Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, has written to parents and carers of nursery and primary age children explaining the reasons behind the decision for younger children to return to school.
Within the letter – which will be shared by Head Teachers across the country, including Orkney, on behalf of Mr Leitch – he outlines how the decision, as always, has been informed by a range of scientific and clinical evidence.
Mr Leitch states: “I know that many parents and carers will be pleased that their children are able to return to their early learning and childcare (ELC) setting or to school next week. Some families might have concerns about safety.
“One key finding is that younger children are less likely to get or pass on the virus. Because of this, and the measures that are in place, we know that ELC settings and schools are low risk settings for these children and school staff.
“It is natural to be nervous about the return to ELC and school, especially with the news of different variants of coronavirus. We want to reassure you that the decision to allow more children to return was based on very careful consideration of the risks and benefits by experts on the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues.”
Mr Leitch points out that the Sub-Group reviewed evidence on numerous factors such as the state of the pandemic in Scotland; transmission among young children and in ELC settings and schools; and the wider impacts of the current restrictions on children and families.
He continued: “The evidence continues to show that younger children are less likely to catch or pass on the virus than older children and adults. The decision to prioritise the return to ELC and early primary also reflects the role that those very early stages play in supporting children’s development, and the challenge of delivering this crucial support remotely.”
With the return to ELC and P1-3, national guidance has been updated, and settings will be reviewing their risk assessments and may be enhancing some of their own measures.
Mr Leitch added: “Our key focus is on reducing the risk of adult-to-adult transmission, as well as wider community transmission. We know that we need to continue to reduce contact between adults, including both staff and parents/carers.”
With this in mind Mr Leitch has asked for the assistance of parents and carers in continuing to wear a face covering both at drop off and pick up time, but also if there are congested areas nearby. It should be limited to only one adult at drop off/pick up time. Social distancing should be maintained and car sharing and the use of public transport should be limited.
Everyone must continue to be vigilant for any symptoms in households, and to follow the Test and Protect guidance if anyone displays symptoms.
Mr Leitch said: “It is important that we don’t treat the return to school/ELC as an indication that we can relax the rules elsewhere, as this could lead to an increase in community transmission. While children are mixing at their ELC settings or school, it’s still important that they don’t start having indoor play dates at home. We know it is important for children’s wellbeing to be able to play with friends, but, for now, it’s really important that this is outdoors.
“There are two reasons for this - we need to take things slowly. With some children returning to ELC and school, we will be able to monitor the impact this has. If we go back to ‘normal’ we risk increasing transmission to levels that mean we need to close schools and childcare settings again.
“Secondly, household mixing in our home environments is likely to be higher risk than mixing in ELC settings or schools, where adherence to strict guidance is monitored. Simply put, children are more likely to pass on the virus to each other in the home environment.”
Mr Leitch stressed that parents and carers should continue to work from home when able to do so.
As previously announced by the First Minister, Mr Leitch reiterated that children in P4-S3 will not be returning to school on 22 February, with the exception of key worker and vulnerable children who are already attending when necessary.
“We are unlikely to have more children return to school before 15 March, at the very earliest. If your child is in S4-S6 you will be aware that a very limited number of senior phase learners will return next week on a part-time basis for essential in-school practical work only.
“There will also be small increases in children and young people with additional support needs attending school where there is a demonstrable and immediate need but it remains too soon to make any further commitments regarding all other in-person provision. Schools will be in touch about what this means for individual pupils.
“This is hard for all families, but the continued restrictions at home and across society are enabling us to reopen ELC and P1-3 from 22 February.”