LESS than half of Scotland's councils have confirmed they can comply with a safety demand from teachers that behaviour policies for schools should contain an ability to exclude pupils that refuse to obey coronavirus rules on their return to school.

It has emerged the teachers union NASUWT in Scotland told councils that education chiefs should make a provision to be able to sanction, up to and including exclusion, pupils who wilfully refuse to adhere to arrangements of distancing and deliberately coughing or spitting at pupils or staff, putting them at risk.

The demand came in a health and safety checklist provided to education authorities stipulating the key steps which must be factored into the re-opening of schools.

The NASUWT expected that all steps would be completed prior to opening the school to pupils.

It says that the key issues checklist issued just before the schools returned took into account Government and Public Health Scotland guidance on planning for opening of schools and was to be amended as appropriate in the context of any changes to this guidance.

READ MORE: No routine testing for all teachers or pupils on school return

But after asking all 32 councils, the Herald has discovered that just 14 confirmed that their policies cover the potential for exclusion of pupils for wilful breaches of social distancing as outlined by the union.

Of those, only two, Moray and West Dumbartonhire councils said they had adjusted or updated their policies to cover excluding pupils over serious breaches of coronavirus rules.

A Moray Council spokesman said they had updated its 'positive behaviour policy', adding: "In the first instance we will contact parents if children and young people are not adhering to health and safety requirements. However, if there is a serious breach of health and safety then a head teacher can exclude a pupil.

West Dunbartonshire Council said it had introduced a specific Covid behaviour policy in all schools which covered what the NASUWT called for.

Twelve councils said they believed the sanction was available to them already under their existing protocols. They were Aberdenshire, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, North Ayrshire, Orkney, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Glasgow and Inverclyde.

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: "Under our normal exclusion polices our teachers would be able to evoke these if they thought the behaviour warranted it...but it would be on a case by case basis."

Four councils said that they had no such provision, either within exisiting protocols or as a new adjustment. They were East Lothian, Highland, Midlothian and Aberdeen.

A Highland Council spokesman said: "Our emphasis will be on a nurturing approach, especially to the more vulnerable groups of children and young people."

Meanwhile North Lanarkshire Council said there was no related council-wide behaviour policy while Perth and Kinross Council said that it was left to individual schools and that exclusion was a "last resort".

It comes after NASUWT put Scottish councils and the government "on notice" earlier this month on potential legal consequences over concerns over safety with the re-opening of schools.

In a stark letter to education directors, the union in Scotland said it was warning employers and the Government that it was "reserving our members’ legal rights" over any issues arising from the return to full-time education.

The union said employers have found the timescale for completing their plans for next week's opening "very challenging" and said it was aware that a number were unable to complete them before the end of the summer term.

A survey by the NASUWT teacher's union in early July revealed that nearly half of teachers who responded did not feel prepared to return to their school or college in August and just 22% said they felt safe or very safe as a result of the provisions their employer was putting in place to mitigate the risks of Covid-19.

Last week calls were made for schools to be provided with Covid home testing kits so that youngsters from "chaotic backgrounds" to not struggle to access testing.

Jamie Green, the Scottish Conservatives' education spokesman said the move would protect the most vulnerable pupils.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT said in response to the findings: "It is important that schools have in place robust measures to support the safety of all staff and pupils.

The Herald:

"Good pupil behaviour is also key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus in schools.

"Ensuring that schools are Covid-secure means that everyone must follow the rules. Where a pupil refuses to follow safety rules or acts in a manner that could put the health and safety of other pupils or staff at risk, then headteachers must be supported in taking appropriate measures, including exclusion, in order to ensure the safety of everyone."

The analysis of responses from local authorities to the Herald on Sunday over the coronavirus provision over the space of three days found that ten local authorities were unable to say whether requested NASUWT action could be taken under existing or new protocols. They were Edinburgh, Angus, Renfrewshire, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Fife and Stirling.

Ann Davie, deputy chief executive at East Dunbartonshire Council would only say: "Our schools have reopened in line with all current government and public health advice. Procedures are in place across all our educational establishments which are designed to keep everyone safe. Pupils, staff and parents are working together to support the school community and enure that the highest safety standards are maintained during this unusual and challenging time."

Dumfries and Galloway Council added: "Health and safety remains our main priority and we'll take every possible step to address concerns and reiterate to pupils and staff that our behaviour policies address Covid-19 issues."

And East Renfrewshire Council added: “All our schools have the necessary processes in place to adhere to all Scottish Government guidance relating to Covid-19. Any unacceptable behaviour in schools is managed in line with our standard procedures.

"There won’t be anything further added to this."

Two others - Dundee and East Ayrshire - did not respond at all.

On Thursday NHS Lothian said that a total of 88 pupils and eight staff members who were in close and sustained contact with infected pupils have been told to self-isolate for 14 days as a precautionary measure.

The schools affected are Granton Primary, Dalry Nursery and Primary, Lasswade High, Balbardie Primary, Preston Tower and Dalkeith High.

On Wednesday there were more than 75 cases of coronavirus confirmed among pupils and teachers in Scottish schools in the less than two weeks since they were reopened.

There have been positive cases at schools in Tayside, Lanarkshire, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, West Lothian, Fife, Highlands, Grampians and the Borders.

As of Friday, an outbreak at Kingspark School in Dundee saw an 36 cases believed to be connected.

This included at least 21 members of staff, two pupils and eight community contacts.