Labour demands SNP draws up school safety plan to protect from Omicron variant surge

LABOUR has demanded the Scottish Government draws up an action plan to improve school safety in the New Year to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant in classrooms.

Last week, it was revealed pupil absences due to Covid have more than doubled in the space of a fortnight since guidance was updated to state children must stay at home when a family members tests positive for the virus.

The number of pupils not in school for reasons connected with Covid-19 jumped from 19,402 to 31,303 between December 10 and December 14.

But SNP Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, has insisted that the latest guidance published last week is sufficient to ensure schools are safe.

Labour education spokesperson, Michael Marra, has written to Ms Somerville, warning that “not enough has been done to ensure schools will remain open”, setting out a series of demands to keep schools safely up and running in the new year.

Mr Marra has called for the procurement of HEPA air filters to ensure that two devices can be installed in every classroom, dramatically ramp up testing in schools, boost school staff to cover absences by those having to self-isolate and immediately make sure every pupil has a digital device and internet connection to keep an SNP manifesto promise.

READ MORE: Omicron hits schools as teacher and pupil absences surge

The MSP has also asked for an update on how and when a decision will be made regarding this year’s exam diet, and for a new education recovery plan after statistics last week showed attainment at its lowest level under the Curriculum for Excellence.

He said: “From their poor record on ventilation to the collapse in school testing numbers, it’s clear not enough has been done to keep schools safe and open in the face of Omicron.

“Staff, pupils and families are doing incredible work, too often without the support of the Government.

“Two years in to the pandemic and schools are still facing the toughest of circumstances, let down continuously by poor leadership in Scottish education.

“Attainment statistics show us that the education disruption has been disastrous for young people, and the Government needs to do all it can to minimise more disruption.”

Ms Somerville told MSPs that safety in schools “remains our overriding priority” as well as “minimising any further disruption to learning where at all possible”.

She added that “the Scottish Government regularly reviews the guidance in light of emerging scientific evidence” with the most recent vesion published on December 17.

Ms Somerville added: “The details of the enhancements to the existing mitigations do obviously reflect the changing balance of risks following the emergence of the Omicron variant.”

But Mr Marra warned that “schools and classes have been closing for weeks”, adding that “disruption is widespread”.

He added: “Maintaining an exam diet will require new action from this government.

“What new approaches will the Cabinet Secretary take on ventilation, testing, staffing and digital learning to ensure that our children have a fighting chance of sitting these exams?”

The Education Secretary stressed that measures relating to ventilation, testing and staffing are included in the latest guidance.

She added: “We are very, very clear that we need to continue to look at what is happening across Scotland.

“My message at this point would be absolutely wanted to thank teachers and support staff for everything that they have done and will continue to do in the New Year and ask everyone to play their part in ensuring that we keep the Omicron variant as low as possible – thus allowing as little disruption to education as possible.”

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