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Coronavirus: John Swinney says schools are ‘safe’ as union calls for immediate closures

John Swinney schools
Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

Education Secretary John Swinney has insisted that schools are “safe” for pupils and staff this week, despite calls from union chiefs for remote learning before the extended Christmas break.

While many Scottish schools have already broken up for the holidays, primaries and secondaries in Angus, Dundee, Fife and Perth and Kinross remain open.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the EIS teaching union, welcomed this weekend’s decision to delay the return of pupils after the New Year.

Larry Flanagan.

But he suggested that schools that remain open should be closed without delay.

“Given that the EIS has been calling for a firebreak around the Christmas break, we view this weekend’s announcement as being the correct one,” he said.

“It would make sense for those schools which are still open to move immediately to remote platforms.”

He said that schools were far better prepared for virtual lessons than they were in March.

Swinney cites ‘latest data’

However, Mr Swinney, Deputy First Minister and MSP for Perthshire North, has assured that schools are so far safe from the new variation of the virus.

Asked by BBC Radio Scotland if pupils should attend school this week, Mr Swinney said: “Yes, they should.

“We have significantly lower levels of coronavirus compared to the rest of the UK, and our schools are safe,” he said.

“The latest data is that we had 115 cases per 100,000 in Scotland, compared to 467 per 100,000 in London.

“So we are at a much lower level of coronavirus in general in Scotland, and the actions we have taken over the weekend have been preventative actions to avoid any spread of the new variant of the virus if we possibly can do.”

He said there was only “very limited” spread of the new variant north of the border.

We want the schools to be back into face-to-face learning on January 18.”

Education Minister John Swinney

Mr Swinney said he had taken the “difficult decision” not to change the arrangements prior to the start of the Christmas break “for exactly the reason the Children’s Commissioner has set out, that loss of schooling and interaction of that type is damaging for children and young people and that is the strongest public health advice we have got”.

The Education Secretary added: “We want the schools to be back into face-to-face learning on January 18.

“Remote learning will start on January 11 for pupils, and for vulnerable pupils and for the children of key workers, they should go back to school when the schools are scheduled to reopen in their locality.

“I want to stick to January 18 and we will be reviewing the situation as we go into the new year, to monitor the cases, to look at the evidence in front of us and to take the right and appropriate decisions to make sure our schools are operating on a safe basis.”

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