The confirmation that pupils across Scotland will begin a phased return to school from next week has been welcomed by councillors, teaching unions and parent groups.
Starting from next Monday, pre-school children and those in primaries one to three will return to classes.
A “limited number” of senior students who need to access schools for “essential practical work” will also be allowed back.
Schools and nurseries have been closed to all except the children of key workers and those from vulnerable families since the start of the year. All other youngsters have been learning from home.
Dundee City Council
Children and families convener Councillor Stewart Hunter welcomed the First Minister’s announcement and offered his thanks to families across the city for efforts during the current lockdown.
Councillor Hunter, who represents the Strathmartine ward, also confirmed that schools will be giving more details to families ahead of pupils returning next week.
He said: “This is extremely good news, but I would urge everyone to keep sticking with the rules so that this return can pave the way for even more children to get back in the classroom.
“I would like to thank families for helping us get to this stage during what has been an extremely difficult time.
“Our nurseries and schools have been preparing for the initial return of certain children and young people and staff will be communicating with families about details for Monday.”
Councillor Hunter also urged people to stick to the rules and help drive down cases further so more pupils can get back to the classroom as it’s possible.
He said: “I would ask those families to engage with the imaginative range of remote learning that is available, and to keep playing their part to drive the number of coronavirus cases down.
“It is vital now that we all play our part to ensure that this initial return is a success and I would ask all our school and nursery communities to keep up their efforts.”
Dundee City Council nurseries and schools will also still be open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Head teachers will be speaking to families directly about these arrangements as more pupils prepare to return to the buildings.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), cautiously welcomed the phased return but noted that there is still concern over the spread of the virus.
General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Everyone is supportive of face-to-face teaching returning as soon as possible – that should not override safety concerns, however, and teachers will be understandably nervous around today’s announcement.
“Community infection levels have fallen but still remain high in areas such as North Lanarkshire and at 6% the test positivity rate in Scotland remains above the level that the World Health Organisation recommends as indicative of the virus being under control.”
“Against this backdrop, the EIS continues to believe that a blended learning model, with around half of pupils in classes at any one time to allow for physical distancing, would have provided a more cautious and more appropriate basis for pupils returning to schools.”
Mr Flanagan was also supportive of the introduction of testing for school staff and pupils upon their return, noting that their protection should be a “priority.”
He added: “The introduction of twice weekly testing for staff and senior pupils is welcome, as is the requirement for senior pupils to physically distance.”
“Looking forward, however, to any fuller return of pupils it is clear that the prioritisation of teachers and other school staff for vaccination remains a straightforward way to ensure in-school safety.
“If having schools open is a priority for the Scottish Government, then protecting school staff should also be a priority.”
The return of younger pupils starting next week was welcomed by parent group, UsForThem.
Despite this First Minister confirming that pupils will begin to return to in-school learning, Jo Bisset – organiser for the group – called for more to be done get all children back to classrooms.
She said: “Now that the green light has been given to the first tranche, we hope the Scottish Government will urgently set out a road map for all other pupils to go back.
“Online learning doesn’t work and blended learning is a farce.
“Without a full return to normal school, an enormous amount of damage will be done to tens of thousands of Scottish children.
“We appreciate these aren’t easy decisions for the First Minister to make, but we ask her to consider the balance of harm.
“Every week that goes by in isolation for young people is causing more damage now and storing up significant trouble for the future.”