HomeCoronavirusSturgeon: schools in Scotland to begin phased return from Monday

Sturgeon: schools in Scotland to begin phased return from Monday

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that a phased return to school for younger pupils will start from Monday.

This will include pre-school children, pupils in primaries 1, 2 and 3, and a limited number of secondary students who need to carry out practical assignments.

The Scottish first minister told Holyrood she hoped to be able to set out the second phase for school reopening in two weeks’ time, but that it was unlikely there would be a further return before 15 March.

She also warned that this would not mark the start of a broader easing of restrictions, telling MSPs that the core stay-at-home requirement would remain in place until at least the beginning of March, and possibly beyond that.

Speaking of the necessity for trade-offs, she said adults would have to live with restrictions for some time in order to get children back to school “because children’s education and wellbeing is such a priority”.

She added: “If we want to return as much normality as we can to life within Scotland, the need to live for a longer period with significant restrictions on our ability to travel overseas is likely to be inescapable.” She said she was likely to advise against booking Easter holidays.

Acknowledging that “we cannot continue in lockdown indefinitely”, Sturgeon warned that because of the new, more infectious variant, “our exit from lockdown is likely to be even more cautious than it was last summer”.

She said her government hoped to publish next week a framework for emerging from lockdown, saying it would prioritise eduction, greater family contact and opening up the economy, with non-essential retail starting to open first.

Sturgeon told the chamber that the success of this limited reopening depended on the public continuing to abide by the wider restrictions. She said the evidence suggested the key risk was not transmission within schools, but from the increased contact the return to education creates among the wider adult population.

“The risk is that schools going back leads to parents socialising more, at the school gates for example, or returning to the workplace rather than working from home.”

Speaking directly to employers, she said: “Please understand that employees who were working from home while their children were being home schooled should still be working from home next week, even if their children are back at school.”

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed Sturgeon’s introduction of twice weekly testing for staff and senior pupils, along with the requirement for senior pupils to physically distance, but said teachers would be “understandably nervous”.

The 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 … 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.”

In England, Boris Johnson is expected set out a roadmap, also on Monday, for easing lockdown there – including the date schools can start to reopen.

Primary schools in Wales are to start a phased reopening from next Monday, and in Northern Ireland schools will remain closed to most pupils until at least 8 March.

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