Secondary school pupils will continue to wear masks in classrooms following the October break, Scottish Government ministers have announced.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the decision to extend existing Covid mitigations was based on the desire for a "cautious" approach after infection trends suggested the "previous sharp decline" in case numbers had begun to level off.  

It means secondary age children and young people, as well as staff in primary and high schools, will also be required to put on face coverings in communal areas or when moving around campus buildings. 

 

Leaked draft guidance suggested a range of measures would be relaxed. But ministers said the Chief Medical Officer had advised that, while current pandemic trends offer encouraging signs, proceeding cautiously would allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to take up the coronavirus vaccination.

READ MORE: Scottish schools set for big step closer to normality

Confirming that school mitigations will remain in place for now, Ms Somerville also urged continued vigilance to protect pupils and staff.

“In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time being," she said.

“Progress with vaccinating 12-15 year olds has been remarkable and is already over 40 per cent. However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher.

“This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time. 

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has announced that current Covid mitigations will be extended.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has announced that current Covid mitigations will be extended.

“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people and all education staff remains the overriding priority.

"There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

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Scottish Conservative Oliver Mundell, Shadow Education Secretary, criticised the announcement.

“This will come as a massive disappointment to pupils and parents given the SNP strongly indicated that masks in classrooms would end after the October break," he said.  

“Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with facemasks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue. These glaring inconsistencies will be difficult to comprehend for pupils and parents, especially with such an incredible uptake of the vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds."

He added: “Pupils, parents and teachers need to see a plan from the SNP for a return to normal learning as soon as possible.”

HeraldScotland: Oliver Mundell has criticised the announcement.Oliver Mundell has criticised the announcement.

However, senior figures at the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, welcomed the Government's decision.

General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS has argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete roll out of vaccinations for pupils. The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter.” 

The Government’s decisions on school mitigations are informed by clinical and public health experts, as well as the views of a number of stakeholders.

This includes the Chief Medical Officer, the National Incident Management Team and expert advice and engagement with the Covid Education Recovery Group, which is made up of representatives drawn from across the education sector.

The minutes of the meeting of the Advisory Subgroup on Education and Children’s Issues and the associated evidence supporting the latest decision will be published shortly.