Schools across Scotland are coming under intense pressure to continue with in-person teaching amid high rates of Covid infection.
Local authorities across the country are reporting high rates of teacher absences, with some councils having to close schools or consider a switch back to remote learning.
Three nurseries, a primary school and a secondary school were either closed or partially-closed in the Highlands on Tuesday.
Kingussie High School was only open to S4-S6 pupils due to Covid-related illness, while Rosebank primary in Nairn and Rosehall primary in Lairg were shut completely.
A spokesperson for Highland Council said: “Some schools are temporarily closed as staff members are following public health advice to self-isolate.
“Schools will update parents, carers, and pupils when they are ready to reopen.”
Meanwhile, Covid-related absences remained high in neighbouring Moray.
The area has reported almost 200 new cases among pupils this week, as well as 36 staff cases.
Logie Primary School in Dunphail, south of Forres, was closed on Tuesday and expects Covid-related staff disruption to last for a number of days.
‘Covid-related absences remain high across our schools and ELC settings, with some 194 new pupil cases reported just this week and 36 staff cases.’Vivienne Cross, Moray Council’s head of education
Vivienne Cross, Moray Council’s head of education, said: “Covid-related absences remain high across our schools and ELC settings, with some 194 new pupil cases reported just this week and 36 staff cases. Coupled with non-Covid absences, this makes staffing our schools really challenging.
“As a last resort, where specialist and qualified staff are needed but not available, we’ve moved to remote learning in a number of schools, for specific classes or year groups. This can happen at short-notice however we will let all those affected know as soon as that call is made.
“We realise this can be disruptive for some families and this decision isn’t taken lightly; we thank them for their patience and understanding. Schools will fully re-open as soon as practicable, however we do expect disruption to continue throughout the week.”
The rise in cases is believe to be driven by the BA.2 sublineage of the Omicron variant, which is estimated to be significantly more transmissible than original Omicron.
Most remaining legal Covid restrictions in Scotland have now come to and, with secondary school students and teachers no longer required to wear face masks in classrooms.
Despite the change – implemented last month – pupils and staff will still have to wear the coverings when moving around the building and in communal areas such as corridors.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show cases have risen for seven weeks in a row, with 376,300 people likely to have had the virus last week – or one in 14 – up from one in 18 people the previous week.
The rising number of cases mean that many local authorities are considering a move back to remote learning.
But a spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council said that would be a last resort, with no schools in the capital yet having to close or switch to remote learning during this latest spike.
The spokesperson said: “Our staff are working under immense pressure to continuing to provide teaching and learning however we are experiencing high numbers of staff and pupil absences at the moment.
“We have well established processes to ensure teaching can continue in person including various in school mitigations, deploying central staff and sharing staff between and across the learning community.
“Keeping children at school remains our priority but ultimately if these measures are all exhausted remote learning may be considered.”
‘Over the next two weeks, where a staffing situation in a school or an area is critical, we will work to minimise the numbers impacted by any move to blended learning.’Shelagh McLean, head of service at Fife Council
Shelagh McLean, head of service at Fife Council, said the next fortnight would potentially see a return to blended learning.
She said: “Like many areas at the moment, some of our schools have a high number of staff absences.
“We are currently managing those within all our schools and across our staff body to make sure that our schools can remain open. We are all agreed that it is better for children and their parents if our children can continue to be taught within school buildings.
“So far none of our schools have returned to blended learning for the whole school.
“However, over the next two weeks, where a staffing situation in a school or an area is critical, we will work to minimise the numbers impacted by any move to blended learning, as we have done throughout the pandemic.”
The situation facing teachers in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest local authority by population, is also acute.
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “With the high numbers of positive cases in communities across the city there is no doubt that many of our schools are affected in some way with both pupils and staff self-isolating or who have the virus but we have not had to close any of our schools.
“We are extremely grateful to all of our staff for their flexibility and hard work over the last two years.
“In-person learning remains our priority and staff and young people are reminded to continue to follow the advice and guidance to help suppress the spread of the virus along with the mitigations already in schools to help achieve this.”