Coronavirus: Scotland's parents voice COVID-19 concerns as schools remain open

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
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The Scottish government has no immediate plans to close schools but many parents and pupils have flooded social media asking if this is the right approach.

Concerns focus on possible complications for those with underlying health conditions, or fear of spreading the illness to the elderly.

National clinical director Jason Leitch said school closures would not necessarily help contain the virus significantly unless they were prolonged.

“The science suggests the virus will be there. So when you reopen, the vulnerable will be hit again and your spike will just be later.

“We’re trying to move that curve back but also protect that vulnerable group.

“Schools do two things. They educate the children, so what greater place to be to teach the kids how to wash their hands. It’s a terrific place to be able to talk about the virus, to reduce panic and to reduce fear.

“The other thing is our police control rooms are manned by people who have kids, our paramedics have children.”

Leitch said he did not think it was “inevitable” schools would close, adding: “If we have to move to that then we’re going to think very carefully about it. That will be a very important decision to make.”

Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said: “From data from other countries, children are not very severely affected. So if we’re talking about reducing the pressure on our NHS, children having this virus are not going to be hospitalised in big numbers.

“Secondly, if you’re going to introduce these type of measures, we need to do that for a minimum of three months to really suppress the spread of the coronavirus.

“The other important issue is childcare. We would be having significant numbers of healthcare workers, police, people who run the nuclear industry – the key workers – whose children need to be looked after elsewhere.

“I would not be criticising what other countries are doing but it’s very clear from the science that closing schools for two weeks is not a scientific way to prevent the spread of this virus.

“It’s the length of time that is key and you’ll be able to think of many downsides of doing that, not least is that need for parents, other workers, to look after children in other settings.”

A Childcare.co.uk survey has reported 81 per cent of Scots respondents in favour of school closures. Founder Richard Conway said: “We’ve had thousands of responses from our members, with the majority of parents voting in favour of closing schools in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Several countries across Europe have closed schools in response to the outbreak, which has left many families wondering why the UK has not followed suit.”

A handful of schools in Scotland have closed when Covid-19 has been identified at the school or in the area.

As of Tuesday morning (March 17) these included Hazelhead Academy, in Aberdeen; Dunblane High, Stirlingshire, Perth High and about 10 primaries throughout Scotland.

Stirling Council said a deep clean of Dunblane High would take place immediately after a pupil tested positive. All other schools in the local authority area will be open as normal.

Perth High is due to reopen on Thursday. The school wrote on Twitter: “An individual at Perth High is currently staying at home as they have symptoms consistent with coronavirus. They have not been tested but as a precaution we will be conducting a deep clean of the school. This will take three days and the school will reopen to pupils on Thursday."

Blanket school closures may be imposed after the Easter holidays, according to Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS. He said contingency plans being drawn up by the trade unions, local authorities and the Scottish government are aimed at keeping schools open until April 3 when the current term finishes. Schools would be due to return on April 20 or 21 for the new term, depending on local authority area.

“The spring break is only a couple of weeks away. There is a hope to get to the spring break without blanket school closures and then if incidents of the virus have increased, it may be necessary to close all schools,” he told the National newspaper.

“The thinking is at the moment it may be too early to close all schools and it wouldn’t necessarily be doing anything to stop the virus spreading, and it could in fact encourage the spread of the virus as in schools, children are in a more regulated environment than at home when they go out with their pals.”

Flanagan said guidance is due to be published by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) detailing what plans would be put in place over the coming weeks.

They include plans to merge classes and redeploy teachers from closed schools to neighbouring open ones. It may be possible for pupils to take SQA exams – due to begin in April – even if schools were closed, Mr Flanagan said.

“The bottom line is, if the advice is that school closure is regarded as useful, we have discussed what that would mean in practical terms. Staff are fast-tracking revision packages for young people, which means if schools do close... most of the pupils will get those packages home over the Easter holidays.”

“The exam diet starts the end of April... if we are in a situation where there are general school closures, it may still be possible to arrange for the exams to go ahead.”


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