Conservative calls to scrap mandatory masks in Scotland’s secondary schools were disputed by teaching unions in a row over the timetable for easing restrictions.
Nicola Sturgeon was begged to relax Covid measures in classrooms as she confirmed other virus restrictions would be eased from January 24.
The first minister defended her cautious approach in Holyrood before Westminster confirmed on Wednesday face coverings were being ditched down south.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has urged the SNP to follow suit, while the leader of a school parent group said she wants to see them go as well.
But teaching unions resist the pressure, saying masks are an effective way to keep Covid transmission down.
‘Strong evidence needed to scrap face masks’
The EIS teaching union said compulsory coverings had proven “invaluable” so far and “strong evidence” would be needed for them to change their stance.
General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Any review of current mitigations is entirely dependent on the level of Covid infections being experienced in schools and communities.
“Given the current high levels, the retention of the pre-summer mitigations has proven to be invaluable and there would need to be strong evidence before any change should be considered.”
Margaret Wilson, who chairs the National Parent Forum of Scotland, told the Holyrood education committee that parents are split on the issue.
She revealed some mums and dads want stronger protections in place, while others want restrictions in schools scrapped entirely.
We don’t support the continued use of face masks.
– Margaret Wilson, National Parent Forum of Scotland chair
But she added that the parent group no longer backs them – and warned schoolkids face some of the harshest measures in the country with other curbs being eased.
Ms Wilson said: “We don’t support the continued use of face masks. We would be asking for it to be reviewed on a regular basis.
“There’s not a clear consensus on the use of them with parents. Some parents don’t want any mitigations in school whereas some of them want every mitigation, so we do represent a wide range of views, but we certainly don’t support the continued use of them.
“We have asked for evidence why they need to be used. It was in our feedback this week for the Covid-19 Recovery Group.”
The SNP were criticised earlier this month over their approach to schools with demands for improved safety.
It was claimed the Scottish Government must do more to improve ventilation in classrooms.
Nicola Sturgeon later confirmed schools would be given an extra £5 million to help improve airflow during lessons.
‘Bottom of the pile’
During a parliament meeting, Tory MSP Oliver Mundell claimed education was being left at “the bottom of the pile” as other Covid rules are relaxed.
But a second teaching union said they would back measures currently in place for the “foreseeable future”.
A spokesperson for NASUWT teaching union said: “We support the recommended mitigaton measures to stop the spread of the virus in schools.
“A number of scientists have already cast doubt on the wisdom of the decision in England to remove the need for masks or face coverings.
We would argue for the retention of all mitigation measures in Scottish schools for the foreseeable future.
– NASUWT spokesperson
“Though positive case numbers may be dropping generally, this does not extend to many children of school age, where case numbers remain high.
“In these circumstances, we would argue for the retention of all mitigation measures in Scottish schools for the foreseeable future.”
Former Scottish Lib Dem boss Willie Rennie said: “We want to see the end of mark wearing in schools as soon as possible but teachers, staff and pupils need to feel safe and they must approve of any change in policy.
“Teachers overwhelmingly support the requirement to wear face masks at present.”