Ministers are failing to protect teachers from Covid-19 by keeping schools open after the Christmas break, a north-east trade union has warned.
A delay in getting pupils back in the classroom had been suggested to allow more time for isolation following temporary relaxation of coronavirus rules.
However, Mr Swinney announced to Holyrood’s education committee yesterday that there would be no change to the holidays.
The announcement was described as “bitterly disappointing” by the Aberdeen branch of teaching union EIS, which had previously called for teaching to be done remotely in the early weeks of the new term.
Leading figures in the union believe allowing households to mix between December 23 and 27 could lead to the number of cases of Covid-19 spiking.
Branch secretary Ron Constable accused Mr Swinney of ignoring the health and wellbeing concerns of teachers.
“The EIS has never advocated an extension to the school holidays, but what we have supported is remote learning. It is our position that children should be learning from home,” he said.
“I think the news from the Deputy First Minister is really disappointing. Once again teachers will be disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken their health and wellbeing into account.
“Clearly having remote learning in place at the end of the holidays would be sensible, given the measures are being relaxed over Christmas.
“There is possibly going to be a spike in cases in January and February as a result of that.
“Introducing remote learning would have been an ideal opportunity to reduce the R number.
“It’s not just about infections in schools – there is the whole movement of people to schools throughout the community.
“Our members will be bitterly disappointed with the decision.”
Mr Swinney explained his decision in a letter to the education and skills committee.
It reads: “The public health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.
“In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of school for an extended period.
“The view of the chief social work advisor is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.
“Public health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.
“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end.
“I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”
In response Mr Constable, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are determined to do our best for all children, particularly at this festive time. Outwith the planned holiday dates, we expect schools to remain open, offering in-school learning and teaching for children and young people.
“Any moves to remote learning and closing schools would have a detrimental impact on our most vulnerable children, including those living in poverty and those who are at risk from domestic violence or child sexual exploitation.
“There should be no move to blended or remote learning unless this is based on local public health advice, following an outbreak involving a school or where the local authority judges it is not safe to open the school physically, for example, due to a shortage of staff.”