End of Term School Arrangements
Ministers, Deacons and other church staff should think very carefully before entering a school to lead an in-person end-of-term Christmas Assembly. Whilst this may be disappointing for some, those leading should consider the impact of catching an infection or being deemed a close contact to them and their household if they were required to isolate for a ten-day period over Christmas. This would bring challenges for their own Christmas celebrations but also for the worshipping life of the community at this important time of year.
In October 2021, the Scottish Government announced that the existing COVID-19 safety mitigations in schools and educational settings are to remain at the present time, following the advice from senior clinicians. The mitigations in school settings are different from those in the wider community. These mitigations are in place due to the unpredictability of the virus and the need to protect the educational experience of the young people in our community. Restrictions still apply on parents and carers visiting schools and nurseries and on assemblies or gatherings. In effect, parents and carers are not able to attend events that take place during the day in a school or nursery. Assemblies and large gatherings are still not permissible under the current guidance. Most local authorities have set the ‘large gathering' maximum number at 50 people (including both adults and children).
There is some disappointment within school communities generally that parents and carers will not be able to attend internal events at this time organised by a school or nursery in the lead up to Christmas given current national guidance for our schools and nurseries to avoid large gatherings.
Education Departments across Scotland have been working to enable children and young people to be involved in rehearsals for Christmas shows and concerts, including nativities, as many missed this over the last 18 months or so.
Congregations and school chaplains may be asked by schools to be involved in some of these events. However, it is important to remember that the guidance for schools must be the guidance in place for any activities and congregations should not simply grant permission for the use of their building. For example, the school cannot ask to use the church as an extension to their school activity (even if this is normal practice) and ignore the ‘large gathering' guidance, or invite parents or carers to the event. This means that a school cannot hold their nativity in the church and invite parents to watch, nor can the local secondary school have three assemblies in the church for a third of the school at a time when that would be over 50 people in attendance. It is not permissible under the Scottish Government guidance for a school to come to church this Christmas (even for an act of worship) under the ‘Places of Worship' guidance and have unlimited numbers.
It is important that wherever possible churches have an active presence in the life of the school or nursery at this time of year. The following possibilities are offered as ways to offer support to schools at this time.
- With parents and carers not being able to visit schools, many schools are considering how they might stream or film the nativity or event so parents and carers do get to see events of this nature. Might the church provide space for small numbers at a time to record, or even stream from their building, bearing in mind the maximum numbers for gathering?
- Outdoor events can take place with parents and carers present and some schools may be considering a carol concert in the school grounds. If this is not possible, might the grounds of the church be used in a distanced, safe manner?
- It is unlikely that school chaplains will be able to visit schools for a whole school assembly. Chaplaincy visits to schools are permitted in some circumstances and through conversation with local schools and education departments it may be possible for the chaplain to lead a series of assemblies or events for small groups of children and young people whilst abiding by the local authorities risk assessment.
- Where a chaplain cannot physically visit a school they might consider using technology to lead remote assemblies for groups of classes in their own classrooms with microphones and cameras set up for two way communication.
- Where a small school (under a combined total of 50 children and staff) does not have a hall or a space of their own in which to gather, they may wish to consider, subject to local authority approval, using their local church building for the nativity or Christmas concert. Any event would be for the school only and not one where parents and carers could attend due to current Government guidelines. The activity would require to be risk assessed by both the school (approved by the local authority) and church and have mitigation such as distancing in place, but this would allow children and staff to gather when they might not ordinarily be able to due to space constraints of a small building to celebrate.