Tiered alert system will not dictate when schools close

Union calls for clarity over ‘triggers’ for school closures but first minister says it is impossible to be ‘definitive’

Emma Seith

Tiered alert system will not dictate when schools close

A Scottish teaching union is calling for clarity over when the government will be prepared to close schools if required to stop the spread of coronavirus.

At today’s daily briefing, when questioned about whether the tiered alert system due to be outlined this week would dictate under what circumstances schools would close, the first minister Nicola Sturgeon said there would always be “a degree of judgement” involved.

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She also reiterated that it was the government’s objective “as far as possible“ to keep schools open because that was “overwhelmingly in the interest of young people” – although she added that this would have to continue to be assessed if coronavirus transmission kept accelerating.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We will look at metrics, we will look at triggers, but there always has to be a public health informed judgement applied to these things and that will be true about any decisions we make about schools as well.

“The tiers level, I hope, will bring some greater clarity but because of the nature of what we are dealing with here, I don’t think I would be doing anybody a service to say that you ever will get to a point where it is absolutely hard and fast, definitive that, if you have got X number of cases in this area, Y happens. There will always be a degree of judgement and decision-making involved in that.”

To illustrate her point Ms Sturgeon said you could have the same number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 in two local authority areas, but deal with the situation quite differently.

“In one local authority area that may be driven entirely by a factory outbreak that you contain in a very different way to how you would contain an outbreak that is much more community transmission driven,” she said.

The Scottish government will this week publish a strategic framework for tackling Covid-19, which will include a tiered alert system similar to that put in place in England last week.

The EIS teaching union has said clarity must be given to schools about the circumstances under which they can expect to close.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said shutting schools, whether at local or national level, should be considered to control the spread of the virus, adding sufficient notice would be needed for parents, pupils and staff to prepare.

He 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.”

Mr Flanagan added: “As a country, we should be open and transparent as to the type of indicators that 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.”

After schools were locked down, concerns were raised about children who were not able to access the internet effectively enough to continue their learning, something Mr Flanagan says cannot be repeated.

He said: “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’ that 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.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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