PRIORITISING the Covid vaccination of teachers and school staff is an "obvious step to take" ahead of the phased return to full-time learning, according to the local branch of Scotland's largest teaching union.

Members of the Argyll and Bute arm of EIS have urged caution as some pupils prepare to resume classes on Monday, February 22.

The union has also questioned the timing of the announcement to allow certain children back into schools when the country's Covid case rate had yet to be sufficiently suppressed.

Earlier this week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that youngsters in P1-P3 will resume full-time learning in primary schools from Monday, while some senior pupils will also return to secondary schools for key coursework classes.

Although the local EIS association is "supportive of a staggered return to face-to-face teaching as soon as possible", it warned "these decisions should not override safety concerns and teachers and school staff will be understandably nervous around Tuesday’s announcement".

A spokesperson for the Argyll and Bute branch of EIS said: "For a pandemic to be under control the World Health Organisation states that positivity should be below five per cent for 14 days. Scotland currently sits around six per cent.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute Covid rates 'remain stubbornly high' as health board issues warning

"We would urge caution and ask why are we proceeding with a return of P1-3 in full classes next Monday before this threshold has been achieved?

"We fully understand that online learning has been extremely challenging for all concerned - pupils, teachers, parents, and carers. It may come as a measure of relief to parents and carers of early years and P1-3 children that a return will mean experiencing the social interaction, support, and security that schools provide.

"Many teachers will share this view and may welcome a return to the classroom but not at any cost."

On Thursday it was revealed that Scotland's daily test positivity rate is 3.8 per cent, down from 5.2 per cent.

Meanwhile Argyll and Bute Council has announced that Covid home testing kits are to be made available to staff and senior pupils when Helensburgh and Lomond’s schools begin their phased return to class next week.

The local authority says that testing staff and pupils who are not showing symptoms of the virus will enable anyone who does test positive to self-isolate as quickly as possible and reduce the risk of passing it on.

Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, policy lead for education, said: “This is all about making our schools safe places to work, teach and learn. The sooner we stop the virus in its tracks, the more we stop it spreading, it’s as simple as that.

READ MORE: Opinion - 'Do we expect too much of ourselves and children?'

“Home testing means you can look after yourself better, by finding out early if you need to self-isolate or take any other action.”

The council says the testing kits will be free and that taking the test will be voluntary.

However, EIS say that if the government is intent on pressing ahead with the phased return to schools, then all school staff should be prioritised for vaccinations.

The spokesperson continued: "We do welcome the adoption of twice weekly testing of staff and senior pupils working in schools as part of these mitigations, a measure we have consistently pushed for, and would advise all members to participate fully in this programme.

"We would similarly urge all staff in schools to take up the vaccinations when the offers are presented to them.

"The decision around prioritising occupational roles should continue to be founded on those most at risk, however, if reopening schools is the Scottish Government's priority, then prioritising the vaccination of teachers and school staff is an obvious step to take.

READ MORE: All the changes pupils can expect on their return to the classroom

"The EIS had been pressing for priority vaccination for all staff in ASN schools and specialist units, regardless of role.

"Keeping people safe while maintaining education provision, whatever the model, must rightly be the priority until the virus is fully suppressed and the vaccination programme reaches everyone who requires to be protected."

Claire Walker, chair of Hermitage Primary School's parent council, agreed with the principle of prioritising school staff for vaccinations.

She said: "I believe the general feeling is absolutely yes, teachers and school staff should already have been included in the vaccination program.

"The First Minister has announced that she wants to ensure schools are a safe place - surely vaccinating school staff would be the first positive step in ensuring the wellbeing of pupils and staff alike.

"Whether we agree or not with the decision made for pupils to return to school, this is something set out by the Scottish Government.

"As a parent council we will support the school fully to ensure staff and pupils return to an environment that is as safe as possible.

"This is a very difficult time for everyone and Hermitage Primary staff have maintained their support for pupils throughout this journey to ensure each child can be the best they can be."

Read all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond headlines here