As we approach the end of term, and the end of 2021, we can refl ect on another diffi cult year. Although many advances have been made, and the Covid vaccine programme continues to roll out, the pandemic has remained very much with us over the past 12 months.

Teachers and lecturers have remained at the front line, endeavouring to maintain a high-quality educational experience for Scotland’s young people. This has not been easy as the impact of Covid, and the necessary restrictions and mitigations guarding against it, continue to create significant challenges for us all.

The vaccination programme has clearly helped to keep instances of serious illness at lower levels than was the case at the very height of the pandemic last year. Yet, with overall case numbers still stubbornly high, there is a clear need for continuing caution in education settings and, indeed, more widely.

With the onset of winter, the challenges have become even greater. Good ventilation of classrooms is vital to improve airflow and reduce the risk of airborne spread of the virus. Clearly, this becomes significantly more challenging in the winter months as keeping windows open can result in unacceptably low temperatures for pupils and staff.

Operational challenges are heightened, also, as student and staff absences – either as a result of Covid or from other illnesses such as seasonal flu – create additional difficulties in maintaining uninterrupted learning and teaching activity.

The priority, in keeping schools open, must be to ensure that they remain as safe as possible for students and staff while delivering an appropriate environment for learning and teaching. This does, inevitably, mean that some essential mitigations must remain in place – such as the continuing use of face-coverings, strong emphasis on hand-washing and the use of sanitisers, and constraints on parental attendance in schools. These remain difficult and unwelcome restrictions for many, but they also remain essential in the continuing battle to keep education running effectively while also reducing the spread of Covid.