The Scottish Government has ruled out an extension to the school Christmas holidays.
Ministers had been considering imposing a nationwide shutdown of schools from December 18 to January 11.
But Education Secretary John Swinney confirmed to MSPs on Thursday that he has now “reached the decision not to make any changes to the planned Christmas and new year holiday dates”.
In some areas of Scotland schools finish for the festive period on Friday December 18, but in other parts youngsters will be in class until Wednesday December 23.
Mr Swinney previously explained this has led to concerns teaching staff “might still be dealing with the implications of contact tracing as late as Christmas Eve or perhaps even on Christmas Day”.
He also said pupils returning to school later than normal could be advisable to help “avoid the recirculation of the virus” if families meet up while Covid-19 restrictions are eased between December 23 and 27.
But in a letter to MSPs on the Education Committee on Thursday, Mr Swinney said: “The public health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.
“In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of school for an extended period.
“Public health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.
“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end.
“I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”
Mr Swinney appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee on Thursday, where he was asked about the Government’s policies in schools.
He said there had been “finely balanced judgments” about the risk of the virus spreading outside the organised environments of schools.
Green MSP Mark Ruskell asked if Scotland’s 51,000 teachers should be vaccinated “sooner than later” if the priority is on keeping schools open.
Mr Swinney said the Government will follow the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
National clinical director Jason Leitch, who was also appearing before the committee, said the early stages of the vaccination programme will be “about individual protection, not population protection”.
The priority is to vaccinate those at risk of disease and death, he said, principally by working down through age groups.
He told the MSPs: “Once you get to the over-50s, they suggest in their advice you will have at least attempted to remove 99% of the mortality risk of this disease.
“The only profession they recommend specifically to be removed from that is health and care workers who have direct access to a large number of Covid-positive patients.
“So that’s the advice we will be following, that’s the advice the whole of the UK will be following.”
Asked by Patrick Harvie at FMQs about the decision, Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government ruled there would not a “sufficient risk” of virus transmission in schools, even after the Christmas break.
“The balanced judgment the Scottish Government has come to is that the risks of transmission in schools, even after the Christmas period, is not sufficient,” she told MSPs.
“We don’t think that is a sufficient risk – and we’ve all gone through before the reasons why we do not think transmission in schools is a big driver of infections – that that risk does not outweigh the risk to children’s education of being out of school for longer periods of time.”
Support The Courier today.
The Courier is committed to delivering quality content to our communities and right now that’s more important than ever — which is why our key content is free. However, you can support us and access premium content by subscribing to The Courier from just £5.99 a month. Because Local Matters.Subscribe