Scots schools may close again in future Covid lockdowns

Schools may need to close again as part of any future tiered approach to coronavirus lockdown in Scotland, the country's biggest teaching union has said.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) is now calling for clarity from ministers about the "triggers" which would bring about the shutdown of schools under this scenario.

The Scottish Government is devising a tiered approach to future restrictions, similar to the three levels of Covid alert south of the Border. It will be presented to MSPs after Parliament returns next week.

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It comes as schools in the Lothians start their autumn break this week, while schools in the west of Scotland return from holiday.

Schools in Scotland may have to close again
Schools in Scotland may have to close again

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Everyone understands the importance of schools being open, but as is now evident from decisions and discussion elsewhere, if they need to close, even temporarily, in order to control the virus, that is a decision we need to be prepared to make.”

He went on: “It is clear that school closures, either locally or nationally, need to be considered as part of measures to control the growth in the R figure and to deal with local outbreaks, where they occur.

"As a country we should be open and transparent as to the type of indicators which would trigger such a move so that pupils, parents and teachers can be as prepared as possible for such an occurrence. A few days’ notice, for example, would be woefully insufficient.”

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The union is concerned about the the political wrangling that has emerged in the north of England between the UK Government seeking to impose the strictest level three restrictions on areas, and local mayors who are resisting this approach.

Mr Flanagan added: “We also need to be confident that schools are able to switch effectively to remote teaching, or to blended learning, so that we don’t see a repeat of the ‘digital divide’ which was evident in the last lockdown, with pupils from the poorest backgrounds being disproportionally disadvantaged. Failing to learn lessons from that experience would be inexcusable.”

Nicola Sturgeon today said she wants to keep schools open, but warned there would not be a “definitive” trigger for when schools would close in the new strategic framework being devised.

“There is no perfect approach to this that allows us to look at data one day and predict a week from now what the situation is going to be,” she told the daily coronavirus briefing.

"Part of the reason for moving to a tiered approach is to give people greater certainty. If the virus is at this kind of level, here’s the restrictions that will be in place.

"When we set out the levels, we will set out the basket of metrics that will be used to assess whether a part of the country or the country overall moves from one level to another.”

Parents organisation UsForThem Scotland urged the Scottish Government to rule out the prospect of any future schools closures. Organiser Jo Bisset warned that poorer pupils would be hit hardest.

“Parents expect the EIS to work to keep schools open, not agitate for their closure,” she said.

“The Scottish Government must stand up to this and ensure schools are kept open as normal, otherwise children’s wellbeing and education will be harmed enormously.”

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