Councils should be seeking to minimise the number of children in schools and nurseries during the latest Covid-19 lockdown, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.
Scotland’s largest local authority, Glasgow City Council, is reportedly keeping all its schools open to enable vulnerable students to attend.
Maureen McKenna, the head of education at the authority, told The Herald newspaper: “In the last lockdown we didn’t see enough children and there were safeguarding issues because parents don’t identify as being vulnerable.
“We want to be sympathetic to our parents because there are a lot of parents who are struggling and experiencing hardship and trying to hold on to a job.”
Appearing before Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee on Friday, Mr Swinney insisted local authorities should be “free” to take decisions at local levels.
But he said the Scottish Government will be monitoring the number of youngsters in school from next week, as well as looking at data on the number of journeys being made and public transport usage.
With mainland Scotland having gone into its second national lockdown earlier this week, he told MSPs “volumes of movement in society are greater than they were in the period immediately following lockdown in March 2020”.
He also repeated warnings from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that further restrictions may be needed if Scots fail to cut levels of contact with other people.
Mr Swinney said: “If we do not see a reduction in human interaction as a consequence of those restrictions, there is every likelihood we will have to put in place further restrictions as a consequence to ensure we reduce that degree of activity in our society.”
When the extended school Christmas break comes to an end on January 11, only children whose parents are key workers and those youngsters who are deemed vulnerable should be in class.
Other pupils will learn remotely from home, with the Education Secretary saying councils have been told to keep the numbers in school as low as possible.
He told MSPs: “Local authorities will be operating within a framework the Government has set which is to try to reduce human interaction by keeping those placements to a minimum.
“Local authorities must be free to take those decisions at local level, I think that is the right position for us to adopt.
“But fundamentally that means not everybody is going to be able to secure a place for their child.
“Whichever way we look at this, whether it is about where people are employed, whether they are able to work from home, whether they are able to find childcare, all of these factors contribute to the level of human interaction within our society.
“And there may be a necessity for us to restrict that further if we don’t see that reducing as a consequence of the steps we are taking already.”
He added employers need to recognise “the stay at home message, the work from home message, really must be complied with to a greater extent than perhaps people are thinking of doing just now, because without that we will not reduce the level of human interaction by the necessary amount to ensure that we are effective in preventing the spread of the virus”.
The current lockdown legislation only allows people to leave home for an essential purpose, such as food shopping or medical appointments.
While recycling centres are still open, Mr Swinney said “you would really have to stretch the definition of reasonable excuse” to justify visiting one.
He said this is one area which has “the potential to be changed if we are not satisfied the degree of human interaction is reducing sufficiently within the country”.
He added: “These facilities are still able to operate, but clearly if we do not see a reduction in the level of interaction within society, then we may have to reconsider that position.”
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