Covid Scotland: School pupils to continue to wear face coverings after October holidays
The requirement for school pupils to wear face coverings will be extended beyond the October holidays, the Scottish Government has said.
The measure was initially put in place from the start of term until a review point at the October break.
It has now been extended, amid continuing high Covid cases and to allow more time for 12 to 15 year olds to take up the offer of a vaccine, the government said.
Secondary school children will need to wear face coverings in classrooms, communal areas, or when moving around school buildings.
Staff will be required to wear coverings in both secondary and primary schools.
The extension was welcomed by teaching union EIS.
General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS has argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete roll out of vaccinations for pupils."
"The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter."
The Scottish Conservatives, who have been vocal in opposition to face masks in schools, criticised the move.
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Oliver Mundell said the decision would come as a “massive disappointment” to children and parents, “given the SNP strongly indicated that masks in classrooms would end after the October break”.
He added: “Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with facemasks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue.
“These glaring inconsistencies will be difficult to comprehend for pupils and parents, especially with such an incredible uptake of the vaccine in 12-15 year olds.
“Pupils, parents and teachers need to see a plan from the SNP for a return to normal learning as soon as possible.”
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the government had opted for a “cautious approach” as Covid case numbers have recently plateaued.
“In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time-being,” she said.
"Progress with vaccinating 12-15 year olds has been remarkable and is already over 40 per cent. However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher."
Currently just under half of 12-15 year olds have been given a vaccine, alongside three quarters of 16 to 17 year olds.
Ms Somerville added: “This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time.
“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff, remains the overriding priority.
"There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”