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Fund for 850 new teachers confirmed as plans drafted for reopening schools

Barry Batchelor/PA

Fund for 850 new teachers confirmed as plans drafted for reopening schools

Around 850 extra teachers and 200 support staff will be recruited with a £50m fund to prepare schools to fully reopen in August, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.

Swinney also pledged £20m to help councils with the cost of additional measures like cleaning, transportation and health protection of staff. The funding breakdown is part of a £100m support package for education announced by the Scottish Government in June.

However, COSLA has labelled the announcement “a disappointment” saying it throws up “a considerable roadblock” on the safe re-opening of schools and presents “significant additional financial risks for councils”.

Swinney appeared before MSPs to give more information on the practical steps schools would take to reopen safely in August. Primary school pupils would not have to socially distance from one another in school or on dedicated school transport, he said.

Teachers would be required to maintain two metres physical distance “wherever possible,” he said, and suggested that high school pupils could be encouraged to stay further apart by reorganising the layout of classrooms and corridors. Staff and pupils with symptoms of COVID-19 will have “quick access” to testing, he said.

Swinney also spoke about plans for more advanced surveillance testing in schools to limit any localised outbreaks, which would be dealt with on a school-by-school basis.

He said: “I suspect it will be fairly likely that we will see outbreaks within the school estates when schools reopen.”

Asked if staff in schools would have to wear face coverings, Swinney said that anybody who wishes to wear one in a school environment should be able to do so if they wanted to, but added that it would not be essential.

He confirmed that “clear guidance” was being drawn up by the Scottish Government’s education recovery group, which would be published when the government made a final decision on whether to fully reopen schools on 30 July.

Swinney said: “I want to express my appreciation to parents and carers for their support to young people, to the teaching and wider workforce across Scotland for their efforts to sustain education and to children and young people for their resilience during this difficult period.

“All of the school workforce have a crucial role to play in our education recovery mission, and it is vital that they are supported to do so. The ring-fenced £50 million funding to recruit more teachers and support staff will enable schools to intensify support for children and young people as they return to full time face-to-face education and help to mitigate for learning loss. The final numbers will be dependent on the precise mix of staff recruited and the needs of children and young people.

“The £20 million funding recognises the extremely valuable work of our school cleaners, facilities management and school transport staff, who are essential to the successful delivery of education in Scotland and to whom I want to pay tribute today.

“I also mentioned in my statement on the 23 June that we would be seeking the assistance of the youth work sector in supporting those families and communities who need it most. The sector will receive £3 million of investment because it has continued to support and engage children and young people throughout the pandemic, including using digital technology and outreach work to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health, learning and development.

“While this funding should provide local authorities with the assurance they require to progress plans immediately, we will continue to work with COSLA to understand the additional costs associated with the school re-opening guidance that each local authority is facing, and how these can be addressed alongside any loss of learning.”

COSLA called the announcement a ”disappointment”.

Councillor Stephen McCabe and Councillor Gail Macgregor said:  “Local Government’s number one priority is the safe return to education next month. We have sought to work closely with the Scottish Government, trade unions and parental organisations through the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group to agree an approach which meets the needs of all involved in supporting children and young people during the pandemic.

“Even with the welcome additional financial support from the Scottish Government we have received to date, councils are facing a budget gap of over £500m for 2020/21 before the additional costs of a safe return to school are taken into account.

“That is why the Deputy First Minister’s commitment of just £20m to support the return of schools this afternoon is a disappointment. We are currently awaiting updated guidance as such it is not clear at this time what the additional costs for classroom cleaning, supporting vulnerable pupils, providing school meals, school transport and PPE are, or if vital resources can be found before schools return. 

“Today’s announcement throws up a considerable roadblock on the progress towards schools re-opening safely, and presents significant additional financial risks for councils.

“Whilst we are pleased we are close to agreement with the Scottish Government on an additional £50m to be invested in teachers and classroom support, priority must also be given to  ensuring a safe, clean environment for all staff and pupils to work in.

“However, we remain willing to work with the Scottish Government on this issue to make sure that we protect and support the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people and our staff when they return to school.”

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer called for regular testing of pupils and staff – not just those that were symptomatic.

He said: “The education secretary said again that he is ‘sympathetic’ to the Greens’ proposed regular testing of teachers and confirmed that he will say more on this next week. We know from the failure to quickly deliver routine testing of care home staff that this policy takes time to implement. Time is fasting running out to have routine testing ready in time for schools to reopen.

“The guidance on social distancing in is now an unclear fudge. Teachers must keep distant from pupils, primary pupils don’t have to distance themselves, but secondary pupils are to somehow keep a distance at the same as being in full attendance. How this is possible in school buildings which don’t have any more space than they did in March hasn’t been explained.

“Given last week’s advice that the burden of requesting protective measures would be put on vulnerable young people themselves, it was reassuring to have the cabinet secretary confirm that every school is to carry out a risk assessment which fully takes their needs into account. With what we now know about the virus, those assessments must include the risk to young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: "Schools are due to open just over two weeks. Yet we still have no final decision, councils still don't actually have the resources they need and guidance on risk reduction is still being written.

"Government has never had a route map for the return of schools, and they still don’t – they still look as if they are making this up at the last minute. The additional teachers announced today amount to less than half a staff member per school, and councils have two weeks to recruit them.

"Hundreds, perhaps thousands of newly-qualified teachers, probationer teachers, supply teachers and retired teachers who all want to help get our schools back still cannot get a job. Surely we need every available qualified teacher we can?

"How ready are we really? How many additional teachers have actually been recruited? What proportion of school buildings have actually risk assessed for pupils’ return? As for mitigation, we are all, all of us over the age five, wearing face coverings in shops – can it really be the case that nobody is to wear them in schools?”

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Jamie Greene said: “It’s completely unacceptable that, just a few weeks from the supposed reopening, parents still have no certainty over plans.

“Parents are furious and bewildered as to why pubs, restaurants and shops are all open, yet there’s still no final decision on schools. John Swinney could easily have provided that much-needed certainty by taking a stand and making a decision on schools already. Instead he’s keeping parents, pupils and teachers on tenterhooks by refusing to give the green light until July 30, leaving no time at all to deal with whatever decision is made.

“We also need a cast-iron guarantee from this SNP government that there will be no postcode lottery when it comes to the re-opening of schools in Scotland. It is beyond reprehension that children in one part of the country could miss out while others resume their school terms in full.”

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