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John Swinney: Schools to re-open in August, subject to scientific advice

Parliament TV

John Swinney: Schools to re-open in August, subject to scientific advice

Schools will operate on a “blended model” basis, the education secretary said, with some in-class learning combined with continued home schooling

Pupils will return to schools from 11 August “subject to scientific advice that it is safe to do so”, the education secretary John Swinney has said.

But he warned that there would not be a “return to schooling as we know it”.

Schools will operate on a “blended model” basis, he said, with some in-class learning combined with continued home schooling.

The future arrangements were announced alongside the Scottish Government’s ‘route map’ plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown.

Classrooms will implement physical distancing measures ensuring children sit two meters apart and will stagger arrival and departure times to minimise mixing.

Class sizes will be “significantly smaller” to accommodate these changes. Teachers will be expected to work over the summer to prepare for pupils’ return.

Some recently retired teachers may also be asked to return to work to help cope with the increased workload.

Education Scotland will also provide £30m for 25,000 additional laptops to help with home schooling.

Announcing the plans to ease the lockdown to parliament on Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thanked children for their patience during the lockdown, saying that they had been “truly magnificent”, prompting applause from MSPs.

Swinney said: “In reopening Scotland’s schools, our overriding priority is ensuring the health and wellbeing of our pupils and staff and giving parents the confidence schools are safe.

“Subject to public health guidance, teachers and other school staff will be able to return in June to prepare for a new model of learning from August. Comprehensive health and safety guidance will be in place prior to staff returning to school.

“This is not, however, a return to schooling as we knew it - schools are not returning to normal at this stage.

“To keep our pupils and staff safe we will implement physical distancing, staggered arrival and departure times, staggered break times, increased hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning regimes and a range of other measures

“That means a new model of teaching, learning and support will have to be delivered. Precise details will vary from school to school but for the vast majority, classes are going to be much smaller to allow physical distancing and, as a result, children are likely to spend about half their time learning at home.

“To maximise time in the classroom, we will work with local authorities to expand the size of their school estate where that is possible by using outside space, libraries, leisure centres, community halls and anywhere else that can safely be made to work.

“And, with classes being split in two or even in three, we will examine whether we can expand the number of teachers by asking those recently retired to return.

“In all of this, we recognise that some pupils will need extra help, particularly those who don’t have the technology at home to learn effectively.

“That’s why we will provide an initial tranche of 25,000 free laptops – bundled with a free internet connection - to pupils who need it. Education Scotland will support digital learning through new national digital learning resources that will bolster schools’ own arrangements for children and young people.

“We don’t know how long schools will have to work this way, just as we don’t know how long Coronavirus will be a threat. As long as that is the case, school life will feel quite different to before COVID-19.

“We have a mission to make this work, to educate Scotland’s pupils and, above all, to keep them safe. Working with our teachers, school staff, and councils this plan gives us a way to do that.

“We can safeguard our children’s future and get them learning alongside their classmates again. This plan will do that and get our young people safely back to school.”

COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe said: “In planning for a return to face to face schooling the safety of our children, young people and staff is paramount. In preparing for this we have been acutely aware of the impact that not being in school has on our children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The wellbeing of all of our children and young people is at the heart of everything we do.

“A key part of this agreement is that local authorities will have the flexibility to plan and deliver a return to education which suits local circumstances and takes the needs of all of the children, young people and parents in their area into account. Where it safe to do so and the scientific advice allows, local authorities will also have the flexibility to bring some children back to school in June with a particular focus on those at the key transition points of P1 and S1.

“This has been developed with key partners in education. To make sure we get it right for all of our children at this challenging time we will continue to work closely together.”

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “This cautious approach to reopening schools from the Scottish Government is welcome and appears to be clearly driven by concerns for the health of pupils and staff. It contrasts sharply with the way English teachers and their unions are being bullied to return as soon as possible.

"Even a return to partial schooling in August will be a monumental challenge though, particularly for the many thousands of children with additional support needs who were already being failed by Scotland’s education system.

“Returning to school with social distancing still in place will be incredibly difficult for children who haven’t seen friends and teachers for months, so communicating long before August exactly what this will look like is critical.

"At the same time, while continued home learning for part of the week will clearly be necessary, it’s still simply not possible for many already disadvantaged families. £30 million to give laptops to those who need them is welcome but that money must also cover installing stable internet connections, without which the laptops are of little use.”

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