By Bill Heaney
Nearly all pupils will return to full-time school when the Easter holidays are over, according to the Scottish Government.
However, children who are on the shielding list are advised to stay at home until 26 April, in line with advice from the Chief Medical Officer. All other pupils, will return to school once the summer term starts.
Strict 2 metre physical distancing between pupils in secondary schools will be removed and schools will consider how they can strengthen other mitigations.
Following the national expansion of lateral flow testing, twice-weekly tests are available for all school staff in primary, secondary and special schools and for secondary school pupils.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This I know, will be a huge relief to many children and young people – and of course to many parents and carers.
“I know though that the return to school, particularly for older pupils, will cause concern and anxiety – to pupils, to parents and of course to teachers and others who work in schools. So let me give an assurance that we will continue to give paramount consideration to safety.
“The return to school will involve the removal, where necessary, of strict 2m physical distancing between pupils in secondary schools – but we are asking schools to consider how they strengthen other mitigations.
“Twice-weekly lateral flow testing is already available for all school staff, in primary, secondary and special schools and also for all secondary school pupils and I would encourage as many staff and pupils as possible to make use that testing.
“We will, of course, continue to study and assess the data, in order to quickly identify and limit any outbreaks that do arise, and make sure that we are also learning from them.
“For now, let me thank everyone who is working to make this return to school possible. For many teachers and school staff, I know, this has been the hardest year of your professional lives. I am very grateful for the way in which you have adapted to such difficult circumstances.”
Jim Halfpenny, left, secretary of the EIS teachers’ union in Dunbartonshire, said however: “The First Minister’s confirmation that there will be a full pupil return post-Easter comes as little surprise and will be seen by many as a piece of political opportunism just before an election.
“Teachers and support staff will continue to be concerned about health and safety in schools where mitigations have failed to make any school completely safe.
“The increase in pupil numbers and the removal of social distancing among them, particularly older pupils, will cause alarm. This decision increases the risk that more pupils and staff will be infected.
“Larger numbers in classrooms also creates more risk of airborne transmission, which is why face coverings remain important, including the provision of medical grade face masks for staff and the use of CO2 monitors to identify areas with insufficient ventilation.
“A reduction in class sizes to a maximum of 20 pupils is absolutely crucial in fighting the transmission of this virus in schools. This will require the employment of many more teachers on permanent contracts and the ending of the abusive zero-hour supply lists.
“Nicola Sturgeon has called for schools to come up with ‘imaginative ideas’ on health and safety. Smaller class sizes and social distancing spring to mind … but that’s the very opposite of what she has now decided.”