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by Louise Wilson
03 December 2020
No extension to school Christmas holidays

Barry Batchelor/PA

No extension to school Christmas holidays

Schools will not extend the Christmas break to reduce social contact before and after the five-day relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, the Education Secretary has confirmed.

In a letter to Holyrood’s education committee, John Swinney said social mixing within a “controlled school environment” was preferred to social mixing outside of school.

He also said extending the Christmas break would disadvantage vulnerable children.

But schools have been encouraged to ensure staff “get a proper break”, with policies in place to ensure contact tracing activities are “minimised”.

The Scottish Government’s education recovery group had been considering whether to close schools between 18 December and 11 January.

Swinney said: “I have reached the decision not to make any changes to the planned Christmas and new year holiday dates and I am writing today to set out the reasons for this.

“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.

“The view of the Chief Social Work Advisor is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.”

The recovery group concluded there was “no evidence that schools and ELC settings are driving transmission” and expressed concern closing schools would “undermine” this message.

It also considered the prospect of closing school buildings for three weeks, with term dates to be maintained through remote learning, but it said there was “potential for learning loss” even if schools moved to online learning.

However, the group said its advice was conditional on schools putting in place alternative arrangements for contact tracing, should a child test positive for coronavirus over the break.

The summary of advice said: “The current arrangements, whereby school term dates are decided locally and based on in-school learning, should be maintained. However, this was conditional on school staff being enabled to have a proper break over the festive period, and their wellbeing being given due attention.

“The prospect of having to undertake contact tracing over Christmas is regarded as being the straw that might break the back of many teachers and headteachers. An alternative approach should be agreed urgently, working with local public health teams and the national contact tracing centre.”

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