There will be no extension to the school holidays over the festive period in Scotland, the education secretary and deputy first minister, John Swinney, has confirmed.
It emerged last week that an expansion of the school holidays was being considered, which would have resulted in all schools being off from 18 December – the date on which some areas were due to break up for Christmas anyway. Under the plans, pupils would not have returned to school until at least 11 January.
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However, giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee this morning, Mr Swinney said he had written to the Education and Skills Committee today “to confirm that the government intends to make no change to the school holiday arrangements”.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, had come out in support of the plan to extend the break, whether that entailed simply lengthening the holidays or the introduction of blended learning at some points.
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EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan told Tes Scotland that the union thought there was a strong case to be made for extending school closures “to reduce the risk of any increase in infections during this period spreading throughout school communities, and to protect the festive season for families”.
Responding to the decision not to extend the break, Mr Flanagan said that many teachers across Scotland would be "disappointed and angered". He said it showed "a complete disregard for the concerns and welfare of teachers".
Mr Flanagan added: "The EIS had asked that schools move to remote learning in the final week to ensure that senior staff did not find themselves having to work during the Christmas break to deal with any Covid outbreaks and also to minimise the risk for staff, pupils and parents of infections ruining the Christmas break. Allowing this would have helped protect staff, students and their families during the festive season and reduce the risk of pupils or teachers being required to self-isolate over Christmas – while also ensuring that education provision continued via remote learning.
“It would appear that this is yet another political decision by the Scottish government, which may thank teachers but is unwilling to listen to them. The EIS would call upon the Scottish government to make lateral flow tests available to school staff, so that those hoping to share some time with potentially vulnerable family members can do so without fear of putting loved ones at risk.”
In his letter to the Education and Skills Committee, Mr Swinney said that, on balance, the public health advice was "there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school".
He also said that being in school was "a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children" and "the need for childcare for key worker children" was a consideration – as were the "significant difficulties" that working parents would face if the holiday dates were changed.
He acknowledged it was "vitally important" that school managers got a "proper break", with the requirement to support contact tracing activities over the holiday period "minimised". Some councils were arranging for teams or individuals to be "on duty or on call over the relevant period", he said.