A “cautious” approach will be taken to reopening schools as the coronavirus lockdown eases, the Education Secretary has said.
John Swinney updated MSPs on the Scottish Government’s plans to open schools on August 11, publishing the scientific guidance which ministers had received.
The guidance said some studies had suggested a lower transmission rate for Covid-19 among children but that the evidence for this was “inconclusive”. It said an earlier return of schooling could lead to a higher rate of infection in the country.
Mr Swinney said £9 million had been set aside to buy 25,000 laptops for pupils to help with “blended learning” – as they will be required to do more work from home to support social distancing.
He said he could not see schools reopening any earlier than August 11, though early learning facilities may open over the summer.
Appearing via video-link at the Scottish Parliament, he told MSPs recently-retired teachers could be asked to return to work.
He said: “School closures are considered to have a negative effect on all aspects of children and young people’s progress and development, as well as their wellbeing.
“That is why we are working to enable as many children and young people as possible to return to education and care settings at the earliest date it is safe to do so.
“The scientific evidence and advice is an important part of that decision, alongside consideration of the other harms caused by ongoing restrictions. That is why I have published a summary of the scientific evidence which has informed our discussions and decisions to date.
“The evidence around coronavirus in general, and that relating to children in particular, is continuing to evolve. Some aspects are not yet well understood – the science cannot in many cases provide us with definitive conclusions.
“The scientific advice that we have received so far leads us towards taking a cautious approach and we will continue to monitor the evidence and advice to inform decisions.”
The scientific guidance modelled Scotland’s R number – the rate of infection – based on schools returning on August 13, with around 5,000 infectious people in Scotland.
This simulation estimated that Scotland’s R number would remain at 0.85 before and after schools reopened.
However the report added: “Due to the top of the confidence range being close to one, caution is needed.
“Lifting other interventions (e.g. on economy or social restrictions) at the same time would need careful consideration as the impact of interventions on R is cumulative and could raise R over one.”
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