Keeping schools and childcare settings in Scotland safe

Joint letter from Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville and COLSA

By Richard Fraser, Editor

 

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville and COLSA have written to education leaders to pay tribute to the “outstanding work” done during the pandemic and to reiterate the crucial role they play in helping to reduce COVID-19 risks in schools and early learning and childcare (ELC) settings.

In a joint letter to local authority Chief Executives and Directors of Education, Ms Somerville and COSLA Children and Young People's Spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe said:

“As co-chairs of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group, we are writing to you to thank you for all you are doing to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 in our education system, and to ask that you continue work to ensure that guidance on reducing risks in schools and ELC settings is implemented and fully adhered to by all in our schools and childcare settings.

“We are acutely aware of the pressures that the pandemic has brought for local authorities, schools, ELC settings and their communities. The work that you and your teams, including your school and ELC staff, have done to manage these difficulties to date has been genuinely outstanding.”

The letter adds:

“The pandemic is now at a fragile point in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The current position is serious and every effort needs to be made to mitigate the risk of having to re‑impose or introduce protective measures. In this context, and following joint discussion, we are working to support and encourage the continued full implementation of mitigations across all sectors. All sectors have an important role to play in ensuring that we can keep case numbers under control and minimise harms.

“We are therefore asking you and your teams to maintain a very strong focus on ensuring that the guidance on reducing risks in our schools and ELC settings continues to be implemented fully and effectively.”

The letter asks for particular attention to be paid to several key areas:

  • promotion of asymptomatic testing for school and ELC staff and secondary school pupils;
  • consistent implementation of the latest guidance for contact tracing following identification of positive COVID-19 cases;
  • ensuring that strengthened guidance on CO2 monitoring is implemented effectively; and
  • support for school/ELC staff and 16-17 year olds to take part in the COVID-19 vaccination programme, as well as school-based programmes such as the winter flu vaccination campaign.

The Education Secretary has also written to all registered childcare providers, thanking them for their efforts and asking for their continued support in implementing the COVID-19 guidance.

The full text of the letter to Local Authority Chief Executives and Directors of Education:

Dear Colleagues

As co-chairs of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group, we are writing to you to thank you for all you are doing to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 in our education system, and to ask that you continue work to ensure that guidance on reducing risks in schools and ELC settings is implemented and fully adhered to by all in our schools and childcare settings.

We are acutely aware of the pressures that the pandemic has brought for local authorities, schools, ELC settings and their communities. The work that you and your teams, including your school and ELC staff, have done to manage these difficulties to date has been genuinely outstanding. It has made a huge difference to the lives of children and young people in Scotland, and we are grateful to you for all of your efforts.

The pandemic is now at a fragile point in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The current position is serious and every effort needs to be made to mitigate the risk of having to re-impose or introduce protective measures. In this context, and following joint discussion, we are working to support and encourage the continued full implementation of mitigations across all sectors. All sectors have an important role to play in ensuring that we can keep case numbers under control and minimise harms.

We are therefore asking you and your teams to maintain a very strong focus on ensuring that the guidance on reducing risks in our schools and ELC settings continues to be implemented fully and effectively.

This request applies to all of the measures in the updated guidance for schools and ELC settings. However, we ask that particular attention be given to the following key areas where we understand there may be some variation in application of the guidance:

  • contact tracing: please ensure that your school teams maintain awareness of the latest versions of the guidance on contact tracing and please continue to work closely with local health protection teams to ensure consistent implementation across local authority areas. We also wish to reemphasise the importance of issuing ‘warn and inform’ letters to lower risk contacts in schools/ELC environments, to ensure that staff, parents/carers, and children and young people are made aware when there are cases in settings, and reminded of the public health measures they should be taking (including regular testing) to minimise risks. In line with the guidance, letters should be issued in response to cases to warn and inform specific groups of potential contacts in the school or childcare environment. Please ensure that schools give careful consideration to how and to which specific groups these letters are distributed so that they have maximum impact.
  • promotion of asymptomatic testing for staff and secondary pupils: overall uptake and reporting figures remain far lower than we would wish, with wide variation between local authorities. Regular asymptomatic testing is an important element in the overall package of mitigations for schools and ELC settings. Through the Schools/ELC Asymptomatic Testing Programme Board, of which COSLA and ADES are members, we are exploring a number of options that may help boost uptake and reporting. Please do continue to ensure that measures are in place at a local authority and individual school level to regularly encourage staff and secondary aged pupils to undertake testing and reporting of test results (positive, negative or void). Guidance on good practice and approaches that have worked for some local authorities has been provided to testing leads previously. We expect shortly to be able to provide your testing leads again with data for individual schools/settings, and would be grateful if you could ensure that school leadership teams are developing plans to address any low uptake/reporting that is identified. Officials will be in touch to request an update on work in this respect following the provision of data.
  • ventilation and CO2 monitoring: we are aware of excellent joint working between ADES Resources, SHOPs, Scottish Futures Trust and Scottish Government colleagues to date on issues regarding ventilation and CO2 monitoring. We would be grateful if a strong focus could be retained on this going forward, with a particular emphasis on ensuring that strengthened guidance on CO2 monitoring is implemented effectively. This should help us reach our shared goal of every school/ELC building, including every learning, teaching and childcare space, being assessed by CO2 monitoring (fixed or mobile) by the October break. It has been agreed that regular reporting on progress will commence from this Friday 3rd September.

By working together to ensure that these and all other aspects of the guidance are implemented effectively, we will be giving ourselves the best possible chance of retaining the significant changes we have implemented in respect of self-isolation and contact tracing policy for under 18s, which are so important to educational continuity.

The Scottish Government and Cosla will work jointly at a national level to engage with professional associations, parents’ organisations and representatives of children and young people, in order to coordinate consistent messages around the importance of mitigations.

Finally, please do continue to support school/ELC staff and 16-17 year olds to take part in the COVID-19 vaccination programme, as well as school-based programmes such as the winter influenza vaccination campaign. We are currently awaiting advice from the JCVI on COVID vaccines for 12-15 year-olds, and are developing plans to roll out vaccination to these age groups as soon as possible if that is the advice received.

Schools should be asked to prioritise access to NHS staff for the purposes of vaccination if/when requested – this is more important than ever in the current circumstances. Leaflets explaining why the COVID-19 vaccine is being offered and how, when and where it is currently expected to be given, are available on NHS inform.

If you have any questions about this letter, please email CERG@gov.scot and our officials will endeavour to answer them as soon as possible.

Thank you again for your continuing hard work to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on our school and ELC communities, and to ensure that our children and young people get the full and rich educational experiences they deserve.

Yours sincerely

SHIRLEY-ANNE SOMERVILLE

STEPHEN McCABE

Background:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on reducing the risks in schools

Coronavirus (COVID-19): early learning and childcare (ELC) services

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for school age childcare services

Coronavirus (COVID-19): childminder services guidance

Further information / resources

Voice Community resources

Scottish Government updates

The Children and Young People's Mental Health and Wellbeing Joint Delivery Board, co-chaired by Scottish Government and COSLA: 

Mental Health and Wellbeing Joint Delivery Board newsletter 

Education Scotland

Positive mental wellbeing - resources to support children and young people | Learning resources | National Improvement Hub (education.gov.scot)

Scottish Government

Mental health and wellbeing: whole school approach: framework

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