Return of students after Christmas ‘could be staggered’

John Swinney said that the Scottish Government is 'learning lessons' from the return of students.

The return of students to university after spending Christmas at home could be staggered, according to the Education Secretary.

The beginning of the academic year saw thousands of students enter halls of residence before hundreds of them were forced to isolate due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.

John Swinney said that the Scottish Government is “learning lessons” from the return of students which will impact measures in place after the Christmas break.

The Education Secretary also said it was a “priority” that students are able to go home for Christmas and he was working with other UK nations to ensure that does not result in a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Addressing the return of students, he told the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme: “Some of the points that we’re looking at are around staggered returns of students so that they don’t all come back in one go, that we look at arrangements for how testing can be part of the architecture of how we handle that return.

“What we expect of students when they are returning home and when they’re coming back into universities and how they will spend their time, how their learning will be undertaken – these are all issues that are being explored.”

Swinney went on to say that a system of mass testing, bolstered by a staggered return of students ensuring the system does not become overwhelmed, was being discussed as an option.

He said: “These are some of the options that are being looked at and obviously… the practicalities of that are changed and eased if the return of students is staggered over a longer period.”

Swinney added: “We’re working with institutions because they have to be partners with us in how the learning is undertaken over that period to make sure that we avoid any situation where there is too much strain either on the testing system or there is too much strain on the possibility of the circulation of the virus when students return or, for that matter, when they return to their homes in the first place.”

A new five-tiered system of restrictions was unveiled by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Friday, which would see a shifting package of measures put on different local authority areas depending on the prevalence of the virus.

However, schools are to remain open under the new framework, which will be debated by MSPs this week.

Swinney said the decision could be made to close a singular school for public health reasons, but that there were “many steps” which could be taken before schools will be shuttered as they were in March.

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