Christmas school holidays ruling expected this week amid calls for clarity

Scottish ministers hope to decide this week if the Christmas school holidays will be extended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, amid demands for urgent clarity.

The First Minister said she hopes an announcement can be made “sometime over the course of this week to give parents due notice”.

The Scottish Government is considering extending the holidays to run from December 18 to January 11.

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Ms Sturgeon promised ministers will “take these decisions carefully, given the factors at play”.

The Christmas school holidays could be extended
The Christmas school holidays could be extended

The Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said parents and teachers need the “relevant information in good time in order to plan for their lives”.

Challenging Ms Sturgeon, she said: “There are parents in council areas across Scotland who are expecting their children to be in school until December 23.

“And there are others who are expecting them to return to class on January 5.

“So can the First Minister confirm, will there be a standardised, nationwide school holiday this Christmas?

“When will her Government make a statement to Parliament to confirm for thousands of families out there what is going on?”

Ms Sturgeon told her: “We will confirm the conclusions of our deliberations as soon as we have concluded them.

“The Deputy First Minister or I will set out to Parliament what those conclusions are.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said while in some areas schools finish for the festive period on Friday December 18, in other parts of Scotland youngsters could still be in classes on Wednesday December 23.

This has caused “some concern” that teachers and head teachers “might still be dealing with the implications of contact tracing as late as Christmas Eve or perhaps even on Christmas Day”.

He said pupils schools returning later than normal could be “advisable” to help “avoid the recirculation of the virus” if families meet up when restrictions are eased between December 23 and 27.

Mr Swinney stressed he does “not want to see any loss of teaching days”, adding remote learning is also being considered.

“My view firmly is we want to avoid any extensive learning loss for young people as a consequence of an extension of the Christmas period,” he said.

He also addressed further calls for the Scottish Government to cancel Highers and Advanced Highers.

The Education Secretary told MSPs he is “gathering evidence” and is aware of the need for “early decision-making on this question”.

Mr Swinney said he is “acutely focused on the issue of equity”, as Covid-19 will mean some pupils have suffered more disruption to their learning.

Some have had to repeatedly self-isolate after possible exposure to the virus, although Mr Swinney said about 75% of S4 to S6 pupils had experienced no schooling interruption.

The Scottish Government has already cancelled the 2021 National 5 exams and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said his party has reached the “reluctant conclusion” Higher and Advanced Higher exams should also be scrapped.

Mr Rennie said: “The different experiences of pupils this term already means they can’t walk into those exam halls with the same shot at success.

“That is wrong and it’s why we now need an early and effective alternative.”

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