December 4, 2020

UK coronavirus: 11 areas in Scotland to move to toughest rules; 600,000 pupils off school last week – as it happened

5.03pm GMT17:03

Afternoon summary

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4.49pm GMT16:49

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, immediately called for schools in level 4 areas to be allowed to implement blended or remote learning contingency measures.

Larry Flanagan, the EIS general secretary, said:

In areas that are now at level 4, the current policy of keeping schools operating as normal on a full-time basis is at odds with delivering effective virus suppression. It is not only about the safety of schools themselves, it’s about the role of schools in terms of local community transmission.

The EIS teaching union is currently surveying members on the prospect of industrial action as Covid-related absences of staff and pupils continue to rise.

Almost 30,000 pupils across Scotland were off school for Covid-related reasons last Tuesday, according to the most recent data available.

at 4.55pm GMT

4.34pm GMT16:34

at 5.50pm GMT

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at 4.23pm GMT

3.33pm GMT15:33

Scottish retailers say new restrictions a ‘hammer blow’ coming at ‘worst possible time’

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3.26pm GMT15:26

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3.18pm GMT15:18

Anyone disputing a fixed-penalty notice for allegedly breaching health regulations during the pandemic will effectively have to prove their innocence, a specialist criminal lawyer has warned.

Jenny Wiltshire, a solicitor at the law firm Hickman and Rose specialising in criminal cases, said those who had refused to pay a fine handed out by police or local authorities because they believed they had not broken the law will soon find themselves facing charges in court.

It is likely to become a fiercely disputed area of law. “The courts will need to define what is a ‘reasonable excuse’ [for not complying with a lockdown regulation],” she explained during a webinar organised on Tuesday by Matrix Chambers and the law firm Hickman and Rose.

Parliament did not debate the many of frequently changed regulations, Wiltshire said, and therefore “there’s no way for the courts to look at what parliament intended” – one of the normal ways for resolving opposing legal interpretations. She went on:

With these Covid offences the burden of proving [that there was a reasonable excuse] falls on the accused. This may open to challenge because it breaches the presumption of innocence [until proved guilty]. This is a perfect example of what can and does go wrong when [legislation] is rushed.

The geographical spread of Covid fixed-penalty notices was also arbitrary, with some areas having 80 times more fines imposed than others, Wiltshire added.

Lord Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, told the meeting said the Coronavirus Act and the emergency health regulations had been passed with “minimal scrutiny” by parliament. He said:

The government resorted to using [regulations under] the 1984 Public Health Act precisely because the level of parliamentary scrutiny was so low.

Lord Neuberger, the former president of the UK supreme court, said that under Britain’s constitution parliament is supreme but the pandemic had witnessed “the most draconian restrictions ever imposed on our liberty being [created] by ministerial fiat”.

at 5.52pm GMT

3.06pm GMT15:06

Around 600,000 English pupils off school last week due to Covid or Covid risk, latest figures show

Schools in England are suffering increased disruption due to the pandemic, with latest official figures showing that around 600,000 pupils were at home last week for Covid-related reasons and almost two-thirds of secondary schools were affected.

Figures published by the Department for Education revealed school attendance fell from 89.3% to 86.5% in the space of a week. The proportion of primary schools affected, reporting one or more pupils in self-isolation, doubled from 11% to 22%.

Secondary schools continued to be worse affected, with 64% sending one or more pupils home to self-isolate as of last Thursday, up from 38% the week before. More schools are also having to send larger groups of 30 or more children, up from 8/9% to 18/20% over the same seven-day period.

The vast majority of pupils missing school are away not because they are ill with Covid or suspected Covid, but because they are having to self-isolate because of a Covid risk.

Last week’s figures were more promising, showing reduced levels of Covid-related disruption, but they followed the half-term break for schools in England. Teaching unions expressed alarm at the latest increases and said the current situation was not sustainable.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

These figures show a huge increase in the number of secondary schools having to send home pupils to self-isolate. It is clear that the improvement we saw following the half-term holiday was temporary and that the situation has worsened again very quickly.

He called for schools to be allowed to use a planned rota system, with groups rotating between school and home, which would be less disruptive and in the best interests of pupils. “The government has to recognise reality. The current situation is unsustainable,” he claimed.

A Department for Education spokesperson said more than 99% of schools had been open every week since term began, adding:

The chief medical officer remains of the view that schools should remain open, and has highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children’s learning, development and mental health.

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