measures must be strictly followed. 

Your child’s school will continue to encourage as much involvement from parents as possible, even if they can’t enter the school.

What about parents' evenings?

Keeping you up to date with how your children are doing will be more important than ever. You will receive report cards and phone calls to let you know how they’re doing. While parents’ evenings won’t happen in the same way during the first 6 weeks after the start of term, your child’s school will make sure they take place in other ways (for example, by virtual means). Contact the school to find out more about their plans.

Last updated: 21 Oct, 2021