The Scottish Government is considering extending the Christmas school holidays, according to a leaked COSLA document.

Students across the country would potentially return to school on January 11, instead of between January 5 or 7 as most students and teachers currently expect. 

Yesterday, council leaders discussed the proposal from Government Ministers at a Covid-19 Education Recovery Group meeting, as a way to limit the spread of coronavirus following gatherings over the festive period.

The Daily Record reported that the leaked document included a proposal to move schools into a "temporary remote learning system" over a period of five days in December, and that council leaders were "asked for their thoughts" regarding the winter holiday period between December 19 and January 11. 

HeraldScotland: Coronavirus – Sun Nov 22, 2020

The memo, published by The Daily Record, read: “The Scottish Government are exploring a national extension to Christmas holidays covering 18th December 2020 to 11th January 2021, either on the basis of schools remaining closed or the temporary introduction of remote learning.

“The Scottish Government officials have indicated that the objectives of an extension would be to ensure that school staff are not involved in contact tracing into the Christmas period.

“An extension would act as a ‘break’ following the wider relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period.”

The document also detailed some of the concerns raised regarding the extension of the holiday period, including childcare for key workers, the calls from trade unions to move to remote teaching, exams and free school meals. 

It reads: “Early feedback from officers, SOLACE and ADES to the Scottish Government have raised the following points for consideration.

“The need to understand the clinical advice and any modelling on the impact of wider relaxation of restrictions over Christmas on school staff and pupils.

“Clarity on the links with the wider restrictions and levels as the context for schools remaining closed.

“Evidence to date from the Scottish Government has indicated that schools are low transmission risk.

“This proposal may have implications for future considerations on schools remaining open, particularly considering the concerns of trade unions. 

“There would be no opportunity for emergency childcare as this was provided by school staff previously, and therefore there is an impact on key workers and vulnerable children and young people.

“It remains unclear if early learning and childcare services will be advised to close during this period.

“Consideration over the potential loss of learning, particularly in the context of exams.

"The need for clarity on funding and ensuring that resources for free school meals etc are met.

“If a move to remote learning is required, local authorities and schools will require time to prepare.

“Practical implications including leave entitlement, 195 contract time and potential implications for pensions, the status of other school staff, honouring of contracts in place for transport, cleaning and potentially calls for no detriment to supply staff as per initial period of lockdown.”

The document was signed by COSLA’s policy manager for Children and Young People Matthew Sweeney.

It comes after the Scottish Government yesterday published its guidance in full regarding gatherings over the festive period, in which it stated up to three households will be allowed to mix over a five-day festive period between December 23 and 27.

The guidance also suggested that those planning to form a bubble should limit their social contact with others as much as possible before and after forming a bubble, to minimise transmission risks and to protect loved ones. 

A Scottish teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "If the Government is advising families to isolate before and after the school break, then they should have taken schools into consideration.

"Teachers have been brought back to school a week early and have experienced multiple cases within school.

"They shouldn’t be made to feel like they should stay away from their families just because the Government hasn't put in enough planning or preparation to close schools earlier due to these circumstances."

Meanwhile, another teacher added: "While extending the holiday period may help lower transmission among pupils, with schools closed parents will be left looking for other solutions that may not be as safe as school arrangements - which have been carefully considered and implemented."

Responding to this at the Scottish Government’s briefing on Friday, Ms Freeman said the Scottish Government “wants to give people as much notice as possible if there is to be any change at all but at this point that decision hasn’t been reached”.

She said a view based on the advice of the recovery group will be reached “as soon as we can”.

“It would be wrong to overly speculate or jump to conclusions simply because we are looking at different issues,” she said.

“But at the moment, the Deputy First Minister and his colleagues will be working through what they think is the best way for schools to enter the Christmas break and come out of the Christmas break, and that applies to colleges and universities as well.”