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Covid in Scotland: Government will 'do everything' to keep schools open

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to do everything in her power to keep schools open - even if more Covid-19 restrictions are imposed.

The government is to implement a new tiered system of measures next week in a bid to suppress the virus.

Ms Sturgeon said she could not rule out some changes at a local level where there are outbreaks.

But she added that keeping young people in education was one of her top priorities.

There have been questions about whether schools in areas badly hit by the virus would remain open under the new system, particularly after it was announced older pupils would not return to classes in Wales during its "firebreak" lockdown.

Scotland is currently subject to a short-term set of enhanced measures to control the spread of the virus, with a particular emphasis on hospitality and the central belt, which the government says may have "blunted" the acceleration in new cases.

The measures are set to be replaced with a new tiered system of alert levels which would trigger restrictions either locally or nationally, similar to the model being used in England.

Ms Sturgeon - who is to hold talks with her cabinet about the hospitality industry on Wednesday - said she wanted to "get to a system with more clarity".

There had been calls from opposition politicians and teaching unions for clarity on whether schools would be closed, with EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan saying: "That is a decision we need to be prepared to make."

However, the first minister said she wanted "to see schools open as far as possible, no matter what other restrictions we might put in place".

image copyrightScottish government
image captionNicola Sturgeon said keeping schools open was her main priority after saving lives

She said: "I will do everything and the Scottish government will do everything in our power to avoid widespread school closures again.

"We want to keep schools open as far as is possible, regardless of what other levels of intervention we might be deploying across the country."

Ms Sturgeon said it was possible that there could be "discussions" in some local areas "to decide if schools remain open absolutely as normal, full-time, or if there is an argument for a move to blending learning for some or all of the school".

The first minister said her central objective was "to save as many lives as possible from the virus", but that keeping schools open was also important.

'Important priority'

She said: "If I had to single out one thing - in addition to saving lives, which is the top priority - keeping young people in education is right up there.

"We know the damage that is done to kids' education and their wellbeing and mental health from being outside of schools, so I can't emphasis enough how important that priority is."

Mr Flanagan had said shutting schools would have to be considered, as long as sufficient notice was given to parents, pupils and staff to prepare.

He said: "Everyone understands the importance of schools being open but as is now evident from decisions and discussion elsewhere if they need to close, even temporarily, in order to control the virus, that is a decision we need to be prepared to make."

"As a country we should be open and transparent as to the type of indicators which would trigger such a move so that pupils, parents and teachers can be as prepared as possible for such an occurrence - a few days' notice, for example, would be woefully insufficient."

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image captionTeaching unions have called for clarity about what conditions could see schools forced to close

The new tiered system of restrictions is to be debated and voted on by MSPs when Holyrood returns from the half term recess.

Ms Sturgeon is holding talks with opposition leaders on Tuesday, while Education Secretary John Swinney is meeting with council leaders.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said schools should not be an easy target for closure.

He added: "Another attempt to introduce part-time learning as the plan A for our young people will ring serious alarm bells for parents and teachers.

"Getting schools back after the summer was absolutely the best result for pupils, all avenues must be explored before schools close."

Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart said communication with teachers had been "sadly lacking".

She added: "Presumably, there is a threshold at which closures have to be on the table but no-one in the Scottish government will articulate what that is. This is causing a lot of worry."

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