Covid in Scotland: Phased return 'likely' for Scottish schools

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A phased return is likely for Scotland's schools when the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eventually eased.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the youngest pupils and those with additional support needs will be among the first to return to classrooms.

Senior pupils preparing for assessment are also likely to be among the initial wave.

The majority of pupils are expected to continue learning from home.

Mr Swinney's comments followed the extension of the Covid-19 lockdown until at least the middle of February.

'Unlikely to be a binary choice'

The level four restrictions have been in place since Boxing Day.

Speaking on BBC's Good Morning Scotland, he said it was difficult to give a percentage estimate about whether schools might go back next month.

Mr Swinney told the programme: "We are looking at all possible avenues to secure the resumption of face-to-face learning and we are looking at the way in which that may be delivered.

"We have said already that that is unlikely to be a binary choice - either everybody in or everybody out.

"It is much more likely to be a phased return where we will look at particular cohorts of pupils."

The Scottish Conservatives' education spokesman Jamie Greene accused Mr Swinney of drip feeding "vague plans".

He said: "This endless confusion and lack of clarity is helping nobody. Parents are simply seeking clear messaging from the SNP government over their plans for schools and what it will mean for them and their children."

Mr Greene also called for a route map to get young people back into classrooms.

He added: "The SNP government has woefully under planned and under resourced remote learning and left many beleaguered teachers and parents struggling to deliver meaningful but vital education."

Scottish Labour said the government had made the right decision to keep the majority of pupils out of school for the time being.

The party's education spokesman Iain Gray added: "A phased return may well be the best way to get some pupils back to face-to-face learning sooner.

"But we need to have a transparent discussion, with the evidence, about whether younger pupils would be first, or those working towards certification should be prioritised.

"Whatever is decided, ministers must do more, including through testing and vaccination to ensure schools and school staff are safe."

Resources to support learners, teachers and parents during lockdown.

Mr Swinney, who is also the education secretary, said these include the very youngest pupils - in early learning and early primary education - as analysis suggests they are "very unlikely" to be transmitting the virus.

He added: "We are also looking at the senior phased pupils because obviously they have certification processes coming up and we want to make sure that they can have access to all the learning and teaching they require to command those certificates."

Mr Swinney said the "challenging situation" faced by pupils with additional support needs also has to be met.

But he cautioned that any move to a phased return would depend on the prevalence of the virus.

'Precarious position'

He said that when schools are full, they contribute "about 0.2" to the R-number - but this is obviously reduced when pupil numbers are limited.

The current restrictions, which have closed non-essential shops and seen a stay at home message put down in law, had been due to expire at the end of this month.

But Scottish government ministers agreed they should be extended after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that lockdown was "beginning to have an impact" on the number of new infections, but said Scotland remained in a "very precarious position".

Meanwhile, John Swinney has described Celtic manager Neil Lennon's claims of a Scottish government agenda against Celtic as "absolutely appalling".

Lennon said politics and not public health drove the decision for 16 Celtic players and staff to self-isolate after Christopher Jullien contracted Covid.

Mr Swinney told Good Morning Scotland: "I have no ill will to Neil Lennon whatsoever, but I think his comments in this respect have been absolutely appalling."

We know that life as we knew it won't return for some time yet - with home learning and lockdown set to continue for now, as the vaccine roll-out accelerates.

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