Cases of Covid-19 in schools will “inevitably rise” warned the First Minister following the confirmation of several cases involving primary school pupils in Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon said that none of the cases so far linked to three primary school pupils at Todholm in Paisley, Newhill in Blairgowrie, and Oakbank in Perth involve in-school transmission.
However she warned that community transmission of the virus will likely see school cases rise but the balance must be in favour of keeping schools open.
Ms Sturgeon said: "All of the cases that we have seen so far which have involved school students suggest that transmission has taken place outside of the schools not in the schools.
"That emphasises again the importance of keeping transmission rates as low as possible in the community continuing to do everything we can to drive these transmission rates as close to elimination levels as we can.
"That’s good for our overall health and well-being and the overall fight against this virus but it is also the action that will allow us to keep schools safely open.”
The First Minister said it is “overwhelmingly” more important for children to return to school full time than to not do so and said that blending learning remained a contingency if cases rose to a point where local lockdowns or specific measures were deemed necessary.
"Let’s not forget the importance of that objective. It is overwhelmingly in the best interest of young people particularly after four or five months where they have been out of school to be in full time education, the harms to them of losing out on that are considerable.
"We will, I think inevitably, see more cases which involves school students in the weeks and months ahead.
"In those cases as has happened in the ones I’ve mentioned today, contact tracers will identify if other if other students or staff at schools need to isolate and will let them and their parents know.”
In a letter sent directly to the First Minister, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, urged the government to do more to protect teachers.
It highlighted apparent contradictions in advice around physical distancing between young people, with focus on the fact those over 12 are asked to socially distance when meeting friends, but not while at school.
The EIS’ general secretary Larry Flanagan called for “stronger advice” on face coverings and more funding to help reduce class sizes.
The letter stated: “Crucially, everyone 12 and over must physically distance from everyone outside their own household. People are running the risk of spreading the virus to each other, their families and their loved ones.
"May I ask, then, why the Scottish Government thinks that it is acceptable that inside schools these rules don’t apply, where up to 33 pupils may be in a closed confined area, i.e. a classroom, with as many different households as there are people?”
“EIS members supported the decision to reopen schools as we understand the importance of education to our young people – that does not mean the very real concerns of teachers about school safety should be set aside.”
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government has made available money to train around 1,400 new teachers to help teach children in schools and did not commit to meeting the EIS’ request for 3,500 more.
The First Minister said: "The EIS are part of the education recovery group which collectively agreed that guidance and that guidance will remain under review.
"We looked particularly around physical distancing and this is where we took the scientific advice of the subgroup as to whether they are aware of particular circumstances in schools that would lead to a different position on for example physical distancing outside of schools and we set out very clearly the outcome of those.
"We debated this long and hard publicly and in parliament over the early part of the summer. Getting as much normality into young people’s education as possible is really important and we have got to do that safely but the obligation on all of us to make sure we are doing things necessary to keep Covid under control is the most important thing we can do to keep schools open.”