Nicola Sturgeon gives go-ahead for phased reopening of schools

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Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Scottish schools will reopen for P1-3 children and secondary pupils who need to carry out practical assignments.

Youngsters are due to return to class from Monday.

However, the First Minister has told MSPs that the need to assess the impact of the change means it is unlikely there will be any further return to school before March 15.

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Lateral flow tests will be made available to senior phase pupils, teachers and school staff twice a week.

In addition, senior secondary pupils will be required to observe two metre physical distancing while in class, and on school transport, in the period immediately after the return.

New school safety guidance has also been published, with £40 million set to go to councils to help them implement it.  

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Schools north of the Border have been closed to most pupils since the Christmas holidays, with only key worker and vulnerable children educated face to face.

Other pupils are currently taught online in the home.

Responding to the First Minister’s statement, union leaders have warned that significant safety concerns remain to be addressed.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Everyone is supportive of face-to-face teaching returning as soon as possible – that should not override safety concerns, however, and teachers will be understandably nervous around today’s announcement.

“Community infection levels have fallen but still remain high in areas such as North Lanarkshire and at 6% the test positivity rate in Scotland remains above the level that the World Health Organisation recommends as indicative of the virus being under control.

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“Against this backdrop, the EIS continues to believe that a blended learning model, with around half of pupils in classes at any one time to allow for physical distancing, would have provided a more cautious and more appropriate basis for pupils returning to schools.”

Mr Flanagan added: “Teachers remain concerned about the increased transmissibility of new Covid variants of the virus, especially aerosol transmission, and it is disappointing that the Scottish Government has not supported the introduction of medical grade face masks for staff, as they offer greater protection for wearers than simple face coverings.

“It should reconsider its stance as a matter of urgency.  We would also expect that staff with increased vulnerabilities will be advised to continue to work from home during this first phase.”

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Mr Flanagan continued: “The introduction of twice weekly testing for staff and senior pupils is welcome, as is the requirement for senior pupils to physically distance. Looking forward, however, to any fuller return of pupils it is clear that the prioritisation of teachers and other school staff for vaccination remains a straightforward way to ensure in-school safety. If having schools open is a priority for the Scottish Government, then protecting school staff should also be a priority.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

He concluded: “Whilst Scottish Government timelines can appear to be self-fulfilling prophecies, there will need to be a meticulous analysis of this first phase and its impact, before any further return is progressed.”

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