The wearing of face masks in schools would not be “conducive” to the education experience according to the Deputy First Minister.
Speaking at an online meeting of the Education and Skills committee, John Swinney addressed questions from MSPs about the conflicting advice being given on the use face coverings in schools.
Ross Greer, who is an MSP for the Scottish Green Party, was among those who highlighted that despite face coverings being required to be worn in shops and on public transport by anyone over the age of five, school pupils will not have to wear one when they return to classrooms next month.
But Mr. Swinney argued that this decision was due to advice which suggested wearing a face covering for a prolonged period would hinder the education experience of pupils.
He said: “The judgement that was arrived at in the guidance was essentially predicated on the fact that in a school environment or over a sustained period of time, the wearing of face coverings might not be conducive to a satisfactory educational experience.
“We have to be willing as part of the re-opening of schools process to revisit particular issues that emerge and if we think there is a need to take further action, we should be open to do so.
“The education recovery group has produced guidance based on the information that is available but as colleagues will know, there is a rapidly expanding information base on Covid which may well require us to do different things at different times.”
The education secretary did however stress that face coverings would be required if social distancing between staff and pupils could not be maintained.
He explained: “In a situation where members of staff are present within classrooms, they are encouraged to maintain physical distancing from pupils.
“There will be limited opportunities to social distance in secondary schools where for example the capacity of schools is very high.
Stephen McCabe, Children and Young People Spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
“But where that is not possible the guidance supports some form of face covering to be worn by members of staff.”
Stephen McCabe, Children and Young People Spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) added: “There will absolutely be circumstances where face coverings will be required and they will be determined by risk assessments carried out at school level.
“It’s a huge challenge of returning to school. I think there is also the issue of building confidence in schools and there is a lot of anxiety in the school and wider community.
“While the scientific advice may not suggest that face coverings will be required in these circumstances, there is a degree of trying to address that anxiety.”
The committee also raised questions over the ability of secondary schools to ensure social distancing between pupils following on from last week’s advice that they should take “practical” steps to achieve this.
This prompted an admission from COSLA’s Stephen McCabe that it would not be possible to do so in every secondary school across Scotland.
He said: “The guidance won’t be applicable in all circumstances.
“There will be limited opportunities to social distance in secondary schools where for example the capacity of schools is very high.”
John Swinney added: “The guidance gives examples of how social distancing can be achieved and undertaken.
“For example, through the use of space in schools and the encouragement of social distancing between young people.
“By that measure we can engage young people in the learning process and enable them to reconnect with their education.”