Reopening Scottish schools: 5 key questions to answer

Schools are due to reopen in Scotland from 11 August, but the Greens' education spokesman says several issues remain unclear
30th June 2020, 8:04am
Ross Greer


Reopening Scottish schools: 5 key questions to answer
Reopening Scottish Schools: 5 Key Questions To Answer

Many parents and carers breathed a sigh of relief last Tuesday when education secretary John Swinney announced a return to full-time schooling from 11 August. Many school staff on the other hand, could have wept with frustration.

Now, however, with schools closed and Parliament on a reduced timetable over the summer, key questions remain unanswered.

Will social distancing still apply to staff?

John Swinney announced that, provided we continue to effectively suppress the virus, a full-time return for schools on 11 August "assumes that there is no physical distancing among young people".

Will teachers and other school staff still be required to observe social distancing? If so, does that only apply with other adults or with pupils as well?

Children may be at lower risk from the virus but adults working in schools certainly are not. Staff deserve to know that their health and safety has been fully taken into consideration and see the evidence underpinning the decision the Scottish government has come to.

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'I could have wept': Teachers respond to announcement on schools returning

Will regular testing be offered and ready from 11 August?

Regular testing has been consistently found to reduce the spread of the virus, so will it be offered to all school staff from day one of the new term? I posed this question to John Swinney and the education secretary said he was "very supportive", but it isn't yet a commitment to deliver and, as things stand, regular testing for school staff is not Scottish government policy.

The first minister has also made positive noises in the last week, so we can assume this is being seriously considered. If we've learnt one thing about testing in Scotland though, it's that policy intentions have not been matched by action. Over a month after it was announced, care workers are still not been regularly tested, despite tens of thousands of testing slots going unused each week.

If regular testing is to be offered to staff when schools return, work towards it needs to begin now.

Will schools close if a positive case is found?

Under Scotland's Test and Protect policy, anyone who has been in close contact with an individual who tests positive should immediately self-isolate, so what does this mean for schools?

High-school pupils move classes throughout the day, so will their whole year group need to self-isolate? If there's no social distancing between pupils and staff, the number of teachers who'd have to self-isolate as a result would surely impact the school's safe staffing levels anyway, which would suggest a whole-school closure is the most likely outcome.

Is this a decision for the council or the health board? Will the Scottish government publish clear guidance to ensure there's some consistency in approach?

How are black and ethnic minority (BAME) staff and pupils being protected?

With mounting evidence that Covid-19 poses a disproportionate risk to people of colour, the Scottish government have asked every health board to carry out a risk assessment for their BAME staff. Will councils and schools be asked to do the same?

What about face coverings?

Wearing a face covering is now mandatory on public transport and strongly recommended in shops and other indoor settings, so what about schools?

It would certainly seem inconsistent for pupils and staff to wear a mask on the bus to school, only to take it off when they arrive to the close confines of a packed classroom. Masks are clearly a barrier to communication so there would need to be clear exceptions, but if they are required in less risky environments (social distancing will still apply on public transport), what is the evidence not to at least recommend their use by older pupils and staff?

If we are to avoid councils and schools taking contradictory approaches on all these points, they need clear guidance.

Ross Greer MSP is the Scottish Greens' education spokesman. The above questions are included in a letter he sent to education secretary John Swinney on Monday 29 June

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