117 children have tested positive for Covid-19 since return to school

A total of 117 children have tested positive for coronavirus since Scotland’s schools reopened last month, the Education Secretary has revealed.

John Swinney announced the number of positive tests for the virus as teachers’ unions spoke out about their ongoing fears over safety inside schools.

Since pupils returned to school in August, a total of 77 youngsters aged between 12 and 17 have been found to have Covid-19, along with 40 children aged between five and 11.

The Education Secretary told MSPs at Holyrood the evidence he had seen suggested most cases were “coming within households”, describing this as the “predominant explanation” for how youngsters had contracted the disease.

But he added that overseas travel was also “resulting in quite a number of the cases”.

His comments came as a survey by the EIS teaching union found that 92% of its union representatives reported there had been no reductions in class sizes to help with physical distancing inside schools.

The survey, which attracted responses from almost 600 schools across the country, also revealed 30% of EIS representatives reported physical distancing measures were not being put in place between staff and youngsters in their school.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan described the results as “worrying reading”.

He said: “While local authorities have taken numerous steps to make schools safer, there is still much to be done to ensure that all schools are as Covid-safe as they can possibly be.

“It is clear from the results of our survey that class groups are still too large to facilitate effective physical distancing measures, potentially placing staff and pupils alike at greater risk of Covid infection.

“While this is an issue in all schools, it is a particularly acute concern in the secondary sector where older pupils are at a greater risk of developing symptoms and of spreading the virus.”

Meanwhile, separate research by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) union found almost two-fifths of teachers (38%) were “not confident” about keeping safe.

With more than 2,000 teachers surveyed, just 6% said they were “very confident” about coronavirus safety, with a further 1% “extremely confident”.

The SSTA research also found a third of teachers said physical distancing measures had not been introduced in their school building.

Seamus Searson, SSTA general secretary, said: “The majority of secondary teachers still do not feel safe in school and lack confidence in their employers to keep them safe since the reopening of schools.

“Only 7% of teachers were very confident about their return, with 38% not confident at all.”

He added: “Members highlighted that 21% of teachers felt their schools were not at all prepared in keeping staff safe, 32% slightly prepared and 35% moderately prepared. Remarkably only 12% of members said their school were very prepared in keeping staff safe.

“The lack of physical distancing in classrooms and around the school is a major worry with 33% of members reporting that physical distancing measures have not been put in place.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff is paramount and the guidance published ahead of schools reopening, which was developed in partnership with the Education Recovery Group, sets out clearly what health mitigations should be in place.

“The way in which the guidance is being implemented in schools is being kept under close review, as is any emerging scientific evidence that will help us to protect our school community.

“We continue to work with teachers, parents, trades unions, local authorities and young people’s representatives as we go through this crisis.”

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