John Swinney has defended his decision not to extend the school holidays this Christmas.
The Education Secretary insisted there was “no politics involved” in the decision, as he claimed children have less risk from coronavirus in school than at home, and he said the Government will work to ensure teachers do not have to contact-trace on Christmas Day.
Ministers had been considering imposing a nationwide shutdown of schools from December 18 to January 11, but Mr Swinney ruled that out on Thursday.
Speaking at Friday’s Scottish Government virus briefing, Mr Swinney said the judgment was “based entirely on public health advice”.
Regional variations mean some schools will stop for the Christmas holidays on December 18, while others will continue until December 23.
Asked about criticism from unions about the decision not to extend the holiday, Mr Swinney added: “I published the public health advice that I have received on this question, which comes down to one critical point – which is that we can minimise the transmission of the virus between young people if they are in an organised environment like a school as opposed to being in home or community settings.
“To essentially tip the balance and to put more young people into a community setting would be to go against that public health advice.
“So there’s no politics involved in this, it’s public health advice that I am following.”
Concerns have been raised by teachers that they could have to continue contact tracing of coronavirus infections on Christmas Day.
The Deputy First Minister said the Government is working with Public Health Scotland and the National Contact Tracing Centre to make sure “all school staff and all school teachers can get the break to which they are entitled to over the festive season”.
Mr Swinney added: “Obviously I appreciate that some of those closing dates are getting quite close to Christmas Day.”
He said teachers deserve to be off over Christmas “given how hard they’ve worked to keep education sustained for children and young people” during the pandemic.
Jane Peckham, from the Scotland branch of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “The rumour and speculation over the last week around the potential to vary the holiday dates has only served to raise expectations and anxiety amongst the profession.
“This announcement yesterday indicates yet again that Government have no intention to use the promised contingency of blended learning, even in the highest Covid-19 level areas.
“Remote learning could have been a solution to maintaining education provision whilst reducing the risk of virus transmission in the run-up to Christmas.
“Ministers now need urgently to set out what arrangements should be in place to support those having to manage the Test and Protect system over Christmas.
“It is imperative that the Government provides a clear national plan which does not rely on any staff being expected to forfeit their well-deserved and much-needed break to undertake this work.”
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