All pupils in Scotland should be back inside school buildings in some way from Monday 15 March, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
She confirmed that P4-7 pupils are due to return full time from that week – with P1-3s having returned last week – and that in secondary schools the priority would continue to be S4-6.
However, the biggest development today was that it is now the hope that S1-3 secondary students will return to school buildings for some of each week from 15 March through to the Easter holidays.
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That means Scotland will now be just a week behind England – where 8 March will see pupils return en masse – in its target date for the return of all pupils, although there will still be a large element of at-home learning for secondary students.
The previous target date for a full return of pupils was 5 April, but, with the Easter holidays, that would have been more than two weeks later in practice.
However, there remains no plan to make teachers a priority group for Covid vaccination.
I’ll be happy to see the back of remote learning but blended learning is much more challenging, & hugely demanding of teacher time. I hope families understand that in some schools the practicalities of having pupils back & distanced will severely impact who is back and when. https://t.co/BZNdnPbasa— Mrs Ferns 🏴🎭 (@mrs_ferns) March 2, 2021
When secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.
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The first minister also urged school staff and older secondary students to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.
She said: “I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.”
BREAKING - All secondary school pupils in Scotland are to have some in-school time from 15 March.— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) March 2, 2021
FM @NicolaSturgeon says they are to return full-time after the Easter break.
Live updates ➡https://t.co/ZW4skN27uE pic.twitter.com/aAFp0slvfT
The first minister was also asked about the vaccination of teachers.
There was no indication, however, of any move to prioritise the teaching profession.
Green MSP @AlisonJohnstone asks FM about vaccinations for teachers and school staff.@NicolaSturgeon says she is following the recommendations of the JCVI for prioritising groups for vaccination.— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) March 2, 2021
Live updates ➡https://t.co/ZW4skN27uE pic.twitter.com/SuxIOYnP5r
Scotland's biggest teaching union said the revised plans could reverse the progress made in suppressing the coronavirus, and put senior pupils and their teachers “at significant additional risk of contracting Covid in the run in to qualifications”.
The EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, also said a move to blended learning for secondary students showed “absolutely no cognizance of the workload pressures which that will create for already exhausted school staff”.
Mr Flanagan said: “The first minister has set out a desire for schools to develop a timetable model for the two weeks before Easter and then abandon it post-Easter, with absolutely no cognizance of the workload pressures which that will create for already exhausted school staff, including teachers who will be focusing on providing additional support to students in the senior phase, currently working towards qualifications under a completely new assessment model. This additional workload will be wholly disproportionate to the benefit that it will bring for students, whilst potentially undermining preparation work for qualifications.”
He added: “The announcement of a planned full return after Easter would suggest that physical distancing requirements currently in place for senior phase students may be removed, despite the scientific evidence of the need for this mitigation. This will place those young people, and their teachers, at significant additional risk of contracting Covid in the run in to qualifications and, frankly, seems a reckless approach to be considering.”
Stephen McCabe, children and young people spokesperson for local authorities' body Cosla, said of the plan for all pupils to return from the week beginning 15 March: “Given that there will be 2 metre distancing in place, it is important to note that the amount of in-school time will vary between local authorities and this will have an impact on what is offered.
“We welcome the fact that there will be a future 'checkpoint' prior to 15 March to ensure the final decision to return is based on the latest data on the virus.”
Mr McCabe added: “Our school staff have made extraordinary efforts over the past year to adapt to the complex and changing nature of the pandemic and we thank them for their hard work. Their safety is paramount and we will continue to work closely with our partners in the trade unions to ensure that all staff feel safe and confident to return.”
Ms Sturgeon thanked school staff for their work to support young people during the pandemic.
She said: “I know everyone is looking forward to having children back in the classroom as soon as possible.
“I also want to thank parents across the country. I can only imagine how difficult all of this disruption continues to be – but I hope, and believe, that the end of it is now firmly in sight.
“And my thanks, too, to children and young people. I know how hard it must be to be separated from friends and teachers. But you have responded magnificently to all the difficulties of the last year.
“I hope that you are looking forward to getting back to school later this month.”