EDUCATION leaders have backed Covid guidance from the SNP Government over Christmas nativity plays – warning that letting the events take place could lead to schools being closed unnecessarily.

Updated guidance published by the Scottish Government this week stated that schools cannot hold “assemblies and other types of large group gatherings”, with traditional nativity plans appearing to fall into that category.

Speaking at Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser highlighted the discrepancy in rules when public large gatherings including theatres can take place but the “important right of passage” of a school nativity remains banned.

He said: “The current guidance is saying they cannot take place in schools with parents present.

“As a parent, I can take my children to a crowded theatre or crowded cinema with lots of other people some of whom may or may not be vaccinated.

“And yet I cannot go as a parent into a school setting to watch children take part in a nativity play.”

Mr Fraser suggested whether some “local discretion” could be used on allowing nativities to be held, rather than a “blanket approach” set out in the Scottish Government guidance.

Margaret Wilson, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, warned that the guidance must be “clearly communicated”.

She told MSPs that “some are doing events and some are not”, leading to some “very frustrated parents”.

Ms Wilson said: “Where is the fairness in that?”

Gary Greenhorn, from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), pointed to the guidance and admitted that “some local authorities may interpret it differently” but insisted that the focus must be on keeping schools open.

He said: “The primary concern has got to e to keep schools safe.

“A number of schools are experiencing high levels of staff absence. There’s a fine balance to be had between increased exposure to risk and that risk can come from increased footfall to schools which we are trying in the current guidance to minimize where we possibly can.

“We have got to do everything we can to make sure we have enough staff in school to keep the schools open as far as we possibly can.”

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, warned that it would be “disrupting young people’s education” if there was “a spread of the virus which has arisen through something which did not need to happen”.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of Scotland’s biggest teaching union, the EIS, also warned against nativities being able to go ahead while the pandemic was still a challenge.

He said: “If we have outbreaks amongst staff schools will have to close because of the staffing shortages.

“Why would we potentially run an event that is going to increase the infection level in a school community, particularly in the run up period to Christmas because it could then impact on family celebrations over the Christmas period, when there are alternatives in place?”

He added: “We are in the middle of a pandemic and in primary schools, five to 11-year-olds – it’s the highest rate it’s ever been in terms of infection levels.

“We are comfortable with the guidance as it stands at the moment.”