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Education / Schools ‘u-turn’ welcomed but education chairman wants clarity

Forty two per cent of pupils at Lerwick's Anderson High School achieved five Highers or more, fewer than expected according to a government benchmark. Photo: Shetland NewsAnderson High SchoolPhoto: Shetland News

PLANS for schools to fully reopen on 11 August have been broadly welcomed by the chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee.

Councillor George Smith also called for transparency over the scientific and health advice underpinning the decision.

Smith said that today’s (23 June) announcement in the Scottish Parliament by deputy first minister John Swinney was a u-turn by the government after months of aiming for a “blended learning” combination of school and home based education.

But Smith said that the “huge amount” of work staff had put into preparing for all eventualities was not lost, as blended learning remains as a contingency plan if there is a resurgence in the coronavirus.

Local authorities are to submit their plans for a blended learning environment tomorrow (Wednesday) and Smith said that this emphasis had now totally changed.

He added: “First and foremost, what we want to ensure is that when the pupils go back to school that it is safe to do so. That will always be our first consideration.”

He said that face to face learning was what “we are all used to” and a return to that pattern was to be welcomed, but “suppression of the virus was key.”

Smith said that he could not praise education staff “highly enough” as they had succeeded in putting plans in place for all contingencies, including a socially distanced return to school including such measures on school transport.

Former Shetland College director was elected to serve Shetland South.SIC education committee chairman George Smith.

He also called on the Scottish Government to publish the scientific basis for what appeared to be a u-turn.

According to Smith, until very recently the position had been that schools should prepare themselves for up to two years of blended learning. That appeared to have been shelved when the political realities of such a plan had become apparent from the reaction of parents.

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, meanwhile, pressed the Scottish Government to make provision for childcare, which would also enable parents to get back into work.

He said: “The SNP’s u-turn on schools reopening full-time in August will be welcome news to parents, to pupils and to teachers across Scotland.

“But for many parents, their options around childcare have disappeared. Many are now forced to juggle home-working with home-learning. This is not simply exhausting, but can have a major impact on mental health as well as the ability of people to do their jobs and keep money flowing into their household.

“Many will have been working during this time too – and have had to rely on grandparents, friends and other arrangements. As people increasingly returning to work, this will only become more acute.

“Parents cannot wait until August for nurseries and childcare providers to re-open. Many private nurseries, unable to provide a service, are also facing closure as they simply cannot operate.”

Swinney earlier told Holyrood that while the decline in the virus had been apparent for a long time its suppression had been particularly rapid over recent weeks.

Smith, meanwhile, said that he felt strongly for pupils who have had to home-learn since March and would normally be having their summer holidays in a week.
The Covid-19 crisis is especially disruptive for those in a transitional period, like moving from primary to secondary school.

Smith said that many who would normally be thinking of leaving school to take up an apprenticeship or thinking of a gap year before university would perhaps now be reconsidering.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021