Reviewed and updated December 2021

PPE/face masks and coverings
Risk assessment measures
ASN
Cleaning and hand hygiene
School buildings
Equality
Advice for teachers in vulnerable groups, including pregnancy
Pupils/staff with Covid-19
Curriculum and learning
Health and safety
Remote education and contingency planning
 

PPE/face masks and coverings

Should all visitors be made to wear masks on entering a school building? (Scotland)

Yes - all visitors to any school site should be wearing a face covering in communal areas and all visitors will be expected to comply with the school’s routine measures and arrangements for minimising risks.

Should support teachers and staff who work in close proximity with pupils wear PPE? (Scotland)

Government advice on PPE

Where staff are asked to physically support, assist or restrain pupils, schools should provide staff with appropriate protective clothing, gloves and other protective equipment.

Do I have the right to wear a face mask or visor if I want to? (Scotland)

Any teacher who wishes to wear a face covering or face mask should be allowed to do so and it is unreasonable for an employer to prevent them from doing so.

There may be some special circumstances where there are pupils who need to be able to lip read in order to communicate with the teacher, but this can be overcome with the use of transparent face coverings which, if they are a requirement for the pupil’s benefit, should be provided by the employer.

Members should be aware that it is considered only to be beneficial as a protection for others and not themselves and is no substitute for social distancing and other hygiene measures to control virus transmission.

Teachers must make their own provision and have a responsibility to ensure that:

  • they wash their hands in soap and hot water before putting on the mask and after removing it;
  • they do not touch their face while wearing the mask and if they do, it will need to be replaced;
  • if it is removed while in the workplace, it must be immediately bagged and safely disposed of - at no time should it be left on any surface in the workplace;
  • if masks become damp during the day, they should be replaced;
  • masks/face coverings should be changed/replaced regularly.

Is PPE essential for ASN schools where biting and spitting are frequent occurrences? (Scotland)

The first step must always be to undertake a risk assessment which should cover the use of PPE in such circumstances.

Risk assessment measures

I am concerned that my employer is not taking measures to protect my health and safety at work. (Scotland)

The NASUWT is clear that no teacher should be expected to go into a school that is not safe and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so, we will be continuing to support and advise members on that basis.

Members should raise with their employer in writing any concerns they have about their health and safety in the workplace and then contact the NASUWT for further advice if these issues are not immediately addressed.

Where schools are allowing pupils to have break/lunch in classrooms, who should be expected to supervise pupils during this time? (Scotland)

Supervising pupils during lunch time or break is not part of a teacher’s contractual duties. While teachers may volunteer to undertake such tasks, this cannot be required, unless it is agreed to use time in the ‘other’ time of the WTA.

Schools should ensure their risk assessment covers the provision of appropriate breaks for teachers away from the pupils.

Some of our pupils are ‘runners’. What protections can I put in place for them and the staff? (Scotland)

It is important that pupils who are known to run out of class have their own individual risk assessment and also that this is factored into the school risk assessment.

I have been told children cannot socially distance in P1 and P2 due to a play-based approach. Is this correct? (Scotland)

While the same measures for older children will not be appropriate for younger children, this does not mean that alternative public health measures should not be considered, as is anticipated in the national guidelines.

It is recognised that it is not possible to fully social distance within education and childcare settings with very young children and with children who have complex needs or disabilities.

It is particularly important in this context that a comprehensive risk assessment is undertaken which is regularly updated which identifies risk and puts appropriate control measures in place. The potential inability of younger children to socially distance does not reduce the requirement for adults to continue to socially distance.

My headteacher has sent me a generic risk assessment and workplace assessment asking for approval and mentioning documents to be ‘signed off’. What are my responsibilities as an NASUWT member or Workplace Representative? (Scotland)

Even if you are satisfied with the contents of a risk assessment, it is essential, in order to protect members’ legal rights and entitlements individually and collectively, that the NASUWT does not enter into any formal agreement on the risk assessment by, for example, confirming agreement in writing in a letter or in minutes or any meeting or signing the risk assessment or any other document in any way that signifies agreement.

If you have no concerns to raise on a risk assessment, or the concerns you have raised have been addressed by the employer, simply note receipt of the risk assessment.

Risk assessments are the employer’s documents and they must take full responsibility for the risk assessment and its implementation.

In addition, it should be noted that risk assessments are never ‘signed off’ as completed. Risk assessments are documents which must be regularly reviewed and adapted as necessary.

This also applies where members have an individual risk assessment - it should never be ‘signed off' by the individual.

When some children in mainstream settings spit/bite or wilfully won’t follow social distancing, what can we do to stay safe? (Scotland)

Existing individual risk assessments for pupils should be reviewed and shared with staff. Risk assessments for pupils who are too young or unable to understand social distancing requirements must be carried out.

The behaviour policy must also be reviewed to take into account Covid-19, specifically to include exclusion for pupils who deliberately put others at risk (e.g. coughing or spitting at others) and pupils who will not (as opposed to cannot) comply with social distancing.

ASN

Will all ASN pupils need to be risk assessed before coming into school? (Scotland)

Yes. Existing risk assessments should be reviewed for ASN and complex ASN.

There should be consultation with staff and unions on the risk assessments.

Where can I find information and guidance specific to ASN? (Scotland)

The latest guidance from the Sottish Government is available at Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools

Guidance on supporting children and young people with additional support needs is published by the Scottish Government. Section 33 of the current guidance covers this:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting children and young people with complex additional support needs
Every child and young person will have different levels of required support. Risk assessments play a key part in considering the individual needs of a child or young person…Risk assessments, which may be integrated into a Child’s Plan, should already exist for children and young people with complex additional support needs. These risk assessments should be reviewed and updated as appropriate, reflecting current circumstances. Where they are not in place or they have not been updated they must be undertaken or reviewed swiftly. Where there is a need to work in close proximity with adults and children and young people, the safety measures to protect adults and children and young people alike should be followed. Staff should wear a face covering or PPE where a risk assessment has deemed it appropriate, e.g. when carrying out Aerosol Generating Procedures, and regularly wash their hands before and after contact. Guidance on supporting children and young people with additional support needs is published by the Scottish Government and continues to apply.

Also relevant are:

Is PPE essential for ASN schools where biting and spitting are frequent occurrences? (Scotland)

The first step must always be to undertake a risk assessment which should cover the use of PPE in such circumstances.

Cleaning and hand hygiene 

Should sprays be used for wiping down workstations? If so, what should the protocol be? Who should clean pupils' desks? (Scotland)

There may be provision of appropriate cleaning supplies to enable staff and pupils to wipe down their own desk/chair/surfaces before leaving and, especially, on entering the room should be considered as part of overall hygiene strategies for secondary schools.

The NASUWT is clear that cleaning duties should be undertaken by trained cleaning staff. Cleaning staff must be on duty during the day to ensure regular disinfection takes place.

Teachers have not received the relevant training to undertake cleaning using industrial chemicals. However, disinfectant wipes may be available for those who wish to use them for their own reassurance.

What is considered an appropriate cleaning supply should be covered in the risk assessment.

The HSE advise that the use of usual cleaning products is effective. Disinfectants for use on surfaces are regulated as biocidal products in the UK under the Biocidal Product Regulations (BPR) and must comply with relevant legislation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and Mixtures (CLP). The responsibility for ensuring that any particular product provided to teachers or pupils is suitable and appropriate for use lies with the employer and should be covered in the risk assessment.

If your headteacher advises that you will be provided with sprays to be used on desks and chairs members must:

  • check that the spray is clearly labelled with the content, the circumstances in which it can be used and the potential side effects;
  • request a copy of the risk assessment which has been undertaken on the spray;
  • check whether the employer has undertaken an assessment of the consequences of regular exposure to the spray;
  • request written guidance on its use and storage;
  • contact the NASUWT immediately if they have any concerns.

There should be no expectation that you must use the spray.

In relation to keyboards, pupils have been told to wipe them down. Is this sufficient? (Scotland)

A risk assessment must be undertaken which identifies how equipment will be cleaned.  Cleaning keyboards is a specialist task and therefore it would not be suitable to ask teachers or pupils to undertake this task.

Must all rooms be provided with hand sanitiser or soap or both? (Scotland)

In accordance with the Scottish Government’s advice, all schools and colleges should ensure that they provide access to soap and hot water for washing. Hand sanitisers may also be used in many schools, although regular and effective handwashing is the best way to protect against coronavirus.

Section 27 of the current guidance states the following:
27. Washing hands thoroughly, at the right time, using appropriate facilities and products helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools should continue to support staff and children and young people to follow advice on good hand hygiene, and to ensure regular surface cleaning in schools and on school transport. Effective respiratory and cough hygiene also helps to minimise the risk of the transmission of COVID-19. Public Health Scotland and Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection (ARHAI) Scotland provide relevant guidance for non-healthcare settings.

Bins in the classroom are open top and being used for tissues for blowing noses, etc. and some material for cleaning. Should these bins be closed or emptied on a more regular basis? (Scotland)

All bins for tissue waste must be emptied regularly. Where possible, separate bins for PPE disposal should be identified.

This should be covered in the risk assessment.

Our school aims to place hand sanitiser outside rooms rather than wall mounting them which will narrow some corridors. Will this be acceptable? (Scotland)

The location of the provision of hand sanitisers should be part of the risk assessment.

It is essential to ensure that it is available and wall mounting assists with this. However, consideration will need to be given in the risk assessment as to how this can be managed.

Where teachers are moving classrooms throughout a school day, rather than pupils moving, what can teachers expect about cleaning of tables/chairs/PC/mouse during changeover? (Scotland)

Individual schools must set out clearly the frequency of cleaning planned as part of the site risk assessment and protections must be put in place to avoid multiple staff using the same equipment and desk.

The NASUWT believes that as a minimum there should be hand sanitiser provided on every teacher’s desk for their use and that pupils should have access to hand sanitiser before they enter the classroom.

Will teachers be expected to clean surfaces during classes? (Scotland)

Cleaning duties should be undertaken by trained cleaning staff. Cleaning staff must be on duty during the day to ensure that regular and necessary cleaning takes place.

Teachers should not be undertaking cleaning. Teachers are neither trained nor risk assessed for carrying out these activities.

Some schools are operating a clean-as-you-go policy and have an expectation that teachers should spray desks and chairs before each new group of pupils enters a classroom. There should be no obligation placed on teachers to do this and members are advised that if they are provided with sprays to use, to check that the spray is clearly marked with the chemical content, the terms and circumstances of its use and the conditions in which it should be stored, and any potential side effects. Members should also ask to see the employer’s risk assessment of the cleaning spray being provided.

Staff not employed as cleaners should not be pressured to undertake cleaning.

If in any doubt, contact should be made with the NASUWT immediately.

As cleaners are not going to clean the toilets after each teacher has used it, I have been told we will have to use spray after we use it. Is this acceptable? (Scotland)

As outlined above, teachers should not be asked to undertake cleaning responsibilities.

However, disinfectant wipes, etc. should be available for those who wish to use them for their own reassurance.

Who is responsible for cleaning ICT equipment? In the past, I have cleaned netbooks as no one else including cleaners would take responsibility. (Scotland)

Schools should make clear their arrangements for sanitising ICT equipment as part of the risk assessment. The school must identify the staff responsible for this, as it is a key part of controlling virus transmission.

Can I insist on a record being identified in toilets of what has been cleaned and how regularly throughout the day? (Scotland)

The frequency of cleaning should be set out within the site risk assessment. The risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and it is reasonable to ask for a record to be kept to ensure any review can be well founded.

School buildings

Should my school be organising preliminary examinations in the assembly hall? (Scotland)

There is now no restriction on assemblies/exam gatherings, although routine measures will continue to apply, e.g. good ventilation, regular cleaning.

As part of its arrangements to seek to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, my school requires staff to keep classroom doors and windows open. As the weather becomes colder, this may not be a reasonable option. What does the NASUWT advise? (Scotland)

Even before the issues of Covid-19 arose, schools were required to ensure that classrooms were ventilated appropriately. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which apply to England, Wales and Scotland state that:

‘Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air.’

They also state that:

‘Workers should not be exposed to uncomfortable draughts.’

Now that the autumn term has started, schools should be planning how they intend to meet the regulatory requirements regarding ventilation whist ensuring that classrooms do not fall below the minimum required temperatures in which staff and pupils can be expected to work. In Scotland these temperatures are:

  • Normal teaching space, including dining halls, changing rooms etc: 18.5ºC

  • Assembly area: 15.5ºC

  • Cloakrooms and corridors, gymnasia: 13ºC

  • Games hall: 10ºC

The Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools sets out further detail on ventilation and temperature requirements.

Schools will need to consider the options available to them if they do not have in place effective heating and ventilation systems. They may for example have to increase the heating of rooms and possibly consider deploying additional safe, portable electric heaters. They may have to consider hiring or purchasing air purifiers in place of the ventilation through windows and doors. What is not an option is for employers to expect staff to trade off the safety measure of effective ventilation against a comfortable working temperature.

Please also see our advice on Ventilation and Covid-19.

I believe airing rooms out after pupils have been in the class is advised. What is the guidance on rooms with no windows? Should these be avoided as viable classrooms? (Scotland)

Rooms without a window may not be suitable in the event of fire and they may also not provide adequate ventilation: both of these considerations are set out in the HSE classroom checklist (pdf).

These factors must be considered in any risk assessment, in addition to Covid-19-related considerations.

Use of rooms with no ventilation is also prohibited under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Is it reasonable to refuse any adaptation to the school building which would have a cost? (Scotland)

If it is a proportionate adaptation required to maintain safety, then there is an argument that cost should not be a bar to implementation.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that it will consider any genuine resource issue a local authority identifies.

In my school, there are fire doors that my headteacher says are not fire doors because they have windows in them, although they have blue signs that state fire door. Can these be propped open? (Scotland)

Under no circumstances should fire doors be propped open.

If the door is marked as a fire door, it should be treated as such. The test of whether a door is a fire door does not relate to whether there are windows - it is usually judged by the weight and location of the door and the closure mechanism.

If there is any doubt about whether a door is a fire door or not, it should not be propped open.

Can the NASUWT give advice on teachers moving from class to class and hot desking? (Scotland)

The revised approach to contact tracing means that groupings (sometimes referred to as “bubbles”) are no longer required to be maintained in schools.

Consideration could be given to providing such teachers with their own keyboard for use in different classrooms.

The procedures for moving between classrooms must be included in an individualised risk assessment for any vulnerable member of staff to determine if it is appropriate for them to be changing workspaces.

Can school staff bases (places where staff will eat and leave their belongings) be used by pupils? (Scotland)

It is important for the mental health and wellbeing of staff that there is an appropriate rest area where they can go to have a break.

Staff bases should have been risk assessed for use by staff and should not be accessed by pupils unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case this should be included in the risk assessment. 

Can rooms without windows or air con be used as a classroom? (Scotland)

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that, 'Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air', so even ignoring the Covid situation, rooms without a form of ventilation should not be used, with the possible exception of storage rooms, etc.

The Covid situation makes this even more vital as effective ventilation is one of the key strategies for preventing virus transmission.

Should rooms without windows or other ventilation be used as staff bases for eating, etc? (Scotland)

The same rules apply as would apply to classrooms - such areas not only lack ventilation, but also lack natural light. 

Should music instructors be asked to instruct in small rooms without windows? (Scotland)

Essentially, the same rules as classrooms apply - there must be adequate ventilation.

Equality

I am a teacher from a black and minority ethnic (Black) background and I'm concerned that I am therefore at a significantly higher risk of contracting Covid-19. What support can I expect from my employer and my Union? (Scotland)

The top priority for the NASUWT is to protect members’ health, safety and welfare. There is a requirement for the employer to assess the risk of Covid-19 in relation to Black staff.

You should already have received an individual risk assessment. This needs to be regularly reviewed, particularly if there are any substantive changes, such as your local authority area moving up a level.

If you do not receive a response or are not satisfied with any response you do get, you should email the NASUWT Scotland Centre for further advice and support.

The NASUWT continues to campaign for Black members to be provided with a safe working environment including working from home where this cannot be met in the school.

Advice for teachers in vulnerable groups, including pregnancy 

I am approaching the third trimester of my pregnancy. What should I do? Do I have a right to work from home? (Scotland)

Any woman approaching the 28-week mark of her pregnancy should seek an updated and revised individual risk assessment to minimise risk in the workplace.

Although there is no automatic right or generic rule that a woman in the third trimester should work from home, schools MUST follow the specific Government advice for pregnant employees.

Pregnant women from 28 weeks’ gestation, or with underlying health conditions at any point of gestation, may be at greater risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. This is also the case for pregnant women with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus.

As part of the school’s risk assessment, employers should consider whether adapting duties and/or facilitating home working may be appropriate to mitigate risks.

Further guidance on RCOG’s web page Coronavirus infection and pregnancy is also recommended by the Government.

Pupils/staff with Covid-19 

A pupil in my class was displaying symptoms of Covid-19 and was sent home. What should I do? (Scotland)

There is no need to take any action until the outcome of the pupil’s test is known.

If the pupil tests positive, follow the advice in the FAQ below on what action to take if a pupil or colleague tests positive for Covid-19.

What should I do if a pupil in my class or a colleague I work with tests positive for Covid-19? (Scotland)

If you are identified as a close contact and if you are over 18 years and 4 months and not fully vaccinated, then you must self-isolate and book a test.

There is now no requirement for schools to issue individual information (‘warn and inform’) letters to low-risk contacts when positive cases are identified or for them to test prior to returning to school if they have no symptoms.

Should staff be told of all suspected cases, not just those confirmed by a test? (Scotland)

Where a pupil is exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, they will be required to self-isolate. This will be recorded as the reason for their absence.

From 18 April 2022, there is no longer a requirement for schools to issue individual information (‘warn and inform’) letters to low-risk contacts when positive cases are identified or for them to test prior to returning to the school environment provided they remain without symptoms.

If an individual has been identified as a close contact they will be informed.

Can my school ask for the Protect Scotland NHS Test and Trace app to be disabled while I am at work? (Scotland)

The NASUWT does not support requests from schools for the app to be disabled whilst at work. This has been checked with Health Protection Scotland who are clear that a school is not an environment where the app should be disabled.

Should members expect all rooms that the suspected case has occupied during that day or even previous days be quarantined until cleaned? (Scotland)

Advice on cleaning of premises after a person who potentially has Covid-19 has left the school premises can be found in the Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings 

Once a possible case has left the premises, the immediate area occupied by the individual, e.g. desk space, should be cleaned with detergent to remove organic matter such as dust or body fluids, then a disinfectant to kill pathogens. This should include any potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as door handles, telephones and grab rails. Once this process has been completed, the area can be put back into use.

Any public areas where a symptomatic or Covid-19 diagnosed individual has only passed through (spent minimal time in), e.g. corridors, and which are not visibly contaminated with any body fluids, do not need to be further decontaminated beyond routine cleaning processes.

Assist FM has also produced complementary guidance on cleaning in schools.

Any individuals should wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell.

Do teachers have to regularly self test? (Scotland)

There is now no asymptomatic testing for teachers.

Section 36 of the guidance covers this:

In line with the Testing Transition Plan, the advice for school staff and secondary pupils in mainstream and special schools to undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic LFD testing will no longer apply from 18 April 2022. The schools asymptomatic testing programme will therefore end at the end of this term (the Spring term). Schools and ELC settings should distribute their remaining stock by 17 April. From 18 April 2022, local health protection teams will still be able to deploy testing as one of a suite of measures for outbreak management purposes if it is necessary in their expert judgement.

Curriculum and learning

Should members be agreeing to have their non-class contact on a fortnightly basis rather than weekly as a suggested strategy for minimising contact of groupings? (Scotland)

The Routine Protective Measures for Schools does not make any requirement to minimise contact of groupings.

The flexibility for this approach is contained with the SNCT Handbook.

The Union suggests that consent should not be unreasonably withheld to facilitate short-term local agreements allowing changes to non-class contact time allocation, as set out in Appendix 2.17, as a support mechanism for teachers employed to undertake cover and to avoid them having unnecessary contact across multiple groups which would be contrary to the Scottish Government return to school guidance. 

Health and safety

Can a pupil deliberately coughing in the face of a teacher or similar be classed as violence in the workplace? (Scotland)

Yes.

If a member believes a young person is trying to spread Covid-19 or threaten them using coughing it needs to be dealt with as a very serious matter. Any behaviour of this nature should immediately be reported to the headteacher.

There have been a number of successful criminal prosecutions including some custodial sentences for individuals deliberately coughing on people, so the seriousness of this situation should not be downplayed by the employer.

The Union considers that behaviour management practices and policies have to be reviewed in light of Covid-19, i.e. to take very seriously any non-compliance with the health and safety measures implemented to keep staff and pupils safe.

Should members contact the police if this happens? (Scotland)

As with all violent incidents, a member has the prerogative to contact the police, especially if they believe the motivation to have been to cause harm/distress.

Remote education and contingency planning

I am being told I must support remote learning for pupils in my classes who are self-isolating? (Scotland)

Guidance makes clear that appropriate arrangements for remote learning must be in place for children and young people who cannot attend school in person due self-isolating requirements.

The SNCT Handbook sets out the 35-hour working week for teachers and where the time allocated within it does not allow for supporting pupils who are both attending class and learning from home, the responsibility for supporting home learners should rest with the employer.

If you are being pressured to undertake both physical and remote learning without additional time provided, please contact the NASUWT for advice.

When might blended learning begin or the school close? (Scotland)

The Scottish Government has specified that all schools should prepare and maintain clear, strong contingency plans for providing education remotely. In the event of a local outbreak of the virus, a school or a number of schools may be closed temporarily to help control transmission.  Schools and local authorities are expected to familiarise themselves with the key scenarios, expectations and actions set out in the Routine Protective Measures in Schools.

The NASUWT has produced Outbreak Planning Management guidance (pdf) to support members, reps and local secretaries in discussions with their school and employer. 

The NASUWT will continue to campaign for schools only to remain fully open when it is safe to do so.