SCOTLAND’S largest teachers’ trade union has insisted pupils and staff should continue to wear face masks in the classroom until towards the end of March as the First Minister’s advisors meet today (TUES) to review guidance on their use.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Education Institute of Scotland, said it was his organisation’s view that the requirement to wear masks should remain in place until close to the Easter holidays, which begin in April.
He spoke out as a group of government scientific advisors, chaired by Professor Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University, meet today to discuss whether to lift the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face masks in the classroom.
“The Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG) is meeting on Thursday and we will get a report from the scientific sub group after it meets on Tuesday,” he told The Herald.
“We will discuss any recommendations we get from them on Thursday. The review date on face coverings is Tuesday. If they do recommend changes those would have to be considered by CERG and by government and they wouldn’t come into effect until the February break so schools would have time to adjust.”
But he added: “Our view is that face coverings should stay in place whilst Covid numbers are still high. Professor Linda Bauld was at the last CEFG meeting and we stated that that was our views.
“We said we didn’t think there should be any change while figures were high. We still have record number of pupil and teacher absences. Despite a slight drop in infection, there has been no significant change on the impact of Covid in schools.
“Our view is that the mitigation should be there throughout the winter period. We are thinking closer to the Easter break rather than to the February break.”
Last week the First Minister told Holyrood in her Covid update last Tuesday that Covid infections continued to rise in people under 15.
“The biggest increase in the past week, of 7 per cent, was in the under-15s. However, that is significantly lower than the 41 per cent rise in that age group that was recorded in the previous week,” she said.
She later went on to say “we might be close, assuming that current trends continue, to the time when face coverings no longer need to be worn in classrooms, we have not yet reached that stage”.
She added: “No one wants young people to have to wear face coverings in the classroom for a moment longer than necessary but, given the current uncertainty about infection trends in the immediate future and the relatively high levels of Covid in younger age groups, continued caution is prudent at this stage. The subgroup will consider the issue of face coverings again at its meeting on 8 February.”
The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly demanded an end to the requirement for pupils to wear face masks.
Statistics show 1,772 teachers were absent on Tuesday because they had the illness or its symptoms. This is the highest total recorded since August 24 last year. A further 861 teaching staff were absent because they were self-isolating, shielding, quarantining or looking after another individual affected by the virus.
Separate figures also revealed high absences among pupils.
Based on the information from a February 4 update, 12% of pupils were absent from school on 2 February.
The latest figures from the Scottish Government’s annual education report indicate that there are a total of 704,723 pupils in Scotland’s schools.
With a 12% absence rate last week, it is calculated that a total of 84,567 pupils were absent on February 2.