Coronavirus: Nicola Sturgeon to confirm reopening of Scottish schools

School Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Pupils will not have to maintain physical distancing from each other when schools reopen in Scotland

The Scottish government is expected to confirm later that Scotland’s schools will reopen in full next month.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her government’s “central objective” is to get all pupils back in the classroom from 11 August.

Ministers signed off the schools plan on Wednesday, and it will be announced to MSPs at Holyrood on Thursday.

Ms Sturgeon has warned she is unlikely to ease many other restrictions, saying her approach will be “very cautious”.

However, indicative dates of when more services could be allowed to resume will be announced.

Thursday marks the latest point at which Scotland’s coronavirus restrictions must be reviewed, and Ms Sturgeon is to update MSPs on progress along her government’s “route map” out of lockdown.

She said Scotland had made “good progress” in suppressing Covid-19, but warned there were “lots of signs of fragility” both at home and overseas.

She has warned Scots not to expect widespread changes beyond the announcement on schools and the pausing of “shielding” for those most at risk from the virus.

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Image caption Nicola Sturgeon will outline the plans for education in a Holyrood statement

BBC Scotland understands the local authority body Cosla has now signed off on guidance for the reopening, despite earlier concern about funding for extra cleaning and other measures.

Education Secretary John Swinney told MSPs on Monday that all councils were on track to have pupils back in the classroom in August, although he said the return to schools may need to be “phased” in some areas.

Some councils have said it may take some extra time for pupils to return to face-to-face schooling, with Falkirk Council saying its phased reopening may take two weeks.

Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday that there was “nothing to suggest we are going in the opposite direction” in terms of fully reopening schools on 11 August.

Guidance agreed by the Education Recovery Group – which includes representatives of the government, local authorities and teaching groups – says physical distancing will not be enforced between pupils, although secondary schools will be expected to adjust the layout of classrooms and the flow in corridors “where possible”.

Teachers will be expected to maintain a 2m (6ft 6in) distance where possible, but the wearing of face coverings will not be enforced, with Mr Swinney saying this would be “left to the judgement of individuals”.

A range of “extra precautions” will also be put in place to help schools operate safely, including extra cleaning and hand hygiene requirements and “quick access to testing” for anyone who develops symptoms.

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Image caption Ms Sturgeon said she also hopes to relax guidance for those “shielding” in Scotland, but expects few other changes

At her coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said it was the government’s “central objective to get schools back full time” from 11 August, alongside the pausing of shielding from the start of the month.

However, she added: “Ensuring those changes can take place without increasing the prevalence of the virus too far is not going to leave us much room for many other immediate changes.

“We can’t just look at whether an individual change is safe, although that is an important part of our consideration – we also have to consider the cumulative impact of the changes we make, and we have to be sensible about the order of the changes we make.”

Scotland is currently in phase three of the government’s route map out of lockdown, with changes such as the reopening of non-essential offices and indoor facilities like gyms still to come in later stages.

Ms Sturgeon said she would seek to “set out indicative dates for the future”, although she said these would be “dependent on continued suppression of the virus”.

She said “very significant changes” had been made in recent weeks, including the reopening of the hospitality and tourism industries, and said it was “still too early to be completely assured” of the impact of those changes.

The first minister will take questions from opposition MSPs after her statement, which comes in a special sitting of Holyrood despite the parliament still being in its summer recess.

Some parties have been critical of how the schools policy has developed, with Labour accusing the government of “making this up at the last minute” and the Conservatives saying clarity could have been given to staff and parents sooner.

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