Scottish schools could stay closed until August, Nicola Sturgeon says

5 May 2020, 18:56

File photo: The First Minister said she “could not” say that reopening schools “would be a safe thing to do... looking at the evidence I have now”
File photo: The First Minister said she “could not” say that reopening schools “would be a safe thing to do... looking at the evidence I have now”. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Schools in Scotland could remain closed until August, Nicola Sturgeon has suggested.

The First Minister said she “could not” say that reopening schools “would be a safe thing to do... looking at the evidence I have now”.

She told reporters in the daily Holyrood briefing that a return to classrooms “might not be possible at all this side of the summer holidays”, which run between June and August, adding “we know that for younger children social distancing is very difficult”.

It marks a break with Boris Johnson’s approach to the growing row, with Downing Street refusing to hint at a timetable for when the school gates will reopen.

Ms Sturgeon warned that fully reopening primary schools, as has been touted after evidence that young children are least at risk from the virus, would “most likely” overwhelm the NHS.

It comes as the leaders of ten teaching unions have written to ministers in all four nations of the UK and Ireland warning a premature lifting of the school closures, brought in at the end of March, risks a second wave of infections.

The British Irish Group of Teacher Unions is calling for “significant operational changes… to ensure effective social distancing”, strict hygiene measures, test and trace and PPE (personal protective equipment) before schools can restart.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged at the Downing Street press briefing that reopening all schools at once would create a “very real risk” of a second peak, adding Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies, was exploring options.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons on Tuesday morning that he will take a “phased approach” that will give teachers, pupils and parents “maximum amount of notice”.

Headteachers have cautioned that June 1 is the earliest date schools could return, with reports suggesting primary pupils and those in Year 10 and Year 12 preparing for exams next year will be prioritised.

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A new Scottish Government paper outlining a potential exit strategy from the lockdown also suggests a “phased approach to returning pupils to school”.

But it adds: “We do not consider it likely that schools will re-open fully in the foreseeable future - indeed, we are not yet certain that they can re-open at all in the near future".

A poll of 1,931 National Education Union (NEU) members, all of whom have been teaching the children of key workers in schools during lockdown, found 61 per cent were “concerned” or “very concerned” at social distancing measures in place.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “There should be no mad rush to reopen schools. It must be done with great care and alongside a profession who feel confident about safety measures being adequate and fit for purpose.”