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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces the return to school of some primary pupils from Monday – but warns of 'trade-off' on priorities in gradual easing of lockdown

By Scott Maclennan

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Schools will begin the tentative process of returning from Monday with nurseries and P1-3 allowed back alongside limited numbers of senior pupils who need access for practical work.

Education has not been able to resume in schools since the most recent lockdown was announced in December – but the recent slight improvement in infection numbers and the vaccine rollout have allowed for some change.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government was going to use the “very limited headroom it has right now” to reopen schools but warned that it is a trade-off that means the rest of the country may need to stay locked down for longer.

She confirmed the move in Holyrood along with £40 million to help local authorities with safety measures, part of £100 million package “to accelerate school recovery”.

For the remaining pupils there is unlikely to be any return to classes before mid-March as the government continues to monitor the infection situation. The situation will be reviewed with further announcements expected.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are choosing to use the very limited headroom we have right now to get at least some children back to school - because children’s education and wellbeing is such an overriding priority.

“But being able to get children back to education may mean the rest of us living with some other restrictions for longer. That is a trade-off we need to be willing to make at this stage.

“I announced two weeks ago our preliminary decision that preschool children, pupils in primaries 1, 2 and 3, and a limited number of senior phase students who need access to school for essential practical work, would return from Monday 22 February.

“I am pleased to confirm today that, in line with the advice of our expert group, this first phase of the reopening of schools will go ahead as planned on Monday.

“I want to be clear though, to give parents as much clarity as possible at this stage, that the need to properly assess the impact of this limited re-opening means we think it unlikely, at this stage, that there will be any further return to school before 15 March.

“As we consider these issues, we are of course doing everything we can to ensure that schools are as safe as possible for children, and for the education workforce.

“As senior phase pupils, teachers and school staff start to return, we will be making at-home lateral flow tests available to them twice a week, as part of a wider package of in-school mitigations.

“Comprehensive testing guidance has now been issued to schools and local authorities, and as of yesterday, more than 2200 schools had received deliveries of test kits.

“We are also publishing today updated school safety guidance, developed with the Education Recovery Group. This sets out a range of additional safety mitigations.

“And to help implement them, we will be providing local authorities and schools with an additional £40 million, as part of a wider £100 million package to accelerate school recovery.”

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