MINISTERS have been warned that that further Covid-19 Christmas restrictions which have led to an extended closure for schools presents a "serious risk" to children's well-being and their human rights.

The Children and Young People's Commissioner for Scotland, Bruce Adamson has raised concerns that the Covid-19 curbs  have affected rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

In September ministers were seeking to become the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the UNRC into domestic law.

The UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard.

As part of new Covid restrictions to curb a spread of a new faster-spreading strain of the virus, the First Minister said schools will return later than originally planned after the Christmas holidays.

Ms Sturgeon said they should resume from January 11, with learning taking place online until at least 18 January.

But Mr Adamson has warned that closing schools presents a "serious risk of harm to the wellbeing of children and young people, and to the fulfilment of their rights".

He said the closure "must be limited and defined and under review".

And he said the decision must be backed up by swift, national action to ensure that children and families are able to engage with learning. Further support was required, particularly for vulnerable children who are most affected by such decisions.

Additional supports for teachers trying to deliver online learning as well as in class learning must be put in place, he said.

He said the Scottish Government "must prioritise" supporting children and families facing another period of school closures by ensuring the national roll out of digital devices has reached all in need, consistent online learning support, and direct payments to families eligible for free school meals.

The Herald:

The Herald has previously revealed criticism by teachers for the 'failure' of its 13-year-old Scottish schools digital network to provide teaching to children in state schools during the coronavirus lockdown. 

READ MORE: How 'blended learning' has returned to Scottish schools

Mr Adamson says he is raising his concerns directly with the Scottish Government and said whilst he supported the government’s focus on the right to health and understood the decision to close schools for a limited and time, he warned that children’s education and mental health cannot be sacrificed.

He said: “The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency for Scotland, but since schools first closed in March I have been clear that this is a children’s human rights emergency as well. In order to tackle coronavirus we must support the government’s focus on the right to health — and, indeed, the right to life – but we must do everything in our power to mitigate the significant impact on children. Many of the concerns I have raised all year with the Government must be addressed as a matter of urgency before online learning begins on 11th January.”

He said he remains deeply concerned that support for online learning is being provided "inconsistently" across the country and there is not enough national guidance and support for schools from Scottish Government.

"Inconsistent" delivery of online learning, between local authorities and individual schools, "continues to widen the attainment gap" between rich and poor children and young people.

He said there is no nationally agreed resource to direct the provision of online learning.

Mr Adamson added: “Many children and young people have had continued problems accessing online learning during periods of self-isolation, especially those with disabilities, and those from families on low incomes and families with one parent. We know that parents and carers are doing their very best to support children to learn at home but they need help to do so. The Scottish Government must ensure that every child that needs a device to access education, has one and can access meaningful support for education online.

“Teachers are doing an incredible job in supporting children to learn both at school and online but they must be properly supported with more digital resources, additional staffing where possible and the acknowledgement that many will be working with their own children at home at the same time.”

Pupils sitting National Qualifications this year also needed "urgent reassurance" about how their progress will be assessed.

“I have particular concerns for senior students who are still awaiting details on the alternative assessment approach to their qualifications," he said. "Hearing about the alternative to exams when at home and with limited access to support from teachers will create more stress at an already anxious time. Young people need reassurance that alternative assessment will be fair and take account of the interruptions they have experienced to their learning since March.

“We were already concerned about increasing rates of poverty and declining mental health. Our focus must be on ensuring health and wellbeing is prioritised and ensuring help is put in place while schools are closed, including through direct payments for those entitled to free school meals.

"I am raising my continued concerns directly with the Scottish Government as although local authorities and schools deliver education, Ministers continue to have the ultimate responsibility to ensure children’s rights to education and mental and physical health are realised.”