Coronavirus related absences among pupils in Tayside and Fife have spiked to almost 5,000 in a single day, amid repeated calls to close schools early for Christmas.
The number of pupils missing school in Dundee has reached its highest level since August, according to Scottish Government data.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon again ruled out extending the Christmas holidays this afternoon, despite 4,779 absences across the four local authority areas on Tuesday December 15.
The figures have increased by 1,500 from last week as several schools record new cases.
Pupils were isolating in the majority of cases, however the figures include children who have missed school for any virus related reason, including being diagnosed, or parents choosing to keep their children at home.
Dundee had 1,426 pupils off school on Tuesday and almost every area has been significantly affected.
In DD3, for example, there were 412 absences, while DD2 had 378 and 335 in DD5.
The record-breaking absences come as secondary schools Grove Academy and St John’s High School battle new outbreaks which have hundreds of staff and pupils in quarantine.
In Fife, virus related absences increased by almost 1,000 compared to last week’s analysis.
More than 2,600 pupils missed school on Tuesday, with postcode area KY11 recording 412 absences, followed by KY7 which had 328.
Additional COVID-19 cases are being investigated at the following schools since the last update on Wednesday.
— NHS Fife (@nhsfife) December 17, 2020
There have been single cases at Carnegie Primary and Queen Anne High School, both in Dunfermline, and Sinclairtown, Kirkcaldy and Lochgelly High School, since Wednesday.
Absences in Angus and Perth and Kinross, however, had fallen slightly to 291 and 425 respectively. Postcode areas DD11 and PH1 recorded the most absences with 108 and 151.
Will schools close early for Christmas?
The First Minister was pushed on the issue of school safety by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie at First Minister’s Questions today.
Schools in Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross break off for the holidays next Wednesday and Fife schools next Tuesday, despite pressure from the EIS teaching union to close them tomorrow.
Mr Rennie, North East Fife MSP, said: “Teachers are feeling forgotten.
“I understand the need for pupils not to miss out on yet more education but the fact is that little useful learning is going to take place in schools next week and if there is then it could be switched online because we are ready now.
“Spread of the virus in schools next week could spread the virus to vulnerable relatives at Christmas.
“Will the First Minister think again and close schools next week?”
However, Ms Sturgeon said public health advice was that children were safer in school than out.
She said: “When it comes to schools the most important thing is the education of young people and given that our young people have had a term out of school this year I think as far as is possible our objective and priority should be to have children in school for the remainder of the term and have them in school again as they go back after the Christmas period.
“That does not mean teachers are forgotten or we do not listen to the concerns that teachers have.
“It’s because we listen to those concerns and want to address them that Public Health Scotland have done a lot of analysis in terms of the impact of Covid, both on teachers in our schools and pupils in our schools.”
Public health advice would continue to be carefully monitored, she said, and added: “We are in a period again where Covid cases are rising, so that cautious and precautionary approach will continue to guide all that we do.
“But I think we should have as our priority the maintenance of fulltime, in-school education, and if that means that adults, the rest of us, have to make more sacrifices and have more restrictions then I think that’s a price we should all be willing to pay.”