PRIMARY schools which are refusing to take pupils outdoors to witness the solar eclipse are missing the "learning opportunity of a lifetime", Scotland's Astronomer Royal has said.


Professor John Brown, from Glasgow University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, voiced his concerns after some headteachers said they would keep pupils indoors for the event on Friday morning.

Looking directly at the sun at any time can damage eyesight, but there are a number of ways to experience an eclipse safely such as using specially-designed viewers, a pin-hole camera or even a bucket of water.

Mr Brown said: "I can understand in this day and age of the American-style litigious society that schools are concerned they could be liable if something happens to pupils.

"But the truth is that pupils know not to look at the sun directly and even if they try to it will be far too bright and it is ridiculous and tragic to keep them indoors.

"This is one of the very few opportunities to see a solar eclipse and it is a great shame if schools cannot do some advance planning, get parents on board and make sure it can be done safely outdoors."

Eileen Prior , executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the reality was schools would err on the side of caution.

She said: "There is a huge amount of material available to teachers to help them make most of learning around an eclipse, but managing it safely for a class of primary school children outdoors is a big ask for a teacher."

"For many schools, the opportunities in class and the risks of damage to eyesight are likely to make in-class learning a much more attractive option than trying to keep young ones safe during the live event.

"Many parent, too, are very conscious of the very real risks associated with this kind of activity and so schools will no doubt take into account the opinions of parents in making a decision as to what activities they will organise."

Concerns were raised after a number of Scottish primary schools decided not to allow pupils outside during the solar eclipse.

Pupils at Newmachar Primary, in Aberdeenshire, had been expecting to watch the event through special protective glasses, but the plan has now been pulled.

Headteacher Paul Rooke wrote to parents last week informing them of his decision, which he said had been made after "careful consideration of health and safety advice".

Mr Rooke referred to an online report which suggested the glasses may be too big to be worn securely by children, and that children under 10 should only watch the eclipse on TV or with an indirect viewer.

Parents said they were disappointed their children would miss out on witnessing the phenomenon, which will not reoccur in Britain until 2026.

Euan Pittendreigh, whose children Lilly and Luka go the school, said: "It just seems like a little bit too much political correctness. I understand that it's for the kids' safety, but if the glasses fit my kids correctly I'd let them see it."

Aberdeenshire Council's director of education and children's services Maria Walker said last night: "Schools will decide individually on activities to watch the eclipse and will do so safely."

Most councils contacted by The Herald said they were allowing to schools to decide what arrangements should be in place during the eclipse.

Staring directly at an eclipse carries the risk of permanent damage or even blindness unless specialist lenses or devices are used to protect the viewer from the destructive ultraviolet and infrared rays of light.

Although the moon is expected to block out 98% of the sun's light, even staring at the remainder of it for too long can cause irreparable damage to the eye.

Advice from the Royal Astronomical Society states: "There are various ways to observe it safely, using eclipse viewers, colanders, pinhole viewers, and mirrors."

Cloud is forecast to cover many parts of the country and some could miss out on Friday's solar eclipse, but it is too early to say which ones according to the Met Office.

A spokeswoman said "We are looking at quite a cloudy end to the week, but it is just a little bit early to make predictions whether there will be breaks in the cloud."