Swine flu could force closure of Scottish schools


Clacks CouncilBy Alexander Lawrie

SWINE FLU could force the closure of Scottish schools because of costs – after councils admitted they might not be able to fund extra cover for sick teachers.

As the virus spreads in autumn teachers will be among those most at risk of infection as thousands of kids return to school from the summer break.

It has been estimated it could cost Scotland’s 32 local authorities as much as £1.5 million each day to supply extra cover for absent teachers affected by swine flu.

Councillor George Matchett, from Clackmannanshire Council, admits it might even be an easier and cheaper to simply close the schools in his area instead of shelling out a small fortune for temporary supply teachers.

And that could in turn bring huge logistical problems for parents, particularly working mums and dads.

The council is the first in the country to admit it could be forced to take such drastic action, but other local authorities have admitted school closures are a possibility.

School closures considered

Councillor Matchett said: “If swine flu causes long term absences and high rates of absences, then school closures will have to be considered.

“Finance is always an issue and although we have contingency plans in place, if those are exceeded then we will have to close down some schools.

“It could be that the infection gets so great that we have to shut the doors anyway but of course there is a limit to how much money we can spend covering for teachers.

“The government has said it is not willing to assist in helping pay for absent teachers but we feel we are well prepared for any increase in the number of infections.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said they have extra funds in place if extra cover is needed, but admitted if a large amount of staff at one of the county’s bigger schools is affected then closure would be an option.

She said: “Extra money to employ supply teachers has been made available in the event of swine flu affecting one of our schools.

“But if one of our larger schools, such as Musselburgh Grammar where there are over 1,000 pupils, is affected by the pandemic it would be a more sensible cost option to close the school down.

“Each case will, though, be measured on its own merits.”

And a spokesperson Edinburgh Council also admitted they would only close schools in “extreme circumstances”.

He said: “Our advice to schools is based on Government guidance and asks teachers to encourage pupils to take simple precautions to prevent infection. It will also make it clear that it’s business as usual for the new school year.”

The pandemic has already helped claim the lives of over 1,000 people worldwide after it emerged in Mexico and the US in April.

In Britain, 49 people with the virus have died with five of those deaths coming in Scotland.