Teachers have condemned a decision not to close schools early in the run-up to Christmas, with Education Secretary John Swinney accused of presiding over “another car crash”.

It comes after a leaked document suggested campuses could be shut on December 18 and re-opened again on January 11 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Holiday arrangements in Scotland vary between local authority areas.

Many schools are scheduled to close for the festive period on December 22 or 23 before returning between January 5 and 7.

In a letter published yesterday, Mr Swinney revealed he had “reached the decision not to make any changes” to planned dates.

His letter states: “The Public Health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early. In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of school for an extended period.

“The view of the Chief Social Work Adviser is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer  children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.

“Public Health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.

“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end.

“I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”

However, the development, which follows speculation that there would be a move towards some degree of remote or blended learning, has sparked the ire of teaching unions.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said his organisation “had asked that schools move to remote learning in the final week to ensure that senior staff did not find themselves having to work during the Christmas break to deal with any Covid outbreaks and also to minimise the risk for staff, pupils and parents of infections ruining the Christmas break”.

He added: “Allowing this would have helped protect staff, students and their families during the festive season and reduce the risk of pupils or teachers being required to selfisolate over Christmas – while also ensuring that education provision continued via remote learning.

“It would appear that this yet another political decision by the Scottish Government, which may thank teachers, but is unwilling to listen to them.” Seamus Searson, general secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said the decision was a “kick in the teeth”.

He added: “We were led, wrongly, to believe there would be some leeway in that schools would close earlier and re-open later, with teaching time maintained through remote learning – a precaution which would have been safer for teachers and pupils, as well as their families, over the Christmas period.”

In his letter, Mr Swinney emphasised the importance of teachers being able to enjoy a holiday without interruption due to the need to carry out contact tracing. Jane Peckham, National Official (Scotland) for the NASUWT union, stressed that it would be crucial to establish what “additional support” government would be putting in place to ensure staff get a break.

“There has been some expectation built up among the profession that there would be a decision taken to physically close schools early and reopen later, but move to remote learning until the original end of term date,” she added.

“It is disappointing that this hasn’t happened there because the whole rationale of this proposal was that it would minimise the workload for staff involved in school test and trace over the holiday period.”

Iain Gray, education spokesperson for Scottish Labour, said: “The decision is to be welcomed but only if the Scottish Government listens to the concerns of teachers and their unions and acts to make schools as safe as they possibly can be.

“The handling of this has been another John Swinney car crash.

“It was the First Minister and Deputy First Minister who flew this kite at Covid briefings, leaving parents across Scotland to worry about more lost learning time and panic about childcare.”

Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “After a complete information vacuum from the SNP, this is at last confirmation from John Swinney that pupils will not be missing out on any vital time in the classroom... [He] must now ensure that every resource continues to be in place to make sure our schools are safe places to work and learn.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of parents’ organisation Connect, said: “Whilst parents had different views about extending the school holidays, it’s really important that young people do not miss any more learning.

“Had schools been closed for additional days, we would have pushed hard for blended learning (online learning). Unfortunately, parents tell us schools are not consistently ready for delivering online learning and not all young people have access to suitable technology and/or the internet. This needs to be sorted out urgently – especially for young people who are self-isolating – before online learning is a viable alternative.”