Reopening of schools after Christmas holidays ‘should be delayed’

Scottish Government ‘should be prepared to return schools to remote learning’.

By Lucy Ashton

The reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays should have been delayed in Scotland because of the surge in Omicron cases, a teaching union has claimed.

The new variant overtook Delta to become the country’s dominant strain of the virus and  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that  a “tsunami of cases” was beginning to hit.

Scotland recorded nearly 6000 new Covid cases on Saturday with the numbers expected to rapidly increase over the next few weeks.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA), said the country is not in a “fit state” to reopen schools as normal in January.

And Larry Flanagan, head of the EIS teaching union said the Scottish Government should be prepared to return schools to remote learning.

However, the Scottish Government has said it is not considering national school closures.

Larry Flanagan, , below right, , general secretary of the EIS union, said further measures to curb coronavirus were needed when schools returned.

He added:  “There is a clear need for strong mitigations once schools reopen after the break, with enhanced cleaning regimes, improvements in ventilation, and the continuation of other measures such as use of face coverings and appropriate physical distancing measures.

“The Scottish Government must be led by the science and act in the best interests of protecting public health.

“If that necessitates schools moving to remote learning for a period, then that is a step that the Government must not be afraid to take.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is not considering school closures.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie has  called for the Scottish Government to conduct a national survey  of teachers to assess how many of them are currently unemployed or  underemployed.

Mr Rennie has consistently called for a teacher job guarantee to  ensure that every qualified teacher has a job and a part to play in  helping with the educational recovery.

Mr Rennie said:“Children and young people’s lives were turned upside down by the  pandemic. Despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, their  educations suffered.

“We must not let that become a lifelong blot on their educational  record. But to help Scottish education bounce back we need to put great  teachers at the heart of education.

“I have met with teachers employed on casual, short term and zero  hours contracts who are desperate to play a part in that educational  recovery.

“Sadly, the numbers of teachers employed in this way has mushroomed  in recent years. Some teachers have to take second or even  third jobs to make ends meet. 

“The Government is failing those who dreamed of nurturing young  minds. They can’t even say how many unemployed and underemployed  teachers there are out there.

“The Government should undertake a national survey, encourage every  qualified teacher to come forward and guarantee them a permanent job.  This will cut class sizes and ensure every young person gets the best  education.”

Sex crime numbers up in West Dunbartonshire

Crime rates are marginally down across West Dunbartonshire – although sex crimes are on the increase.

Figures released by Police Scotland reveal a drop of more than four percent across the area with 148 fewer crimes, down from 3,491 to 3,343 against  last year’s statistics.

Drug-related crimes are down by 285 while crimes involving the possession of drugs have reduced by 254 fewer incidents. Offences relating to the supply of drugs are also down by 26.

House-breakings dropped by more than 25 percent with 40 fewer happening  and there were more than 2,000 fewer recorded crimes of anti-social behaviour, down 27 percent against the same reporting period last year.

However, sex crimes are still increasing, with a total of 107 reports compared to 92 this time last year.In the Argyll and West Dunbartonshire policing division, there were 12 more reports of rape and attempted rape.

Earlier this year, we reported a slight increase in sexual crimes within the division, while the number of sex crimes reported in Scotland between April and June soared to a six-year high.

There were also more reports of fire-raising, increasing from 668 to 713, while incidents of vandalism and malicious mischief rose from 574 to 609.  Common assaults also went from 706 incidents to 858.

Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent John Paterson, right,  said: “While I am pleased that recorded crime is down across Argyll and West Dunbartonshire, I give my personal assurance that the police officers and staff who work tirelessly every day in our communities will continue to do their very best to address the priorities our communities want us to focus on.

“As we head into the festive period, I also want to reassure the public that there will be a visible police presence on our streets and we will continue to work with our partners to make sure that Argyll and West Dunbartonshire remains a safe place to live, work and visit.”

Council to consider extending Helensburgh St Joseph’s catchment area

Members of Argyll and Bute Council’s Community Services have agreed to begin statutory proceedings to consider the possibility of widening the catchment area of St Joseph’s Primary School.

The Council inherited the existing catchment boundary from Strathclyde Council in 1995. It covers most of the Helensburgh and Lomond area, with the exception of a corridor along the A82 from Glen Douglas to the boundary with West Dunbartonshire Council.

At a meeting held on Thursday, members agreed that a report on initiating the statutory process will be presented to elected members in the New Year.

Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, said: “Things have moved on a great deal since the days of Strathclyde Council so it’s vital we consult with our communities to find out what their views are, and where they think the school boundary should be.”

Officials suggest Scotland could face tougher Covid-19 restrictions around New Year

Professor Jason Leitch said it was better to “act harder” and “early” in the battle to beat Covid while Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart said “big decisions” may need to be made.

A four-nations Cobra meeting was held this weekend following calls for more financial support for businesses.

However, Nicola Sturgeon said she had no plans to recall Holyrood to discuss further measures.

She said the situation was “unpredictable” and that parliament “will sit as necessary”, following a report in The Herald on Sunday.

She tweeted: “No idea what basis of this headline is, and it’s not helpful to add to anxiety people already feel. It’s a week before @ScotParl is even in recess.”

Minister must announce measures to tackle 12,000 Scottish sewage leaks

Speaking ahead of a Scottish Government statement to Parliament on reports than sewage spilled into Scotland’s waterways on more than 12,000 occasions in a single year, Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson Liam McArthur said:  “Recent reports have revealed that environmental protection officers found Scotland to be “way behind” England in solving its sewage spill problem. There has been an “unacceptably high” number of leaks and senior SEPA staff appear to have been hesitant to review Scottish Water’s operating licences in bulk in case it suggested the watchdog’s enforcement had not been strong enough.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats demanded a statement on these failings because it was clear that the environment watchdog’s first concern wasn’t for the health of our streams, rivers and communities but for their own reputation.

“Just days after the UK Government voted to allow raw sewage into rivers, it emerged that the Scottish Government was up to its neck in similar offences.

“The environment minister needs to tell Parliament what is being done to clean up this sewage leak mess and keep Scotland’s waterways pristine.”

Wishart calls for “fundamentally new approach” on preventing violence against women

Demonstration against abuse against women in West Dunbartonshire.

MSP Beatrice Wishart has pressed the First Minister for the creation of a focused commission on preventing violence against women and girls, in light of reports that one in five teenage girls have been sexually assaulted.

The Sunday Post report has highlighted that 80% of schoolgirls have suffered abuse or harassment or know someone who has.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have asked for an NHS-style public awareness campaign to build public understanding of the drivers behind violence against women, and an extended Independent Review of Equality Matters in policing as recommended by Dame Elish Angiolini, to include a review of police vetting processes and consideration of misogynistic behaviour. The party has also called for new training for those working in education and front line in public authorities, and recognition of misogyny as a hate crime.

Ms Wishart said:  “Sadly, the Sunday Post’s report is just one of many similar situations: domestic abuse rates up, rape convictions woefully low, two thirds of women don’t feel safe on our streets, three in five suffer street harassment.  The culture of violence against women and girls needs to be tackled with a holistic approach.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed a commission to look across all aspects of life in order to make societal change.  This is about more than justice, more than policing, more than education. It’s about women and girls being and feeling safe at home, school, work, everywhere.  There is value in a fundamentally new approach, and I hope the First Minister can see that as soon as possible.”

Assisted suicide attacks human dignity say Catholic Bishops

In a submission to the consultation on assisted suicide proposed by Liam McArthur MSP, Scotland’s Catholic bishops have opposed the proposed law as an attack on human dignity which will undermine efforts to prevent all suicides, damage public trust in doctors and leave frail, elderly and disabled people feeling they are a burden on society.

The Church response was submitted to the consultation by Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, who commented: “Assisted suicide attacks human dignity and is based on the mistaken belief that individuals can lose their value and worth. The state should support the provision of care, not the deliberate killing, of those at the end of life.”

Mr Horan added:  “Apart from the fact that Assisted suicide undermines efforts to prevent suicide and sends a message that suicide is sometimes appropriate it sends a clear message to frail, elderly and disabled Scots about the value that society places on them and puts pressure on them to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden on others. This is intolerable and utterly wrong.

“No matter how well intentioned the safeguards are, it is impossible for any government to draft assisted suicide laws which include legal protection from future expansion of those laws. The slippery slope is real and dangerous.
“MSPs should be preventing suicide, not assisting it by introducing a dangerous law with deadly and irreparable consequences.”
 Second worst A&E statistics on record shock for parliamentarians

Jackie Baillie MSP – “We are now in the midst of one of the toughest winters to face our NHS.”

Statistics have revealed the second worst weekly performance for Scotland’s A&E departments since records began.

The statistics show that, for the week ending 12 December 2021, only 69.7% of A&E attendances were seen, admitted, transferred or discharged within the four hour target.

In total, 1,803 patients spent more than eight hours in A&E, with 598 people spending over 12 hours. In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, just 70.3% of patients were seen in A&E within 4 hours with 82.3% being seen in NHS Highland.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said:“We are now in the midst of one of the toughest winters to face our NHS and it is clear that A&E services are buckling under the pressure.

“Despite the heroic work of frontline staff, our underfunded and overstretched A&E departments are in crisis.

“The challenges facing our emergency departments are not new or unpredicted. Despite warning after warning, Humza Yousaf has entirely failed to act – lives are now on the line due to his inaction.

“With Omicron cases set to surge, we urgently need greater support for A&E services and the staff that work in them. Failure to do so risks the collapse of A&E services across the country and avoidable loss of life.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, right. said patients and NHS staff desperately “need new hope” and an urgent “Burnout Prevention Plan” after newly published statistics showed only 69.7% patients were seen within 4 hours.

The figures, recorded in the week ending 12 December, are only the second time Scotland-wide statistics have dropped below 70% since record began.

The Public Health Scotland statistics also show 1,803 patients waiting more than 8 hours in an A&E department and 598 patients waiting over 12 hours.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The NHS desperately needs new hope because these waiting times are intolerable for patients and staff. Behind each and every one is a person in pain and a team of staff struggling to help them because they don’t have the support.

“They are paying the price of over a decade of SNP mismanagement and their failures in workforce planning and retention.

“There is a real risk that soaring staff absence and the return of the pingdemic mean that waits will get much worse before they get better.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed an urgent new Burnout Prevention Strategy to protect everyone on the frontline this winter. Staff and the public also deserve an inquiry into avoidable deaths connected to the emergency care crisis.”

  • The worst weekly A&E statistics were recorded during the week ending 24 October 2021, when just 69.6% of people were seen within the target of four hours – just 0.1% below the figures from yesterday.

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