Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said the closure of schools was “necessary”, but accused the Scottish Government of complacency over online learning.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that schools would be closed to all pupils except those who were children of key workers or who were vulnerable until at least February 1.
Instead, online learning would be put in place in response to a new, more transmissible Covid-19 variant which now accounts for 50% of new cases in Scotland.
Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail, Douglas Ross said he has accepted that schools should be closed temporarily.
“This new variant of coronavirus is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain.
“Based on what all the data tells us, the temporary closing of schools is painful but necessary.
“None of us wants to gamble on the health of children or their teachers,” he wrote.
But he added: “But the emphasis is on the word ‘temporary’.
“Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, warns that ordering children to stay at home poses a ‘serious risk of harm to their wellbeing’.
“We also know closures have a disproportionate impact on the poorest children. The attainment gap between those from differing social and economic backgrounds grows wider with every passing day.”
Mr Ross went on to accuse the Scottish Government of complacency over their attempts to institute online learning.
Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University had said “astonishing incompetence” from education authorities meant that pupils may not be prepared for online learning.
He also said there is “no evidence” of planning being done for fully online learning since schools returned in August.
Mr Ross wrote: “Not every child has the technology, whether computer hardware or efficient internet provision, to properly engage. Many won’t have the necessary parental support. Some will be in homes without adequate workspace or that is shared with siblings who all have different needs.
“That is why we have continually called on the SNP to prioritise education and ensure our schools, teachers and pupils were fully prepared if a return to normal learning was not possible.”
On Monday, the First Minister said that more than 50,000 devices, paid for by the Scottish Government, had been made available to the most vulnerable children since the return of schools in August, with the total expected to reach 70,000.
Mr Ross added: “The fact is Ms Sturgeon and her government have had months to prepare.
“They no longer had the excuse of surprise. To have failed to do so is a complete dereliction which betrays families across Scotland, in particular the poorest.
“Many children will suffer a tangible detrimental impact on their future opportunities.”
Education Secretary John Swinney said: “In June 2020 I announced plans for a national e-learning provision developed in partnership by e-Sgoil, Education Scotland, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Scottish Government.
“Consequently, all schools in Scotland are able to access to live, recorded and supported learning resources. We are working closely with all councils, Education Scotland and our partners to explore how we can further strengthen the overall national offer of support for e-learning.”
Schools and councils are also expected to have contingency plans in place for distance learning, Mr Swinney said.