Calls for Fife schools to close early or switch to remote learning before end of term

Fife schoolchildren are being told by education bosses to stay safe in the build-up to the end of term – but opposition councillors fear that a “massive spike” in Covid-19 cases is on the way without ending it early.

Thursday, 17th December 2020, 5:12 pm
Concerns have been raised. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Last week, more than 600 pupils and 64 school staff across Fife were self-isolating due to the risk of being exposed to Covid-19, while dozens tested positive for the virus.

Fife Liberal Democrat education spokesman Councillor James Calder says the closure of schools from as late as December 23 would lead to a rise in cases over the festive period. He has called on the council to take more pressing action.

Cllr Calder said: “As we come to the Christmas period where families are likely to be mixing households, it feels as though the figures in early December in Fife’s schools are the tip of the iceberg.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“In the immediate term I am really worried that, as pupils and staff at schools mix with other households during Christmas, we are likely to see a massive spike.

“The council needs to take action over the coming days to try and mitigate this.

“While staff have been doing a great job, they need better support. I hope the council can do more to help them and pupils.”

However Fife Council’s executive director of education and children’s services Carrie Lindsay has told parents that she has “no legal authority” to close schools early or move to remote learning for the final days of term, despite calls for her to do so.

In a letter distributed this week, Ms Lindsay asked children and parents to be “extra vigilant” to the virus by wearing face coverings on school buses, not giving friends lifts to school events and to avoid meeting others in their own or other homes.

She added: “Most of our school cases are arising from contact outwith school, in the local community.

“As a local authority, we do not have the legal authority to close all schools or move all schools to remote learning in the current circumstances, according to our legal advice.

“If there is any change to national advice from either Scottish Government or Public Health Scotland, then, as always, we will take steps to make sure that we follow that guidance.”

Despite this, teachers’ union the EIS and Fife Conservative education spokeswoman Kathleen Leslie have both argued in recent days that the council should move to remote learning a week before Christmas to minimise the risk of Covid transmission during festive gatherings.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said each council would be held “solely responsible” for its decision not to move to remote learning.

The council’s education committee convener Councillor Craig Walker (SNP, Glenrothes West and Kinglassie) said: “There is no doubt that our school lives have been disrupted over 2020, but our schools have done a fantastic job keeping our young people learning and developing over that time, and keeping the spread of the virus to a minimum.

“I would urge everyone to stay safe over the festive break and continue to follow public health guidance so that we can make a positive start to 2021.”

Jon Brady, Local Democracy Reporter

Message from the editor:

Thank you for reading this article on our free-to-read website. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a subscription to our print newspaper to help fund our trusted, fact-checked journalism.