Coronavirus in Scotland: Benefit of schools staying open outweighs transmission risk, Nicola Sturgeon says

The benefits of schools staying open “outweigh” the risk of Covid-19 transmission, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Speaking at the Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon echoed previous comments from Education Secretary John Swinney, who insisted earlier this week that schools were “not significant areas for transmission of the virus”.

She quoted a report published by Public Health Scotland on Wednesday that showed that in the first nine weeks of term after schools went back in August, there were 1,621 positive Covid-19 cases - 0.2 per cent of the 700,000 school pupils in Scotland.

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“Where there were cases, that does not necessarily mean that Covid is transmitting in schools, and a small percentage of schools who tested positive supports other research showing that Covid cases in schools tend to come from the community, not from schools themselves,” she said.

400 pupils are isolating at Auchmuty High School.
400 pupils are isolating at Auchmuty High School.

“These findings re-enforce our view that at this time the benefits that young people gain from being in school outweigh the overall impact of schools on transmission rates.”

Both the EIS and NASUWT teaching unions have called for blended learning models to be introduced in level four areas, with pupils attending classes on some days while learning from home the rest of the week.

Schools will remain open under current level four restrictions.

Ms Sturgeon said she did not dismiss the concerns of teachers “at all”.

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“We’ve got to listen and try to address concerns, and we will keep doing that for as long as this pandemic lasts,” she said.

Interim Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dave Caeser said school Covid-19 cases reflected rates in the community and were not driven by in-school transmission.

He reiterated the positive impact on children of schools being open.

“We really want to take into account the long-term magnification of effect of children missing the interaction they have in school,” he said.

"It’s not just about the information they can get at school, it’s also about the interaction they get in school, which we know has a really profound effect on the way their brains develop and the way they develop skills, so it’s a really important balance.”

The First Minister was asked about school absences due to Covid-19 across the country, including at Auchmuty High School in Fife where 400 pupils are self-isolating.

The headteacher reported the school of 1,300 currently has around 50 per cent attendance, suggesting that a further 250 of the 1,300 pupils are off school.

Asked about the school, Ms Sturgeon said: “At any given time there will be a number of positive cases or contact with positive cases that are associated with a school, and that will lead to Test and Protect investigations. That’s part of what we are living through right now. Does that mean these schools are unsafe? No.

“Having people isolating will help stop the risk of a wider outbreak occurring and hopefully mean that that school can be as normal as possible and get back to normality as quickly as possible, with minimal disruption to education overall.

"Again, it comes down to the balance of judgement here, trying to keep schools open as normally as possible, because that is in the best interest of the overall body of the student population.”

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