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Education: frequently asked questions (COVID-19)

This information is currently being revised, and will be updated throughout this week (3 August) and beyond.

The following information provides answers to parents/carers on some of our Frequently Asked Questions and describes how education will be delivered during the recovery phase of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Please note: Individual schools will be in touch soon with arrangements relating to your own child’s school.

Select a subject below to skip to the relevant section:

  1. Operational arrangements for the school day
  2. The learning environment
  3. Cleaning
  4. Catering
  5. Health and safety concerns
  6. Pupils with additional support needs (ASN)
  7. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  8. Transport

1. Operational arrangements for the school day

What will schools look like when children/young people return?

Schools will look very different to assist with the flow of pupils around the building and allow space for physical distancing between staff.

Extensive signage will be in place to indicate direction of travel in corridors and stairwells. It is likely there may be different entrance and exit points that will be clearly marked, and zoning will be in place if required for different classes or year groups.

Sanitisation stations will be in place for enhanced hand hygiene procedures. Individual schools will share this information with pupils and parents/carers.

When do pupils return to school?

Schools and Early Years Centres in North Ayrshire will return from Wednesday 12 August, following in-service days on Monday 10 August and Tuesday 11 August.

Individual arrangements will be communicated directly from each school. There is likely to be some phasing for individual pupils, specific groups and year stages in some schools. Each school has determined its approach.

Can I visit the school?

In general, this is not encouraged. Schools will confirm restricted arrangements for visitors to schools though communication with parents/carers. If you do need to visit the school, please wear a face covering and you will be asked to provide contact and time details on entry and exit to support Test and Protect arrangements.

Should pupils wear school uniform?

We will be flexible with families who have not yet managed to purchase school uniform, given the change to the plans late in the summer. Advice around daily washing of uniforms has now been relaxed and they should be washed as normal.

Some schools may encourage pupils to come to school in clothing that is appropriate for physical education and the weather conditions to eliminate the use of changing facilities.

Will there be restrictions on movement for pupils or other changes?

Children and young people may be limited to certain 'zoned' areas with movement throughout school buildings kept to a minimum. Where feasible, pupils will be kept in groups for the duration of the school day.

Scottish Government guidance recommends that schools maximise the use of outdoor space for learning and teaching.

Will assemblies and other group activities take place?

No, these will be avoided. Smaller groups may come together at various times, but this will be limited.

Choirs, orchestras, drama and indoor PE will not be reintroduced until Scottish Government guidance allows.

What about breakfast clubs?

Breakfast clubs are not in operation at present but are being worked on mindful of Health and Safety guidance and requirements. Schools will be in touch once this position changes.

2. The learning environment

Will my child need to physically distance at school?

Early years and primary school children do not need to physically distance from each other but should remain physically distanced from staff where possible.

It's understandable that children may be anxious and need contact with staff, but it will be managed appropriately.

Senior phase guidance is clear that physical distancing is NOT required for any pupils, but all schools will try their best to encourage and maximise opportunities to maintain as much distance as possible, within the constraints of school timetabling, physical building layout and other factors.

Can pupils bring school bags?

Pupils are allowed to bring bags and lunch boxes to school, but they should be placed on the floor when not in use and pupils should avoid placing them on desks. However, no other items (such as toys for primary pupils) can be brought to school and pupils should not share any items with others. There will still be restrictions in place for the sharing of resources.

3. Cleaning

What else has been done to make schools as safe as possible?

A risk assessment for 100% pupil return has been finalised within each school.

An enhanced daily cleaning regime is in place, with a focus on touchpoints, surfaces and equipment. This will mean that cleaning staff will focus on touchpoints during the day as well as at the end of the day. In addition, we will ask pupils/staff to wipe down their own work areas, use hand sanitisers regularly/wash hands regularly and increase ventilation.

Sanitisation stations are available, and all pupils will be encouraged to wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water for 20 seconds during breaks, after meals, after using the toilet and at other points during the day.

It is important that pupils practice good hand and respiratory hygiene. This means frequent handwashing and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue if coughing or sneezing.

4. Catering

Will breaks and lunchtimes be different?

Break time and lunch time may be staggered as necessary.

Will payments change for lunches?

Parent Pay (cashless catering) will be operational when schools return. To support this:

  • enquiries for activation logins are being dealt with via ParentPayQueries@north-ayrshire.gov.uk
  • S1 pupils should have received their new login details by letter during the summer
  • On Thursday 6 August, a reminder text message was sent to all S2-S6 pupils notifying them of cashless catering and procedures for requesting login details if not previously activated

Will menus be different?

Menus will be available on our website. We are operating a two week menu cycle which is reviewed after four weeks.

Within primary and early years centres, all food will be served to children and young people and no self-service options are available.

Secondary schools will operate a ‘grab and go’ service and pupils will be allocated spaces across the school to eat lunch once collected.

Can secondary pupils leave school at lunchtime?

We are encouraging all pupils to remain in school at lunchtime. However, should a secondary pupil leave at lunchtime they must comply with Scottish Government guidance, for example in wearing a face covering in shops.

5. Health and safety concerns

My child has a specific health condition and I don't think they should return to school. What do I need to know?

It is expected that all children and young people will be able to return to school unless otherwise advised by a medical professional. If this applies to your child, you should discuss this with the school in the first instance.

I'm really worried about my child's safety and I'm worried about how they will manage the return to school. What should I do?

We understand that some parents will have anxiety about the return to school and the safety and wellbeing of our children and young people is a key priority. If you have concern you should talk to your school in the first instance so that your school can work with you to offer support. Resources have been prepared to support schools to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of our children and young people, including materials produced by the Educational Psychology and mental health and wellbeing team. These can be found on Glow Scotland.

My child is really worried. Will there be support available?

Yes. We are working with other partners to ensure resources are in place to support pupils who are particularly anxious. Advice has been sent to all schools to help promote wellbeing and to help them look out for any particular signs of anxiety. This advice can be found on Glow Scotland.

What happens if there is an outbreak at a school?

It's very important that nobody - staff or pupil - attends a school if they have any of the symptoms of coronavirus (a new and continuous cough, a fever, or a change in or loss of taste or smell).

If your child displays any of the above symptoms you must not send them to school, but keep them at home to self-isolate in accordance with national guidelines. You should book a test for them via the NHS Inform website. It is of great importance that parents/carers inform the school immediately if your child has symptoms and of the result of any test.

If the test is negative, your child will be able to return to school as long as they are well enough to do so and have been fever free without the use of medication for 48 hours. It is important to remain vigilant for any future signs of symptoms that are COVID-related and then act accordingly, following health protection advice.

If the test is positive, the “Test and Protect” process will begin and your child will be told by the testing team to remain in isolation at home for 10 days, in accordance with national guidance.

In the highly unlikely event that you object to your child being tested for COVID-19 following the onset of the above symptoms, we will require the child to remain at home self-isolating in accordance with national guidance.

Further advice and guidance is available from the NHS Inform website.

We will work very closely with Public Health who will be responsible for advising schools and North Ayrshire Council. Should a school need to temporarily close we have developed contingency plans for blended learning which we will communicate with parents/carers as quickly and as clearly as possible should this happen.

6. Pupils with additional support needs (ASN)

How will we best support our pupils with ASN, distressed pupils and more vulnerable pupils in mainstream?

Guidance has been sent to school on recommendations for supporting ASN, including guidance on supporting distressed pupils.

Are soft furnishings allowed for ASN pupils, for example, if they have their own personal space within a classroom?

The number of soft furnishings will be kept to a minimum as per Scottish Government guidance.

How will we support pupils with ASN to understand expectations around physical distancing, hygiene, etc?

Teachers will ensure specific modelling for some pupils with ASN to help them to follow the social distancing and hygiene expectations. The use of visuals and social stories will also be helpful.

Do children with ASN still need to adhere to the physical distancing model?

All children will be encouraged to physically distance from adults in other households where they can, but it may also be necessary to consider the model of smaller consistent cohorts for children and young people with ASN, as is outlined in guidance for early years and younger children. Scottish Government guidance indicates that physical distancing between children and young people is not required.

7. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Do pupils and staff have to wear face coverings?

Staff and students can wear face coverings if they wish to, face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom as there is greater scope for physical distancing and face coverings can have an impact on learning and teaching. However, it remains the case that where adults cannot keep 2m distance and are interacting face-to-face for a sustained period (about 15 minutes or more), face coverings should be worn.

Scottish Government guidance requests pupils and staff in secondary schools wear face coverings in corridors and confined communal areas (unless they are unable to do so). On school transport pupils over the age of 5 and adults are also required to wear a face covering.

Risk assessments have been carried out where very close contact is required, and staff will wear appropriate personal protective equipment where required by the risk assessment. This may be required to support children with Additional support needs in some establishments particularly in respect of personal care and health needs.

8. Transport

What about drop off and pick up?

Schools will communicate directly with parents about this as local circumstances will direct best practice. There will be external signage to direct pupils. Schools may ask particular year groups to enter buildings by different gates or doors. Where possible, active travel including walking and cycling is being encouraged.

Will school transport be available?

Yes. School transport will be available as normal to eligible pupils.

Your school will be in touch as normal with arrangements for buses and taxis. Transport operators are aware of individual school arrangements.

Children and young people should wash hands before going on transport and wash them again when entering the school.

In line with Scottish Government guidelines being updated for school pupils and young people travelling on both dedicated/contracted and non-dedicated bus services, Stagecoach has provided information for both pupils and parents.

Will physical distancing be required for children on school transport?

Scottish Government guidance states that school transport should be treated as an extension of school, i.e., that no physical distancing is required.

Parents may wish to encourage pupils to walk or cycle to school in keeping with the promotion of active travel.

Do pupils have to wear a face covering on school transport? 

Yes. All pupils over the age of 5 are required to wear a face covering on school transport, unless they are unable to do so.

A face covering should be provided by the parent / carer in the first instance. A small supply will be available onboard transport in the event a pupil is unable to source one in advance of the journey.