A headteachers group leader says Covid-19 cases in two Perthshire schools must be closely monitored to ensure the scientific justification for reopening schools was correct.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said any transmission within schools should lead to reconsideration of the basis for reopening full-time.
Two pupils, one at Oakbank Primary School, in Perth, and another at Newhill Primary School, Blairgowrie, have tested positive for coronavirus and are isolating at home with their families.
Perth and Kinross Council and NHS Tayside have said there is currently no evidence of Covid-19 transmission within either of the Perthshire schools, which remain open.
Mr Dempster, a member of the Scottish Government’s Covid education recovery group representing senior primary school staff, said any decision to close schools in the event of an outbreak would be based on individual circumstances of schools involved.
Reopening of schools full-time without requirement for social distancing between children was confirmed on July 30, based on scientific advice that 0.8% of Covid cases in Scotland, as of July 12, were in those under the age of 15.
The advice also stated that the infection appears to be milder in children and that there is some evidence children are less likely to catch or transmit the virus.
Mr Dempster said: “We need to keep a very close eye on whether there is transmission within schools and I don’t think we have seen that yet.
“The scientific advice that was given around this was that children are less likely to contract it and they are less likely to pass it on.
“We just need to keep watching this and whether the scientific advice has been right — that there are lower levels of transmission between children and that symptoms are low level.”
We need to keep a very close eye on whether there is transmission within schools and I don’t think we have seen that yet.”
He said the public health team in Perth and Kinross appears to have acted quickly, adhering to the Test and Protect guidance set out, and will now have to respond to the data which emerges.
“If the data starts to raise questions about the basis of the return for pupils — if that data gets to the stage where it is saying there is concerning transmission within establishments — it would absolutely have to be looked at again to see if it is the right guidance.”
Asked about the point at which a school or schools could be closed, he said that all schools are different in size and demographics and added: “If they start to see transmission happening in a school rather than linked to community transmission then they would have would think about taking a different response. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule on that.”
‘There will be more cases’
Headteachers, he said, will be anxious about news of pupils contracting the virus, but more cases like this are inevitable and managing them quickly will be vital.
The Perthshire cases come after a pupil tested positive at Todholm Primary School, in Paisley, and pupils at schools in Lanark and Glasgow are among clusters of cases there.
Mr Dempster said: “Given that less than 1% of cases have been in under-15s, unless we manage to completely crush the transmission of the virus there will be more cases.
“Getting on top of them really quickly, which appears to be the case in Perth and Kinross as well as in Lanarkshire, that’s what the approach decided upon was.”
A survey conducted by The Courier before schools reopened last week found significant concern among parents about the risk of infection.