First minister Nicola Sturgeon has this evening announced that schools will now not return from the Christmas holidays for most pupils until Monday 11 January, and initially only with remote learning.
After a rapid escalation in Scotland's Covid response, schools will not return fully until at least Monday 18 January.
However, schools that were due to open next week – some up to and including Wednesday 23 December – have been told they should continue to do so.
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The first minister said schools will reopen as currently scheduled – in the week beginning 4 January – for some pupils, such as children of key workers.
Coronavirus: Later start of school term
But for most pupils, the new school term will begin on 11 January, with online learning until “at least” 18 January.
Schools in Scotland are to remain closed until 11 January, and will then resume online until 18 January.— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) December 19, 2020
However, FM @NicolaSturgeon says schools will open as normal to the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children.
Live updates ➡https://t.co/0kQ8FhAcHJ pic.twitter.com/wLSqoLpbKB
— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) December 19, 2020
In response to the announcement, EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS welcomes the decision to delay the return of pupils after the Christmas break until 11 January and that for the vast majority of pupils for this return to be to an online platform, with only the children of key workers and vulnerable children being in school.
"With a large number of schools already closed for the break, this late decision will once again create planning challenges for teachers but schools are much better prepared for remote learning than was the case in March. Given that the EIS has been calling for a [coronavirus] 'firebreak' around the Christmas break, we view this announcement as being the correct one. It would make sense for those schools which are still open to move immediately to remote platforms."
Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, tweeted: "Close all schools now."
He also said: "Advice to all members. Down tools and don't make any plans for January. Nothing can be done until then. It could all change again. All teachers need and deserve a break. DOWN TOOLS FOR CHRISTMAS".
Some schools already on holiday so this has come as a huge blow - just how are we meant to get organised for teaching and online learning when closed ?— Sharon McLellan (@SharonMcLella17) December 19, 2020
The first minister said new measures were necessary to combat the new strain of coronavirus.
The Christmas “bubble” policy has been scrapped, with household mixing now only allowed on Christmas Day. Measures had been due to ease across the UK between 23 and 27 December.
A ban on travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK – except for essential purpose – will remain, with Ms Sturgeon saying she will speak to police and transport operators to see how this can be “strengthened”.
Close them this week. Don't make clinically vulnerable teachers & staff go into schools, now or after the new year. And get regular, routine testing in place for schools, as Parliament has already agreed. https://t.co/xX0hINthsO— Patrick Harvie 🇪🇺🌈 (@patrickharvie) December 19, 2020
All of mainland Scotland will enter level 4 – the toughest of the county’s five tiers of restrictions – for three weeks from one minute after midnight on Boxing Day morning. Non-essential shops will close, as will cafes, restaurants and hairdressers.
Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other island communities will move to level 3.
The first minister said the measures will prevent more of the new strain entering Scotland from other parts of the UK and reduce the risk of it spreading within the country.
The new strain of the virus is the “most serious and potentially dangerous juncture” faced since the start of the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon said.
She said 17 cases of the new strain had been identified in Scotland and it may be driving faster transmission of Covid in some hospitals and care homes.
Without acting firmly, the new strain could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed and more people dying from the virus, the first minister said.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has already announced that the South East of England will be moved into a new tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.
The rest of England will also see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three household to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.
Scotland has the lowest case rate in the UK, with 112.6 cases per 100,000 of the population. This compares with 571.7 in Wales, 219.6 in England and 174.9 in Northern Ireland.