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by Louise Wilson
18 November 2020
Benefits of keeping schools open outweighs transmission risk says First Minister

Barry Batchelor/PA

Benefits of keeping schools open outweighs transmission risk says First Minister

The First Minister has defended the decision to keep schools open in the 11 council areas going into level four lockdown from Friday.

She insisted the benefits of young people going to school outweighed the risk of transmission.

The COVID advisory sub-group on education has also published a report stating there was no direct evidence that transmission in schools was driving increased rates of infection among children.

And its analysis of ONS data found no difference between test positivity rates of school staff relative to other worker groups of a similar age.

At her lunchtime briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said in the first nine weeks of the school term there were 1,600 positive cases, just over 0.2 per cent of all pupils. In addition, fewer than a quarter of schools had any COVID cases at all, while half of those that did only had a single case.

She said: “The small percentage of pupils that tested positive supports other research suggesting that COVID cases in schools tend to come from the community, not from schools themselves.

“There is, of course – and we're not seeking to deny this – some risk of transmission in schools. Of course there is. That’s why we must continue to take all necessary steps to mitigate that.”

She added: “While we will continue to listen carefully to all concerns, these findings do reinforce our view that, at this time, the benefits young people gain from being in school outweigh the overall impact of schools on transmission rates.”

However, teachers’ union EIS has expressed concerns about school safety and called for blended and remote learning to be adopted.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS is clear that, in areas that are now at level four, the current policy of keeping schools operating as normal on a full-time basis is at odds with delivering effective virus suppression.

“It is not only about the safety of schools themselves, it’s about the role of schools in terms of local community transmission. It’s difficult to imagine somewhere with more social mixing than schools, and pupils and staff then go back into their communities and their homes and families.”

But the government’s advisory group said that early modelling indicated closing schools had had less of an impact on reducing community transmission than other social distancing measures.

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