ALMOST 4,000 pupils have been sent home to isolate in just four weeks in one of Scotland’s areas hardest hit by coronavirus, new figures show.

North and South Lanarkshire councils confirmed that around 1,000 pupils a week in the area’s primary and secondary schools have been told to stay away from the classroom in the past month, while almost 600 youngsters tested positive for the virus.

Lanarkshire narrowly avoided being placed into the strictest lockdown tier in October after recording 8,725 new positive cases and 88 deaths. 
HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: School absence concerns.Camley's Cartoon: School absence concerns.

The First Minister said in Tuesday's briefing that level four “cannot be ruled out”, saying cases had “stabilised at a stubbornly high level’ in the area, as well as in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.

Three parts of Scotland; Fife, Perth and Kinross and Angus will also be moved from level two to level three of restrictions from Friday, while no areas were downgraded.

South Lanarkshire Council released figures to The Herald showing that 1,999 pupils were sent home to isolate last month with 375 positive cases recorded while in the north of the region, 2,000 pupils were kept off and 200 pupils tested positive. The total number of pupil cases - 575 - represented around 6.6% of the total number of positive tests (8725) in October. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus Scotland: What is the Covid-19 rate in my local authority area 

It emerged last week that more than one in five of the pupils at a secondary school in New Stevenston, near Motherwell were self-isolating after an outbreak of coronavirus.

Concerned parents at Taylor High School, the six-year Roman Catholic comprehensive secondary school, which caters for around 900 pupils, had called for the temporary closure of the school as more than 200 mainly pupils were sent home to self isolate after several children tested positive.

Across Scotland the number of absentees as a direct result of Covid-19 has risen by three-and-a-half times since children returned to schools in August.

And since the October holiday, in the space of 12 days, the numbers soared from 8,295 to 23,511 last Wednesday.

Edinburgh City Council said 64 pupils tested positive in October but figures were not available for Glasgow at the time of writing.

Both the Scottish and UK governments are determined to keep schools open.

But unions have told The Herald that school closures must remain on the agenda and say “much more” needs to be done to keep teachers and pupils safe whilst schools remain open fully.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Fife, Perth and Kinross and Angus moved to level 3 restrictions 

Parents have also expressed concern about the number of cases, saying not all families are in favour of schools remaining open.

Ciara MacLaverty, who has two children and lives in Glasgow, said: “I got a private message from an old friend who is a secondary teacher who said, ‘Brace yourself, I caught Covid a month ago and it spread to most of my pupils…and their parents.

“She told me teachers sign a contract not to discuss schools on social media but secretly, staff rooms are ‘aghast’. 

“I think the Scottish Government are getting many things right in this battle, but they are getting schools wrong. They got universities wrong. 

“If community transmission is finally lowered via lockdown, schools could be re-opened and made safer by measures such as smaller class bubbles, mandatory masks in class and increased ventilation (HEPA air filters, proven to lower transmission are less than £100).

“My teacher friend ended her chat by saying – ‘Just know you’re totally right on this, and it’s mental more people don’t get it’.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives warned an attendance gap between pupils from the most and least deprived areas during the Covid-19 pandemic could create an “unforgivable legacy”.

Analysis by the party found that the percentage of children from deprived backgrounds that are off school was double that of pupils from the wealthiest areas. 

READ MORE: Scotland should follow England and cancel all 2021 school exams 

That compares with 2.1% of pupils from the least deprived parts of the country who have been absent on average, according to the most recent seven days of data.

On school days between October 26 and November 3, the attendance rate for pupils from the most deprived areas was 87% on average, compared with 95% for children in the least deprived areas.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene argued more needs to be done to support pupils who are missing school for coronavirus-related reasons.

Asked about the disparity after her coronavirus statement at Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “There will be a number of reasons why the differentials in attendance figures at schools are as they are.

“We look at that carefully, we look at attendance figures at schools on a daily basis and the Deputy First Minister in particular pays closest attention to them.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing is to take all of the necessary steps to support children to be at school and to support our schools to stay open for as long as possible through this pandemic.

“That’s what we are very focused on and where we think there is a need to have additional measures in place to support that, or indeed provide additional help, we will always consider doing so.”