Covid road map: return dates for Scottish pupils

Nicola Sturgeon today revealed more details about when Scottish schools could emerge from lockdown

Henry Hepburn and Emma Seith

Covid road map: the way ahead for Scottish education

All primary pupils in Scotland could be back in schools by the week beginning 15 March, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said today.

That date could also see the return of more senior secondary students for some of the school week.

The first minister also said that a full return of all other pupils to school could be permitted three weeks later, in the week beginning 5 April – but under questioning later suggested that it could be even earlier.

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The targeted date of 5 April was a source of some confusion, however, as that date is Easter Monday and in some parts of Scotland pupils will be starting a two-week break, while in others they will be half-way through the holidays. With an in-service day pencilled in for many schools on Monday 19 April, a large number of secondary pupils might not actually return until 20 April.

This sparked concern from teachers that the break might be cut short, given that last year a week was shaved off the summer holidays to accommodate the return of all pupils to school on 11 August. However, education secretary John Swinney later tweeted that Easter school holiday dates had not been changed.

When questioned about the clash of dates by Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Jamie Greene, Ms Sturgeon said it might be possible that all pupils are back in school before 5 April. She said the Scottish government would “continue to consider how all this fits with the Easter holidays”.

She added: “But suffice to say we want to get every young person back into face-to-face education as quickly as possible. We think we will undoubtedly do that with primary before we achieve that for all of the secondary phase on a full-time basis but as much in-person, face-to-face, in-school education as possible, as quickly as possible, remains our driving imperative.”

Ms Sturgeon revealed the details during her statement in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon on how the country could gradually emerge from lockdown.

Many pupils have already returned to schools in Scotland this week.

The Scottish Conservatives' leader in the Scottish Parliament, Ruth Davidson, said the news about pupils returning to schools was "particularly welcome".

EIS teaching union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS continues to believe that a blended model, with approximately half of pupils in class at any one time, would provide a more suitable basis for the return.

"With rates of infection in the community still a cause for concern, and the fact of increased aerosol transmission of the new variant, reducing numbers in classrooms is the safest approach to minimising risk."

Mr Flanagan added: "The evidence reported over the weekend about the role of children in transmission should be examined by the Scottish government, and not simply dismissed.

"Improving ventilation is critical and providing school staff with medical grade masks would help reduce any potential spread of the virus."

Ms Sturgeon said during her statement that "if the data allows and positive trends continue" it may be possible to "accelerate the easing of the [Covid] restrictions" in the coming weeks. This could include "significant reopening of the economy by the end of April".

On Monday it was confirmed that all pupils in England are due to return to school buildings from Monday 8 March.

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Henry Hepburn and Emma Seith

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