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.
BREAKING: Older primary school pupils (P4-P7) in Scotland may return to school on 15 March.— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) February 23, 2021
FM @NicolaSturgeon says this phase may include outdoor non-contact sport for 12-17 year-olds and four people from two households mixing outside.
Live updates ➡https://t.co/mUdBZT2Z25 pic.twitter.com/pjVC5p3Egq
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.”
Government messing about with scheduled annual leave days is a dangerous precedent & gross overstep of power.— Laura McConnell (@LauraFMcConnell) February 23, 2021
The people saying “but they will be moved till later” have missed the point entirely!
This issue needs to be clarified immediately, today. https://t.co/D5s1V5Yt1B
The steps out of lockdown announced today. The welcome return of some school pupils yesterday to be taken forward in two further stages after 15 March and 5 April. Easter school holiday dates are not changed. pic.twitter.com/iaEhRihwnt— John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) February 23, 2021
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."
Our young people need a break. @NicolaSturgeon and @JohnSwinney don’t be taken in by this toxic culture of ‘catching up’. Let our young people and teachers have their break so that they can return to school buildings rejuvenated and ready to go. https://t.co/ZUjYQbc5xC— Glen Fraser 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ (@GlenJamesFraser) February 23, 2021
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.