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by Louise Wilson
22 December 2021
Not enough being done to ensure schools stay open, warns Labour

Michele Allan / Alamy Stock Photo

Not enough being done to ensure schools stay open, warns Labour

Education safety guidance falls short of what is required to support schools amid the Omicron surge, Scottish Labour has warned.

The party’s education spokesperson Michael Marra said not enough was being done to ensure schools were able to remain open with regards to ventilation, testing and staffing arrangements.

In a letter to Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s education secretary, he called for two air filters to be installed in every classroom and for the government to increase testing in schools.

Marra also urged the government to consider how to fill gaps in staffing caused by self-isolation, including incentivising retired teachers to re-register, and for more children to receive digital devices in case schools are required to close.

The First Minister confirmed yesterday the government’s priority was to “re-open schools as normal after the holidays.”

Marra welcomed this decision but highlighted some schools had already closed or partially closed in recent weeks due to coronavirus outbreaks.

He wrote: “Through the government’s poor record on ventilation, the collapse in school testing numbers, and the continued lack of comprehensive digital infrastructure – including the lack of a device roll out to all pupils – not enough has been done to ensure schools will remain open and not enough has been done to prepare them for closure.”

The Labour MSP also called for clarification on the exam diet next spring in light of disrupted learning and asked whether the education recovery plan would be refreshed.

Last week the government published updated guidance for schools, to be applied “as soon as they can from the start of the January term”.

It re-enforced previous safety advice, including minimising contacts between pupils, restrictions on visitors and a “strengthened approach to self-isolation for household contacts of positive cases”.

But in a bid to deal with staff shortages, the guidance also includes a plan to allow an exemption from self-isolation for teachers if “essential functions and services [are] at risk”.

It only applies to teachers who have had two vaccinations, no Covid symptoms and have been taking lateral flow tests in the days after being exposed to the virus.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said: “It remains our priority, and I hope parliament’s priority, to re-open schools as normal after the holidays.

“Indeed, one reason for asking adults to make sacrifices for a further period after Christmas is to help minimise any impact on children’s education.

“However, to help ensure that schools are safe environments for young people and staff, updated guidance based on recommendations from the Education Advisory Sub-Group was published at the end of last week.”

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