A headmaster has questioned why schools remain tied up in Covid restrictions while the rest of society returns to normality.
Daniel Wyatt, Rector at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow’s West End, said current arrangements were “farcical” and warned the impact on young people could be “catastrophic”.
His remarks came after Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs there would be no immediate changes to current Covid-19 guidance for schools – which includes the use of face masks by secondary pupils.
The First Minister said the situation would remain under close review, adding that any changes would be considered carefully. She also told MSPs that the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues would be meeting on Tuesday.
“We will consider carefully any recommendations it makes and we will continue to seek its advice on issues such as groupings within schools and the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings,” she added.
“On the issue of face coverings, I know young people, like many adults, want to see the back of them as soon as possible. But I also know that many young people understand and agree, especially when cases in the younger age group are rising, that face coverings do provide important protection.”
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon keeps school face mask rules
Underlining the ongoing risks posed by Covid, Ms Sturgeon stressed that there had been a 41 per cent rise in cases among the under-15s in the most recent seven days. She said the increase reflected “at least to some extent” the impact of the post-Christmas return to school.
But Mr Wyatt, whose school is one of Scotland’s top independent establishments, said the First Minister should urgently update the rules.
He said: “In the majority of schools headteachers and leaders have followed all the Government guidance to the letter and defended inconsistencies with relaxation of restrictions in other parts of life with the need to keep schools safe.
“Nightclubs are open and 50,000 people can go to watch sport, yet restrictions on pupils remain – the impact on pupils’ development and mental health could be catastrophic.
“The level of restrictions we face in school is farcical when compared to the easing of restrictions in other areas of society and we need urgent changes to Scottish school guidance.
“Many pupils will spend half of their secondary school careers in masks. While teachers have adapted extremely well, to truly understand how to interact, they really need to see their pupils’ faces.”
Mr Myatt said he completely understood safety concerns and had remained vigilant throughout the pandemic. But he added: “The numbers we are currently experiencing are extremely low. I haven’t seen compelling data that explains the inconsistencies we’re currently facing.
“An easing of restrictions will bring the fun and joy back to schools again – and that is something that is truly needed as pupils are not immune to the mental health issues of the pandemic. Pastoral staff across the country are working incredibly hard. The true impact will be clear in the years ahead.
“Having watched the data from England closely, I believe there should be an end to zoning and a staggered reduction of face coverings, starting with classes and then in corridors, breaks and lunches.
“We run clubs and choirs across all year groups and see the social development of younger and older children interacting with each other as greatly beneficial to the development and growth.
“Our choirs, orchestras and drama productions rely on year groups mixing indoors and we need this restriction lifted now to offer pupils the enrichment in our curriculum that children love.
“I speak regularly to pupils and staff and we all hear the phrase that government is ‘following the science’, however I am yet to see the data and scientific advice on why a second year pupil, wearing a face covering, cannot speak to an S1 pupil also wearing a face covering at lunchtime indoors, when the same pupils can leave school at 3.45pm and sit in a coffee shop together without masks chatting over a milkshake.
“From the start of the Spring term, we were told the January 17 review would see changes to schools guidance and yet education wasn’t mentioned.”
Mr Wyatt said he would “love to see the scientific data around face coverings and hope that we can see a relaxation of this in classes if it is safe to do so”. He added: “Pupils need to see leaders making good decisions which support academic attainment and positive school experiences, which all lead to improved wellbeing and pupil enjoyment.
“Let children talk together, eat together and sing together and let’s learn to live with the virus in a proportionate and safe manner.”