Scotland’s schools will remain closed until mid-February amid surging rates of Covid transmission among children and young people, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
Classrooms had been due to remain shut to all but key worker and vulnerable children until the end of this month, with remote learning in place.
In a statement to MSPs at Holyrood, the First Minister said closures would continue beyond that point.
“Our reluctant judgment is that community transmission of the virus is too high – and is likely to remain so for the next period – to allow a safe return to school on 1 February,” she said.
Although there is progress in suppressing Covid, @scotgov has announced remote learning will continue until mid February. We will review again on 2 February. I appreciate this is difficult for pupils and families. We will restore face to face learning as soon as we safely can do.
— John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) January 19, 2021
“The Cabinet decided today that – except for vulnerable and key worker children – school and nursery premises will remain closed until mid-February.
“We will review the situation again on 2 February and I hope we can set out then a firmer timetable for getting children back into school.
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“I can say this today: if it is at all possible, as I very much hope it will be, to begin even a phased return to in-school learning in mid-February, we will.”
Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, John Swinney, hinted heavily at the end of last week that school closures would be extended, saying a return to classrooms from the start of next month would be a “tall order”.
It comes after recent data revealed the week ending January 3 saw the percentage of children and young people testing positive rocket to record levels across all age groups.
Infection rates were highest among those aged 16-17, reaching 302.5 cases per 100,000. The general population figure was 268.5.
Rates were lowest among those in the 2-4 and 5-11 age groups, sitting at 73.1 and 102.1 respectively.
One charity and coalition of leading organisations expressed disappointment that special schools are not set to re-open and has urged the Scottish Government to reconsider its position.
It has also urged that teachers and support staff at these schools be among the priority groups being vaccinated.
The call has been made by Kindred, an advocacy organisation supporting parents of children with complex needs.
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Its director, Sophie Pilgrim, has written to the Scottish Government’s deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney MSP, urging it to reopen special schools to full time-placements who want to return.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, an alliance of leading organisations that campaigns to improve services for vulnerable children and young people has also given its backing to the call.
Larry Flanagan, General Secretary at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, has already indicated that reopening plans may have to incorporate a blended learning approach.
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“Clearly schools can only re-open when it is safe to do so and that means achieving an R figure significantly below 1 as well as being able to move out of lockdown arrangements,” he told The last week.
“A significant factor is the new variant which seems to infect young people as much as adults and to be much more highly transmissible.
Most pupils in Scotland are learning remotely.
“The most recent figures for Scotland reveal that infection levels amongst school age individuals have rocketed to their highest levels since the pandemic started.
“Having pupils in school, therefore, with no physical distancing becomes highly problematic and it may be that schools will have to reopen on a blended learning approach for a period of time, ie part time attendance to allow physical distancing in the class.”
He added: “Transparency around the emerging evidence on the new variant is critical.
“Vaccine roll out and pro-active testing are also important elements in how schools might re-open physically.”
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There are also indications that fears over the new strain of Covid-19 prompted worried parents to take matters into their own hands towards the end of last term.
Data shows a big spike in non-Covid-related pupil absence from mid-December, particularly among secondary-age young people.