Scottish schools will be shut until February at the earliest to almost all children, as part of a harsh new lockdown similar to the one in March.
The move will increase pressure on Boris Johnson over schools, with many teachers and unions expressing safety concerns amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that schools in Scotland will be closed to the majority of pupils until February 1, with the measures reviewed on January 18. Children of key workers who cannot work from home and vulnerable youngsters will be among the exceptions.
Ms Sturgeon said the overall level of community transmission remained too high for schools to safely reopen, and said there was still ‘significant uncertainty’ about the impact of the new variant of Covid on children. That appears to put her odds with the position of the Prime Minister, after Mr Johnson insisted on Sunday that schools are ‘safe’.
The First Minister told the Scottish Parliament: ‘We therefore have to adopt a cautious approach at this stage and that’s why most pupils will be learning online for at least the rest of the month.
‘I know that remote learning presents significant challenges for teachers, schools, parents and young people, and we will work to support children and parents throughout this.’
She also said the scientific community was not clear on the impact of the new variant of Covid-19 on young people.
The First Minister added: ‘Just as the last places we ever want to close are schools and nurseries, so it is the case that schools and nurseries will be the first places we want to reopen as we re-emerge from this latest lockdown.
‘They remain our priority.’
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that work was being done to see if school and childcare staff could be made a priority for vaccination.
It comes amid furious debate around Mr Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s decision to allow primary schools to return as planned on Monday, while secondary pupils’ return to classrooms was delayed.
Teaching unions said the return was not safe and put their members at risk.
Children can be infected with the virus but are at a far lower of risk of serious illness.
However, young people can spread the disease, particularly older teenagers – a major concern for staff at schools.
Ms Sturgeon suggested the mutant strain of Covid-19 was behind a sharp increase in case numbers that made her take the decision, which will mean an additional two weeks of home learning for most pupils.
The Scottish Government had already announced the festive break was being extended to January 11, with ministers having originally planned for remote learning until January 18.
This is a breaking story – more to follow.
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