PROPOSALS to extend school Christmas holidays to mitigate staff and pupils having to self-isolate in January have been backed by Scotland’s largest teaching union – but ministers are yet to decide whether to press ahead with the move.

The Scottish Government’s education recovery group considered extended the break from December 18 to January 11 on Thursday – but ministers are still mulling over whether to pursue the overhaul.

It is thought that the extension, which could consist of full clsoures or blended learning with pupils studying form home, is being driven to ensure school staff are not inolved in contact tracing during the festive period.

The shift would have implications for parents weighing up work and childcare priorities, but a decision is set to be made “as soon as we can”, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman stressed.

A leaked memo from the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, Cosla, warned that extending the Christmas holidays “may have implications for future considerations on schools remaining open”, pointing to specific fears from teaching unions around the safety of staff.

It adds: “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.”

The Health Secretary insisted that the priority for the Scottish Government remains to “look at how we maintain our commitment which is about keeping our schools open”.

Ms Freeman said that the investigations by the education recovery group into whether schools could close for longer would have taken place “regardless of whether there were any easing of restrictions over the festive period” - rubbishing speculation the public could expect to follow a similar rules following the relaxation of rules.

She added: “They will come to their conclusions and I have no doubt the Deputy First Minister will set out the steps that he wants to see schools take for a successful return after the festive break.

“We’re very conscious that parents and teachers and kids at school want to know what is going to happen. We will make sure that we reach a view based on that advice from that expert recovery group and make sure that we reach a view as soon as we can so that people do have advanced notice.

“We want to give people as much notice as possible if there is to be any change at all. At this point, that decision hasn’t been reached.”

The Health Secretary added that the wider conversation about measures before and after the Christmas period will also apply to colleges and universities.

The EIS union’s general secretary, Larry Flanagan, who sits on the education recovery group, has supported the principle of schools potentially closing for longer over Christmas on safety grounds.

He said: “The EIS believes that there is a strong case to be made for extending school closures during the winter break to reduce the risk of any increase in infections during this period spreading throughout school communities, to help ease staffing pressures, and to protect the festive season for families.

“Whether this is based on initiating remote learning during the period of the extension, or a straight increase in the length of the Christmas and New Year holiday, the EIS would support this in the interests of the health and wellbeing of pupils, staff and their families.”

But the Scottish Conservatives have warned that all pupils must have access to adequate technology if blended learning plans are rolled out after the Christmas period.

The party’s education spokesperson, Jamie Greene, said: “We want young people to grow up to have the best careers possible and any further watering down of their class time must be properly catered for at home.

“Every child should have access to proper IT equipment and learning materials to ensure they don’t fall behind with their studies.”

Mr Greene added: “We should not underestimate the enormous pressure an extended Christmas break would put on countless working parents and every effort should be made to support them.

“Re-opening key worker hubs to share the burden of child support is a must if an extended break does get the go ahead.”