Unions raise concerns as 117 school pupils test positive for Covid-19

John Swinney provided the statistical update during Topical Questions in the Scottish Parliament today.

A total of 77 students in secondary schools and 40 primary school students have tested positive for Covid-19

Just over 100 school pupils have tested positive for Covid-19 since children returned to classrooms around the middle of August, education secretary John Swinney has said.

The deputy first minister added that the positivity rate of the total number of children tested remains below one, even in secondary school children where the number of cases were highest.

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In children aged between 12 and 17, a total of 77 positive cases have been identified while for children aged five to 11, 40 children have tested positive for Covid-19.

The positivity rate for children in primary schools was 0.1 per cent, Mr Swinney said, with the rate rising to 0.7 per cent for secondary school students.

The 117 positive tests came from a total of almost 40,000 tests taken by school pupils since schools returned on August 11.

The figures come as the largest teaching union in Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), released another survey showing concerns among teachers about the safety measure in place at their schools.

Answering questions in the chamber in Holyrood, Mr Swinney said full contact tracing is done by Test and Protect following each positive test in schools.

He added the evidence currently shows the majority of cases in school children arises from household settings or, in some cases, international travel.

In response to a question from the Scottish Conservative’s education spokesman Jamie Greene, Mr Swinney said: “Every effort is made to understand where infection has come from.

"On the evidence that I have seen, the virus is contracted mostly in household settings, not in every case, but that is the predominant explanation. It may also involve international travel, which has resulted in quite a number of the cases with which we are wrestling."

The education secretary was also challenged on calls from the Scottish Tories to supply schools with home testing kits in order to help supply.

Mr Swinney said: “I am satisfied that appropriate mechanisms are available to enable all individuals who have the symptoms to secure a test.

“Increasing numbers of tests are being undertaken. In the first week of schools being back, 1,496 tests were undertaken in the five to 11 age group. In contrast, in the week ending 30 August, the number was 17,109, which is more than a tenfold increase in testing for that age group.

"I am confident that we have an appropriate level of testing in place to meet the needs of individual young people.”

He was, however, unable to answer a question from Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart about the level of test uptake by teachers for the ‘on-demand’ tests available for staff.

Concerns were also raised by Alex Rowley, the Scottish Labour MSP for mid-Scotland and Fife, who said some teachers and schools were being forced to dip into teaching budgets to pay for anti-Covid measures such as hand-sanitiser.

Mr Swinney said the scenario “should not happen” and said the Scottish Government has put in place £50m of funding to help meet the costs so “schools can be as safe as possible”.

However the Scottish Government was also hit with another round of surveys from the EIS who reported that there was still work to be done to make teachers feel safe in schools.

Among the factors provoking the most anxiety include the lack of a reduction in class sizes, reported by 92 per cent of EIS reps in schools.

Almost a third of EIS reps said that physical distancing between staff and pupils was not in place at their school and a third reported that face coverings were not being worn in areas where physical distancing was not possible.

EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan, said the concerns around class sizes are “particularly acute” in the secondary sector where the chance teachers may become infected due to a child catching the virus are much higher.

He said: “The results of our survey of school Reps make for worrying reading. 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.”

Mr Flanagan repeated calls for the Scottish Government to pay for more teaching staff and help provide the resources for smaller classes and safer teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “Teachers and pupils have a right to work in a safe and secure environment, so all possible steps must be taken to ensure that our schools are Covid-secure. The most effective means to ensure this is through physical distancing, which will require smaller classes and an increased number of teaching staff.

"Local authorities and the Scottish Government must act urgently to step up the deployment of the additional teaching staff required to ensure that all schools can operate safely in the weeks and months ahead.”

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