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Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement that the Scottish Government is to go ahead with the opening of schools to pre-school, P1-3, some senior phase and more ASN pupils from next Monday, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“The situation on public health and in transmission of the virus remains incredibly fragile and precarious.

“In making the decision to proceed with the phased wider return to school for some pupils, the Scottish Government has not demonstrated that its decisions will not undermine the health and safety of school staff and pupils or undermine efforts to reduce levels of virus transmission in the community. Schools, teachers and parents need to have compelling evidence that this will not be the case.

“Furthermore, the updated guidance published today for schools does not go far enough.

“While we welcome the confirmation in the guidance that clinically extremely vulnerable staff should be enabled to continue to work from home, much of the guidance simply suggests that all that is needed is for schools to “place a high priority on reinforcing the current mitigations.”

“In the face of the increased risks posed by new and more transmissible variants of the virus we believe a much more enhanced package of safety mitigations and measures is required to make schools Covid safe, details of which we have already set out to ministers.

“This includes a system of stronger controls, including the enhanced use of face coverings in schools by senior phase pupils and adults in all settings, the optional use of face coverings by pupils in primary schools and the use of rotas or other measures to limit occupancy levels, provide enhanced physical distancing and prevent overcrowding.

“We have also repeated our call for priority access to Covid-19 vaccines for teachers and education staff, phasing the roll-out of vaccinations in settings that are the first to open fully. This would not only help give enhanced protection to school staff, it would also help to reduce the risk of further disruption to pupils’ education in the coming months.

“We all want to see the resumption of in-person education for all children and young people, but a careful and highly cautious approach to the wider reopening of schools in which the highest level of safety mitigations are taken is the best way to secure the longer-term and sustainable continuation of pupils’ education and support the pathway out of this pandemic for the whole of Scotland.

“Further safety steps are needed for every school in order to secure the confidence and welfare of pupils, staff, parents and the wider public.”
 
Jane Peckham, NASUWT National Official Scotland, said:

“In looking ahead to the return of any further groups of pupils it will be critical that local and national public health teams closely monitor the impacts of the limited return of the pupils going back next week on virus transmission, both inside schools and within the wider community.

“Any decisions about keeping schools open for those returning next week and the return of other groups of pupils at a later date should be led by scientific evidence and advice. We cannot risk a further surge in community-level virus transmission by rushing to return too many pupils too quickly.

“The Minister said she would be driven by data, not by dates, and she must be true to her word and ensure that extreme caution is exercised in managing decisions on schools.”

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