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Parents’ questions about face masks, testing and distancing in schools need answered, says Holyrood committee

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Clarity for parents, pupils and teachers on social distancing, protective gear and testing in schools has been demanded by Holyrood’s education committee.

The MSPs want the Scottish Government’s education and recovery group to tell them whether distancing will be required among teachers and other staff and what PPE they will be provided with.

Although no physical distancing is expected between pupils, it is not yet clear whether distancing will be required between staff.

It is also yet to be established whether face masks would be worn by teachers and older pupils and whether they will be needed on school transport as on public transport.

Routine testing?

The committee wants to quiz Education Secretary John Swinney and Councillor Stephen McCabe, COSLA’s children and young people spokesman, on a number of issues, including whether there would be routine testing and what would happen if a case of Covid-19 was suspected or confirmed in a particular school.

It also said people needed to know whether there may be precautionary closures of schools and the approach for pupils and staff who are shielding.

Education and skills committee convener Clare Adamson said answers needed to be given to enable schools, young people, parents and carers to “understand what will be in place for the return to school”.

Scientific reasoning

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray also said scientific reasoning for fully reopening schools – which were previously to reopen part-time under a blended learning model – must be given to pupils, staff and parents.

He said: “We’re now just one month away from the return of full-time face-to-face education and the cabinet secretary is still skirting around the scientific safety information that should put education staff and parents at ease.

“Nobody wants to keep children out of classrooms for any longer than is necessary but after a global pandemic and worldwide lockdown it is understandable that school staff, pupils and their families should have every bit of information available to them so that they know they are not being put at risk.”

Local schools reopening

Schools are expected to reopen fully from August 11 – subject to a final decision based on scientific advice by the end of July – but several local authorities have already announced phased returns.

In Fife primary school and special school pupils will be offered the opportunity to return on August 12, while there will be a staggered start at secondary schools from that date, with a full return from August 17.

Perth and Kinross pupils will start returning on August 12, with a full-time reopening scheduled for August 17.

Pupils will begin to return to Angus schools from August 12.

A phased return to Dundee schools will begin on August 12, with full-time teaching for all pupils resuming on August 17.

In a letter to Mr Swinney, Mrs Adamson said: “There are multiple issues that the committee is continuing to monitor in relation to the return to school and the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children including those in school education.

“For transparency and openness the committee considers as much of the relevant scientific advice that the education recovery group is basing its decisions upon should be in the public domain.

“The committee would also be interested to learn the extent to which the approach taken, based on scientific advice, will be taken at national government and what will be at the discretion of individual councils after schools reopen.”

We will give as much detail as early as possible and be very clear about the basis of the decisions we are taking.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday that Mr Swinney is to make a statement on schools in the Scottish Parliament next week.

She said: “We will give as much detail as early as possible and be very clear about the basis of the decisions we are taking.”

She also said scientific evidence for reopening schools would be published when it was possible to do so.

Low infection rates

A Scottish Government spokesperson said earlier: “We have set out clear, robust criteria for the return of schools full-time in August.

“It is conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to suppress the virus.

“It also requires that public health and testing systems are in place, risk assessments are carried out in schools and protective measures, including the use of PPE, where appropriate, are in place.

“We are committed to supporting this process and to publishing the scientific evidence and public health advice that underpins our planning.”

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