Classrooms in Scotland may have to be redesigned and students would come to school at different times after lockdown measures are eased, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Ms Sturgeon said that coming out of the coronavirus lockdown will not be a "flick of the switch moment" and that measures may have to be in place well beyond this year.
At a briefing this afternoon, she said that "classrooms may have to be redesigned to allow social distancing, so maybe not all children can go back to – or be at – school at the same time". When asked for more detail on what classroom redesigns might entail, she said it could in some instances be a "grand way" of saying that desks will be set further apart from each other.
She was also asked if she could say whether schools would remain closed until the summer holidays, and replied: "We can’t guarantee schools will be back before the summer, but if they can in any way we would want that to happen, because we don’t want children to be out of school for any longer than necessary."
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The first minister also said that "social distancing and limiting our contacts with others will be a fact of life for a long time to come…possibly for the rest of this year, and maybe even beyond", and that "a return to normal is not on the cards in the near future".
Ms Sturgeon said: "The path ahead is paved with uncertainty and complexity."
The first minister added that a paper on how Scotland could come out of the lockdown was an attempt at "levelling with the public" and that it "will evolve into a detailed plan".
The paper says: "While we will continue to operate within a four nation UK framework and align our decisions as far as possible, we will take distinctive decisions for Scotland if the evidence tells us that is necessary."
The paper also states: "Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other critical behaviours will be essential in each sector. We will engage with experts in each sector to understand the practical consequences, for example, of what physical distancing would mean for schools and education, transport, business, and recreation."
Today's full briefing with Nicola Sturgeon can be viewed here:
📺 Watch live: First Minister @NicolaSturgeon holds a press conference on #coronavirus (#COVIDー19).— Scottish Government (@scotgov) April 23, 2020
Joining the First Minister today is Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and Scotland's Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith. https://t.co/x1Jumg0BIL
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said this afternoon: "It is clear that schools will remain closed, other than the hub centres, for some time yet. Even after the lockdown has been lifted or partially lifted, it would be impossible for schools to operate as normal while measures such as social distancing remain in place."
"When we reach a point where schools can reopen, it will require a wide-scale reorganisation of the ways in which they operate. Classrooms are by and large fixed spaces, for example, so smaller class groupings will be necessary to allow social distancing. That may limit the number of pupils attending at any one time and require an element of prioritisation, or the introduction of rotas."
Mr Flanagan added: "Parents would need to feel comfortable sending their children back to school, and teachers would need to be confident that schools were once again safe places to work. For the EIS, that means Scotland would need to have the capacity to test, trace, and track the virus, in order to limit its spread. That doesn’t seem to be there as yet."