Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th January 2021.

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The First Minister:

I agree that it will be very hard for everybody across Scotland to hear this news today and to contemplate the reality of it over the next few weeks. I reiterate to people that we do not take these decisions lightly. We agonise over them, and we announce such restrictions only if we really feel that there is no alternative. Right now, the only alternative is greater loss of life and the potential for our national health service to be overwhelmed. At this point in time, speed of action is the most important factor of all.

The decision over which we agonised most was that on the further closure of schools for the majority of pupils. The issue of schools, closed or open, has been contentious in recent weeks, and teachers and others have understandably raised concerns. However, I hope that people see from the responses and actions of the Government that we have striven, and will continue to strive, to keep schools open as normally, as often and for as long as possible. We deem today’s decision to be necessary, for the reasons that I have set out.

I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills sets out for MSPs over the next couple of days the steps that are being taken to ensure that the provision of online education is as parents want it to be and that local authorities are working to ensure that it is of a consistent quality across the country. As I indicated in my opening remarks, we have already taken steps to ensure that more young people have access to digital devices, in order to make online learning more accessible to them.

Schools and local authorities already have contingency plans in place. Advice for parents is available via the Parent Club website. Parents can also speak direct to schools for more advice. Glow, which is the national online learning platform, has seen a huge increase in users and usage since earlier last year, and we are working actively with local and national partners to enhance the online and remote learning options for pupils. That work will continue over the course of next week and for as long as is necessary.

I end my answer by reiterating that we want the measures to be in place for as short a period as necessary, for all the reasons that I think everybody understands and agrees with.