John Swinney announces plans for Scottish schools to return full-time in August
Education Secretary John Swinney has bowed to pressure by announcing plans for a return to full-time schooling in August .
In a major u-turn, as revealed by the Daily Record, Swinney said schools should prepare to go back on this basis if progress continues to be made in suppressing the virus.
In a statement to Holyrood, Swinney laid out certain conditions for full-time schooling to resume and announced £100m of extra funding for a back-to-school plan.
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Swinney recently announced the government’s plan for schools to go back on August 11th.
However, under the ‘blended’ learning model, face to face learning in classrooms would be on a part time basis and some councils have proposed one day a week.
After a revolt by parents, who believed the plans would damage their children’s education, Sturgeon appeared to contradict Swinney by describing part time learning as a contingency.
The confusion deepened after council leader Stephen McCabe, who leads on education for umbrella group COSLA, said blended learning was still the ‘plan.
McCabe added that the two metre social distancing rule made it “impossible” for schools to go back full time in August
In his statement Swinney said he was able to “update” the Government’s planning assumptions.
He said that if Scotland can further suppress the virus then preparations should be made for full-time schooling.
He also said other countries were now reviewing social distancing and the two metre rule is under review north of the border.
Swinney also said blended learning is now a “contingency”.
The plan will depend on infection rates being “sufficiently low” and that public health infrastructure was in place to get “early warning” of issues.
He said another condition would be “protective measures” to keep staff and teachers safe.
On funding, he repeated a £30m to provide disadvantaged children and young people.
He also announced a further £100m over the next two years to help support the return to school and help children recover lost ground.
Tory MSP Jamie Greene described the statement as a “u-turn”.
Labour MSP Iain Gray said the rethink was the “mother and father of ministerial climbdowns”.
Councillor Stephen McCabe, COSLA Children and Young People Spokesperson, said:
“The news that the levels of the virus continue to move in the right direction is of course extremely positive. The Deputy First Minister’s statement that the planning assumption will now be for a full return in August if it is safe to do so is of course a significant change in direction.
“We will work with the Scottish Government, our Local Government partners, trade unions, parent organisations and children and young people representatives to consider the implications and practicalities of a full time return for pupils in August.”
GMB Scotland Organiser Helen Meldrum said:
“The strategy for education recovery has been a shambles and even at this stage the safety and value of workers tasked with getting our schools ready for the re-start is an afterthought.
“An army of hidden, low-paid staff, and predominantly women, are being left to get on with it; like cleaners equipped with little more than a risk assessment form and a mop and bucket, or teaching assistants who don’t yet know their hours or how they can balance work and childcare.
“Once again Mr Swinney had nothing to say to these workers and offers nothing to protect their safety while they try and make schools as safe as possible for the return of teachers and pupils.
“The Scottish Government is making the same mistakes with school support staff as they did with carers. They have to think about the interests of all staff and they can’t just ignore the lowest paid in the overall response.”
Toni Giugliano, Senior Policy Manager at the Mental Health Foundation Scotland said:
“We’re pleased that the Scottish Government has acknowledged that children are concerned about their mental health and we’re delighted John Swinney has listened to the concerns of parents, teachers and pupils across Scotland. Keeping children apart through social distancing in schools after many months of limited contact could have exacerbated mental health problems in children and young people, and the proposal for children to return to school full time with no social distancing measures has been welcomed.
“However, we still need more clarity on a number of issues – we need a commitment to expand the range of mental health support workers in schools to cope with the likely increase in demand for support when term resumes.”