Fears of legal action and impact on families following Edinburgh school return announcement

Parents are worried about the potential impact the plans for Edinburgh pupils to go to school for an average of 1.3 days a week could have on their jobs and their children’s mental health

Wednesday, 17th June 2020, 7:30 am
Juniper Green Primary School, used as one of the hub schools for key workers, provides an example of what school might be like for pupils returning in August.

Parents could bring legal action against Edinburgh City Council for its decision to have pupils in school for an average of 1.3 days a week from August, a senior councillor has warned.

The fear the council could face a legal challenge came as parents across the Capital said they fear potential damage to the mental health, education and social lives of their children.

Under measures announced by the council on Friday, most school pupils in Edinburgh will be in school for one day a week with a second day on every third week.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lizzie Booden and her husband Brian, daughter Leila, and son, Milo.

The exact timetable for children will differ by schools and are yet to be finalised, but any plans will see just 33 per cent of a school’s roll attend school on any one day.

The move has been widely criticised by may parents, including mum of two Lizzie Booden who works as a counsellor in West Lothian who said the move could have a major impact on the emotional health on her two children, Leila, nine, and Milo, six, who both attend Ratho Primary School.

She said: “My daughter just wants to hug her friends and that is what they miss. Asking a nine and a six-year-old to interact with their friends on Zoom doesn’t work, they say to me after that they play with their friends not talk to them.

Mrs Booden added the measures for Edinburgh schools will hurt the family’s finances and said it would be hard to match her work with the reality faced by her children.

She said: “I fully accept that there has got to be blended learning and that we have to juggle as we have been, and if I have to be in West Lothian the fallout will come on him. That will markedly affect his income.

“I am going to be going into West Lothian schools and working there for two days a week and my children will only have one.

“The kids need connection and they are not the ones posing a risk and getting unwell. There is also a sense of unfairness of watching kids elsewhere going in knowing your kids won’t get that. That is what has irked me the most.

“There needs to be a more creative look at the spaces that are available around Edinburgh. I understand that they are not perfect learning environments but we are not in a perfect learning scenario.”

Parent discontent has lead to chairman of the Edinburgh Conservatives, Cllr Jason Rust, warn of the potential for legal action over the plans.

He said: “There are serious concerns that Edinburgh is taking a less proactive approach than other local authorities and there is a risk the Council becomes mired in a judicial review of its own policy or opens itself to legal challenge.

“We need better communication with parents and we need to be open minded with regard to venues.

“The same sort of effort needs to go into schools and education that we have witnessed nationally with employment to get the city and country running post-Covid."

Meanwhile, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors have unveiled their own attempts to change the plans unveiled by the SNP/Labour run council last week.

Both plans call for more funding for schools from the Scottish Government, the use of non-school buildings, an increase in staffing to help meet the demand and challenges faced by schools in a post-Covid-19 world.

Green councillor Steve Burgess called for a “revamp” of the plans and said the one-third model planned is not

He said:” Too many families are already finding it hard to cope and it’s the families who are struggling the most who will get left furthest behind.

“That’s why we need to see every stone turned to make sure more young people get access to time with a teacher. Use of additional buildings, much more outdoor learning, video-teaching, temporary expansion of staff numbers, all need to be part of the equation.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Louise Young added: “As things stand, the plan put forward by Edinburgh Council risks failing pupils and working parents. It is why we want to force a radical rethink to boost in-school teaching and better supports working parents.

“To have as little as 33% in-school learning risks jeopardising the education of thousands of children across the city. It also undermines the ability of parents who need to work, particularly as furlough arrangements come to an end.

“This is a moment which demands creative thinking and imaginative solutions. However, it also requires the Scottish Government to put its money where its mouth is and provide the funding needed, both just to use additional buildings but also for the extra teachers which the Council needs to recruit.”

Cllr Ian Perry, education convener, said: “Our schools are working really hard on plans to see if they can achieve 50 per cent of pupils coming into school at any one time.

“Teaching a third of pupils is a minimum requirement to make sure we meet the current physical distancing and health advice so schools can reopen safely.

“It has always been our intention to maximise attendance as long as it is safe to do so and where there are appropriate facilities to accommodate pupils and staff - their health and wellbeing is our top priority and that remains the case.

“We fully understand the concerns parents have over the amount of learning and teaching their children will receive when schools reopen in August.

“We know how important it is for a child’s learning and development to be in school with their teachers and peers as opposed to learning at home so I want to reassure parents we’re doing everything we can to increase the number of days their child will attend.

“Measures include using other council buildings in our estate which may be suitable for learning and recruiting additional teaching staff. We look forward to continuing dialogue with the Scottish Government as our plans progress.”