Education Secretary John Swinney has said there needs to be “the maximum amount of co-operation and compliance” with coronavirus guidance if pupils are to return to school full-time from August.
He said Scotland is at “a critical point” in suppressing the virus enough to allow pupils to return to class, following the further easing of lockdown measures.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, Mr Swinney said the final decision on whether schools can reopen to all pupils next month will be announced on July 30, and he urged the public not to allow an increased spread of the disease to derail the plans.
“Yesterday we undertook the most significant relaxation of the lockdown since it began so there’s obviously risks that by relaxing lockdown, there is potentially some greater opportunity for the virus to spread,” Mr Swinney said.
“That’s why if we want to reopen schools full-time in August, we would appeal for the maximum amount of co-operation and compliance from members of the public with all of the guidance that we have given.”
His plea came after the Government’s scientific advisers said pupils should not have to physically distance when schools return.
Their report recommends that if Covid-19 remains suppressed, pupils can return from August 11 without physical distancing though teachers should remain two metres apart where possible.
Teachers would only need to wear masks if they are face-to-face with pupils for more than 15 minutes and cannot remain two metres away, although any pupil or teacher wanting to wear a face covering should be able to do so.
Mr Swinney acknowledged the Covid-19 advisory sub-group on education stressed the evidence is “less clear” about the safety of older children compared to primary school pupils, and he will be considering whether further protections are needed.
“These are some of the practical issues that we will discuss with our local authority partners, with the professional associations, with parents groups and also with young people themselves,” he said.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Government will be looking at whether to make routine coronavirus testing for teachers mandatory, adding that “continues to be under consideration”.
Mr Swinney added: “This advice is crucial in designing what those mitigation measures will have to be, as is the dialogue with our partners about how we formulate that guidance and define what’s involved.”
The scientific advisers’ report suggests the benefits of all children returning to school full-time outweigh the dangers for older pupils “on the balance of known risks”.
Among the recommendations – which Ms Sturgeon said the Government will now work on turning into official guidance – is the requirement for everyone entering schools to wash or sanitise their hands, along with an “increased emphasis” on hand hygiene and surface cleaning throughout the day.
It advises certain school activities such as drama and gym classes, assemblies and choirs should not be immediately reintroduced because of the higher risk of virus transmission.
Schools should also take a “zero-tolerance” approach to coronavirus symptoms – a fever, cough and a loss of taste or smell – and strictly comply with the Government’s Test and Protect contact tracing system.
Advice for school transport strongly recommends pupils travel to school on foot, bike or scooter where possible.
Dedicated school transport, such as a school bus, would be considered an “extension of the school estate” where distancing measures are not required.
If pupils use public transport, then the Government’s guidance on physical distancing must be followed and face coverings remain mandatory for everyone aged over five.
Welcoming the publication of the scientific advice, general secretary of the EIS teaching union Larry Flanagan said: “The reports highlight the importance of significant mitigations being operational in schools. The EIS will engage in discussion as to what these should be.
“Pro-active testing of school communities is certainly one measure which should be in place and we also think that more should be done around senior pupils, who are young adults rather than children.”