Government ‘must be prepared’ to close schools again

A teaching union says parents, pupils and staff need sufficient notice to prepare if another coronavirus shutdown is needed.

Government ‘must be prepared’ to close schools again Getty Images

The Scottish Government must be prepared to close schools if required to stop the spread of coronavirus, a teaching union has said.

Ministers will this week publish a strategic framework for tackling the virus and will include a tiered alert system similar to that put in place in England last week.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said she does not want to close schools again, as was the case in March as a result of the first lockdown.

Teaching union EIS has said clarity must be given to schools on the conditions of their closure if such a situation arises.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said shutting schools, whether at local or national level, should be considered to control the spread of the virus, adding sufficient notice would be needed for 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.”

Mr Flanagan added: “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.”

After schools were locked down, concerns were raised about children who were not able to access the internet effectively enough to continue their learning, something Mr Flanagan says cannot be repeated.

He said: “We also need to be confident that schools are able to switch effectively to remote teaching, or to blended learning, so that we don’t see a repeat of the ‘digital divide’, which was evident in the last lockdown, with pupils from the poorest backgrounds being disproportionally disadvantaged.

“Failing to learn lessons from that experience would be inexcusable.”

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, Sturgeon said it is “really, really important that we keep schools open as far as we possibly can”.

She added: “We know that having schools closed, or even having blended learning is not as good for children as being in school normally so we will strive to keep schools open.

“Within all the tiers we will continue to take judgments on whether that’s possible or not.

“We’ve always said that we cannot rule out, in parts of Scotland or Scotland overall, at any stage reverting to blended learning for a period but we want to avoid that if possible and that remains a really important objective for reasons that I think are understood by most people.”

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