Friday could be last day in school for some pupils, Swinney says
The education secretary said he suspects Friday is likely to be the last school day until at least the summer holidays, and admitted that education could be disrupted for a period of up to 18 months
John Swinney has acknowledged that Friday could be the final school day for senior pupils, as schools across Scotland prepare to close indefinitely to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The education secretary told BBC Radio Scotland that he suspects Friday is likely to be the last school day until at least the summer holidays, and admitted that education could be disrupted for a period of up to 18 months while a vaccination to the virus is developed.
Asked if imminent closures could be the end of the academic year and mark the last day of school for some highschool pupils, Swinney said: "I suspect it will be, yes."
Swinney said that "contingency planning" is underway with local authorities to decide a path forward on exams.
He said that he is considering three options, which include still running exams but with additional safety measures in place.
Exams could also be delayed or cancelled entirely, with a system of "alternative certification" being introduced whereby pupils are awarded grades based on coursework, prior attainment, and the judgement of teachers.
Swinney is expected to announce the government's decision on exams in a statement to parliament on Thursday afternoon.
Of school closures, he said: “I appreciate this is an enormously disruptive move,”.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this, but it’s the right thing”.
Swinney also discussed the need for pupils from disadvantaged families to still be able to access food provisions in lieu of free school meals.
Responding to a letter from Child Poverty Action Group demanding cash payments be made available to those families who qualify for free school meals, Swinney said the coalition of organisations that co-signed the letter are "absolutely correct" and "right to express these concerns".
He said: "We can provide financial support to families who would be in receipt of school meals,".
He referred to an example in Shetland where food vouchers were supplied to some families after school closures.
But he added: "I’m not going to say that we’ll have everything in place by the end of this week...but I do give the assurance that we are working with local authorities the length and breadth of the country."
On additional measures, including the possible alieviation of council tax, Swinney referred to cabinet secretary for communities and local government Aileen Campbell's statement to parliament yesterday, which he said included a "range of measures".
He added: "We will continue to look at other options,".
"The government will take as pragmatic and sympathetic approach as we possibly can do."
Asked if it is possible that schools could be severely disrupted for up to 18 months as a vaccination for the virus is developed, Swinney said he could not say when schools would return to normal.
He said: "I really hope we’re not in that length of period but I can't sit here in all honest and tell you I’ve got the answer to [that question]."
He added: "What I give you the assurance about is we will listen very carefully to the scientific and clinical advice we are receiving in this situation and where we need to take action, we will do so and where we can return to normal working, we will do so at the earliest possible opportunity."