FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out a “cavalier” approach schools in Scotland as the row intensifies over plans to re-open schools in England in two weeks’ time.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has now joined in the outcry by stating that the infection rate of Covid-19 is still too high to consider re-opening schools.
Their intervention came as the R rate in England crept back up towards 1.0 following a partial lifting of the pandemic lockdown south of the border. It is believed that the R number – the rate at which the infection is spread – has to be kept below 1.0 in order to prevent widespread outbreaks of the disease.
“We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK,” said BMA council chair, Chaand Nagpaul. “Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider re-opening schools.”
It has also been revealed that young, fit people who have recovered from mild cases of the virus are still at risk of lasting lung damage. Patients’ hearts and kidneys may also be damaged.
The damage has been found in the first UK trial assessing the long term effects of Covid-19, led by Professor James Chalmers of the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee.
“It has been quite shocking to see the lung scans of young people who were not particularly unwell,” said Noel Baxter, clinical adviser to the British Lung Foundation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that a phased re-opening of schools in England would begin on June 1, prompting safety concerns from teaching unions, with NASUWT threatening to invoke legal action to protect teachers told to go back to work before it was safe.
English local authorities are also at odds over Johnson’s school plan with some saying they will not be reopening early next month as it was not yet safe to do so. England is the only nation in the UK to set a date for schools to re-open.
In Scotland, members of the teachers’ panel on the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers have told Education Secretary John Swinney there is a “strong argument” to keep the precautionary approach and to indicate “schools will reopen after the summer break”.
The teachers said that would also give staff time to prepare for the “very real challenge” of many pupils returning after months without a structured education. Sturgeon has echoed their caution.
“There will be no cavalier approach to any aspect of this on the part of the Scottish Government,” she said. “This is far too important and there is too much at stake for us not to make all of these judgments in as carefully considered a way as possible.”
She added that the Education Recovery Group were trying to come to a consensus on the best approach which would be made public once a decision had been reach.
“We will seek to set out more information about the overall assessments over the course of next week,” said Sturgeon. “It is, I think, a reasonable thing for me to say right now, bearing in mind these decisions haven’t been taken in any final sense, that it is not going to be the case that schools are back to normal in any way shape or form this side of the summer holidays.
“We are of course discussing whether it is possible for any pupils to be back in that timescale. But if it is, and we haven’t concluded that yet, it is likely to be on a very limited basis. But it is those discussions that are underway on that very careful and considered basis.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the union would continue to work with the Scottish Government over the plans for school reopening.
“The Scottish Government decided to close schools on public health grounds and it is right that schools not reopen until it is safe to do so,” he said.
“We would expect to see a number of essential health and safety safeguards met fully before any relaxation of the current arrangements for school closure.”
Roach added: “With a potentially depleted workforce, teachers with underlying health conditions or who are in vulnerable groups, access to PPE and the need for stringent social distancing, teachers and parents will expect to see comprehensive risk assessment measures in place prior to schools reopening.”
Teaching union the EIS are also working with the Scottish Government over how schools can be reopened and have stressed that the R figure should be under control and also that test, trace and isolate capacity has been established.
Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum Scotland, said “overwhelmingly” parents wanted their children to go back to school only when they were sure it was safe.