More than a third of Scotland's local authorities are moving to the strictest level of coronavirus restrictions from Friday, but first minister Nicola Sturgeon is maintaining her stance that schools can stay open in these areas.
The 11 council areas in Scotland moving to Level 4 from Friday are Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
Announcing the change, Ms Sturgeon said: “In all of these areas, there are grounds for continued and significant concern.”
She said the Level 4 restrictions will be in place for three weeks and will be lifted on 11 December.
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Ms Sturgeon also said: "I'm aware that there are some people who argue that schools should also be closed at Level 4. However, our very clear view is that the harm done to young people by closing schools significantly outweighs any impact that schools have on transmission – keeping schools open is therefore a priority.
"However, we will keep the guidance for schools and how it has been implemented under close review. A further evidence paper on school safety will be published by the deputy first minister [and education secretary John Swinney] tomorrow."
She added: "There are also specific measures in place for those on the shielding list. We currently recommend that children who are shielding should not attend school in person in Level 4 areas."
She also said, when taking questions, that on the safety of all those who work and study in schools, "we are not, and never will be, complacent".
First Minister just announced that previously shielding pupils should not attend school in Level 4 areas. Nothing about previously shielding staff though.— Ross Greer (@Ross_Greer) November 17, 2020
Why? My inbox is full of teachers bullied back into school despite the clear advice of their GPs. They're not expendable!
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has previously said that a move to Level 4 restrictions will “further heighten concerns over school safety” and will “prompt consideration of industrial action…if schools are forced to remain fully open”.
After the announcement that 11 councils would be moving to Level 4, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The Move to Level 4 restrictions is designed to get the spread of Covid under control in these areas. It will also, inevitably, increase the anxiety felt by many teachers over the level risk to their health, their pupils’ health and the health of their families and the wider community.
"The EIS is clear that, in areas that are now at Level 4, the current policy of keeping schools operating as normal on a full-time basis is at odds with delivering effective virus suppression. It is not only about the safety of schools themselves, it’s about the role of schools in terms of local community transmission. It’s difficult to imagine somewhere with more social mixing than schools and pupils and staff then go back into their communities and their homes and families.”
Mr Flanagan added: “We have been repeatedly told at CERG (Covid Education Recovery Group) that blended and remote learning remain active contingencies, but the first minister appears to be ruling them out entirely, even at Level 4. Teachers understand the importance of schools to the lives of young people and would wish to see schools open but not at any cost – safety and Covid security need to be guiding concerns also.”