Scottish schools look set to take a big step closer to normality, with draft guidance indicating a raft of Covid restrictions are to be eased or removed following the October holidays.

The guidance - a copy of which has been seen by The Herald - states “baseline” mitigations will apply in buildings after pupils return. It means face coverings will not be a requirement in classrooms for secondary learners, although they may wear them if and when they wish to.

In-person, multi-class and multi-year group parents’ evenings are also to be allowed, along with assemblies and other gatherings of pupils and staff. Schools will be able to remove one-way systems, while staggered times for lunch and breaks, as well as for picking up and dropping off children, will no longer be required.

Physical distancing among learners will not be needed. However, staff will be asked to continue maintaining a distance of at least one metre from other adults.

Local authorities and schools will implement revised guidance “as soon as practicable” from the start of the new term.

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It comes after the Coronavirus Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues said that, given decreasing case rates across all ages, current evidence on the state of the pandemic, and the efficacy of the national vaccination programme, it would be appropriate “at this time” to move to baseline mitigations in schools.

Retained measures include the need for a person to self-isolate if they experience symptoms or receive a positive Covid test result, or because they have travelled or been identified as a household contact. Among others set to stay are: the use of face coverings in certain parts of a school building, such as communal areas; robust processes for hand hygiene and surface cleaning; an ongoing focus on ventilation and deployment of CO2 monitors; twice-weekly, asymptomatic LFD testing for secondary age children and young people, as well as for school staff.

The draft guidance, which The Herald understands was issued at the end of last week and is subject to change, states: “The baseline mitigations for schools are designed to bring a greater sense of normality to schools, while also continuing to provide essential reassurance to children, young people and staff that schools are a safe environment.”

It adds: "This guidance is not an instruction for schools to return to previous practice that pre-dates the pandemic. Instead, it enables the removal of some further mitigations after the October break in a way that is intended to support outcomes for children and young people in a proportionate and responsible manner." 

Union figures have expressed concern. A spokesman for the SSTA said: "All existing mitigations must be kept in place as teachers do not have the option to remove themselves from a classroom if they feel unsafe.

"Teaching in a classroom with up to 30 pupils where only a small proportion of the pupils are vaccinated for up to an hour or more is still a risk that could be avoided. We need a national message without any relaxations in any area as it will only cause confusion. The last thing schools need is confusion with mitigations and further disruption to schooling that will impact on national qualifications in 2022."

HeraldScotland: Removal of the need to wear masks in class is one of the measures set out in the draft guidance.Removal of the need to wear masks in class is one of the measures set out in the draft guidance.

An EIS spokesman said: “Whilst infection levels in relation to schools are falling they are still high so continued caution is required before any mitigations are lifted. Face coverings in public areas of school continue to be required, therefore.

"Any proposal to remove pupil face coverings whilst they are seated, should be linked to a significant increase in the vaccination uptake amongst secondary pupils, which is progressing but still in the early stages.”

Parents’ organisation Connect welcomed the draft guidance. Executive Director Eileen Prior said: “We are pleased that the importance of parents’ involvement in their child’s school life is being recognised by the proposed changes. 

"It is imperative that schools communicate regularly with parents about children's learning - parents have the legal right to be involved in their child's education. We welcome the ongoing opening of schools to parents/carers as and when they need to access staff, services and information."  

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Oliver Mundell, Shadow Education Secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "The proposed changes to mask wearing, and the return of parent evenings are a welcome move. 

"The SNP must now outline a route map for the removal of the remaining mitigations in our schools, so our young people can return to normal learning as soon as possible.”

A spokesman said the Scottish Government’s decision to ease school mitigations would be “informed by the views of a number of stakeholders”, adding: "This includes the expert advice and agreement of the Covid Education Recovery Group, which is made up of representatives drawn from across the education sector. In reaching a decision, it is vital that their views are considered.

“The Cabinet Secretary will consider this advice and intends to make an announcement with further updates on school safety mitigations, as soon as possible – as already set out by the First Minister.”