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Education / No need for physical distancing at schools, government advises

PHYSICAL distancing between children and young people will be not be required in schools or dedicated school transport, the Scottish Government confirmed on Thursday.

Teachers however will have to adhere to social distancing.

Four weeks before pupils and teachers are due to go back to school on 11 August, the government has published guidance on the safe reopening of schools and the resumption of school transport.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith.

Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee George Smith said the government document would give council officers welcome guidance on helping to plan the opening the 30-plus schools and extensive school transport network in the isles.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

However, Shetland MSP and the Scottish Lib Dem’s education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart described the guidance as too vague. She is calling for tougher rules on testing and tracing in schools.

“In New Zealand, if a school or early learning service has a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, they must close for 72 hours to allow contact tracing, and then potentially for a further 14 days. Teachers need reassurance that an equivalent plan will be developed and put in place so that outbreaks can be effectively contained.

“It is now less than a month before students and teachers will return to class. Expectations and restrictions need to be crystal clear if people are going to be able to teach and learn safely and efficiently.”

Schools in Shetland closed on 16 March this year, one week ahead of the rest of Scotland.

The advice on physical distancing and school transport now published includes a package of measures on hygiene and contact management that must be in place to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

But, crucially, it says no physical distancing is required between children and young people in primary and secondary schools, and that dedicated school transport should be regarded as an extension of the school estate, “with physical distancing measures between pupils therefore unnecessary for as long as infection rates in Scotland remain low”.

Smith said: “It is good that this guidance is coming as it gives us the opportunity to plan since it is not that long until the 11 August.

“We note that school transport is seen as an extension to the school estate with no physical distancing for pupils.”

Pupils using public transport to travel to and from school will be required to follow the guidance for public transport which at the moment involves the wearing of a face mask and one metre social distancing.

Education secretary John Swinney said: “Ensuring the highest quality education for our young people, in a safe environment, must be a priority for us all and I know that everyone is committed to make sure that children’s education is not adversely affected in the longer term.”

The package of measures that must be put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus includes:

  • there should be an increased emphasis on hand hygiene and surface cleaning. Hand washing and/or sanitising should be required for everyone on every entry to the school.
  • as close as possible to zero tolerance of symptoms should be in place, and strict compliance with the Test and Protect system.
  • in both primary and secondary settings, the preference should be to avoid large gatherings and crowded spaces and, as much as possible, to keep pupils within the same groups for the duration of the school day.
  • sharing of equipment/utensils/toys/books should be minimised; and smaller groups and more outdoor activities put in place.
  • movement between schools – of children, and of temporary/ supply/peripatetic staff should be kept to an absolute minimum.

The government’s detailed guidance on schools and school transport can be found here and here.