No change to school Christmas holidays in Scotland

Proposals to standardise the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11 had been under consideration.

No change to school Christmas holidays in Scotland Tom Merton via Getty Images
Christmas holidays: No plans to change the dates in Scotland, John Swinney says.

No changes will be made to the school Christmas holidays, the education secretary has said.

Talks had taken place about standardising the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11.

The proposal was designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus after families were told they could gather at Christmas.

John Swinney told the Covid-19 committee: “I’ve written this morning to the education and skills committee to confirm that the government intends to make no change to the school holiday arrangements.”

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He had been responding to Donald Cameron MSP, committee convener, who had asked for an update on the government’s position on a possible extension to the school holidays.

However, individual councils could still take the decision to extend the holidays in their local authority.

In his letter to Clare Adamson MSP, convener of the education and skills committee, Swinney said: “The public health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.

“In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of
school for an extended period. The view of the chief social work advisor is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.

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“Public health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.

“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end. I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”

Teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said its members would be disappointed and angry.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said the decision showed “a complete disregard for the concerns and welfare of teachers” and described the position as “political”.

He added: “The EIS had asked that schools move to remote learning in the final week to ensure that senior staff did not find themselves having to work during the Christmas break to deal with any Covid outbreaks and also to minimise the risk for staff, pupils and parents of infections ruining the Christmas break.

“Allowing this would have helped protect staff, students and their families during the festive season and reduce the risk of pupils or teachers being required to self-isolate over Christmas – while also ensuring that education provision continued via remote learning.”

However, parents group UsForThem Scotland said its members welcomed the decision.

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Organiser Jo Bisset said: “Taking children out of school for another week would have damaged their education at a time when it’s never been under greater threat.

“It would also have caused parents a severe headache in terms of childcare, especially those who rely on shift work for income.

“The Scottish Government has been right to keep schools open in the face of pressure from the unions, and parents will be very grateful for this latest commitment to education.”

In late November, it was confirmed up to three households will be allowed to mix indoors over a five-day period at Christmas.

They will be able to travel between council areas and across the UK during December 23 and 27 to form a ‘bubble’ – but each household must only join one bubble.

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