Coronavirus: 'No physical distancing' needed for school pupils

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Ministers want Scotland’s schools to reopen in full on 11 August

Pupils will not have to physically distance when Scotland’s schools return in August, but teachers will, new advice to the government has suggested.

Ministers have set a target for schools to reopen in full from 11 August.

A new report from advisors said “no distancing” should be required between pupils in primary or secondary schools.

But it said staff should stay 2m (6ft 6in) apart from each other, and put on face coverings when coming into closer contact with children.

It is also recommended that “higher risk” group activities like assemblies, choirs and gym and drama classes should not be reintroduced immediately.

Education Secretary John Swinney said the advice would “inform the way schools can reopen safely”.

Talks are being held between ministers, councils, parent groups and teachers representatives to study how to reopen schools in full in August.

A report from the government’s advisory sub-group on education said the “balance of evidence” suggested that physical distancing requirements imposed elsewhere in society would not be necessary between school pupils.

It noted that only 151 of the 18,365 coronavirus cases confirmed in Scotland had been in people aged under 15, and that “the role of children in transmission [of the virus] appears to be limited, both between children and from children to adults”.

However the group said 2m distancing “should remain in place wherever possible between adults, and between adults and children who are not from the same household”.

They said face coverings “are not required for most children”, or adults who can maintain a physical distance – but added that “where adults cannot keep a 2m distance, are interacting face-to-face and for about 15 minutes or more, face coverings should be worn”.

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Teachers may not have to wear face coverings if they can keep 2m away from pupils and other staff

The report comes as Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner warned of a looming “children’s rights emergency”, citing “grave concerns” about the long-term impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on young people.

The government’s advisory paper said teachers “should be provided with support and backup in how to assess the meet the needs of children who have experienced neglect during the period of school closures”.

They said priority should be given to reintroducing services which “particularly benefit children who are more vulnerable”, such as breakfast clubs and outreach work.

‘Zero tolerance’

The report contains a series of warnings about the possible resurgence of the virus, and safety measures which should be put in place – with advice that “hand washing/sanitising should be required for everyone on every entry to the school”.

They said there should be;

  • “as close as possible to zero tolerance of symptoms” of Covid-19
  • minimal sharing of equipment, books and toys
  • and efforts to “avoid large gatherings”

This means pupils will likely be kept to the same smaller groups for the duration of the school day, while the advice says “collective activities that cross classes and age groups” should only be reintroduced “incrementally”.

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John Swinney said the reopening of schools was contingent on coronavirus infection rates remaining low

A second paper from the group examined school transport, saying dedicated school buses should be treated as “an extension of the school estate” but that parents and pupils should seek to walk or cycle if possible.

Mr Swinney said the papers would help inform how to reopen schools safely “if infection rates continue to remain low”.

He added: “We are considering this advice as we develop comprehensive guidance which will give confidence to our school communities that the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and staff is ensured as we welcome them back.

“Ensuring the highest quality education for our young people, in a safe environment, must be a priority for us all and I know that everyone is committed to make sure that children’s education is not adversely affected in the longer term.”

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