Scottish pupils could have 'blended' home and school learning for a year

Social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester.Social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester.
Social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. | PA (Press Association)
A mix of school and home learning could be in operation for Scots pupils for a year if the science suggests it should – though next year’s exams could still take place, John Swinney confirmed today.

The Education Secretary told MSPs that the school return date of August 11 was “set in stone” and that nurseries and playgroups would reopen over the summer, with councils able to “expand” the school estate by using "community facilities" or "vacant office accommodation".

He admitted that “blended learning” would be in operation for as long as necessary, and confirmed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority was planning the exam diet for next year - after they were cancelled for the first time in Scotland this year as a result of the lockdown.

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How will 'Test and Protect' operate in Scotland?

MSPs also heard the government was spending £9m on 25,000 laptops and tablets, and upgrading internet, for pupils who were unable to access technology to work at home. Recently retired teachers will also be asked if they will come back to work.

Mr Swinney addressed MSPs virtually after the government published a summary of the scientific advice behind its plans to re-open schools, early learning centre and nurseries.

The advice states it is safe for children to return to schools, if social distancing is in place, as they are less likely to transmit Covid-19 or suffer severely if they do contract the virus.

Mr Swinney said the re-opening plans were “contingent on scientific and medical advice that it is safe to proceed and complementary public health measures, such as Test and Protect, being in place.”

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He added: “School closures are considered to have a negative effect on all aspects of children and young people’s progress and development, as well as their wellbeing. That is why we are working to enable as many children and young people as possible to return to education and care settings at the earliest date it is safe to do so.

“The scientific evidence and advice is an important part of that decision, alongside consideration of the other harms caused by ongoing restrictions. That is why I have published a summary of the scientific evidence which has informed our discussions and decisions to date.

“The evidence around coronavirus in general, and that relating to children in particular, is continuing to evolve. Some aspects are not yet well understood – the science cannot in many cases provide us with definitive conclusions.

“The scientific advice that we have received so far leads us towards taking a cautious approach and we will continue to monitor the evidence and advice to inform decisions.”

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Asked by Scots Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene if schools could open earlier, Mr Swinney said August 11 was “set in stone" to give certainty to parents. “There is the risk that scientific advice may say the 11th August is not safe to reopen schools but I believe that the current direction of the scientific advice contains a significant amount of confidence that we will be able to do so,” he said.

On whether “blended learning” – a combination of school and home education – would last for a whole academic year, and if exams would take place, he added: “It will continue for as long as we require it to operate, but not for a moment longer because I recognise the importance of full time schooling for pupils as early as possible.

“I realise the challenges that are posed for parents in all of this, but the government is taking other steps in relation to employment and return to work are predicated on the importance of ensuring that people work from home where they are able to do so.

“The exam diet for 2021 is being planned just now. We’re obviously uncertain about the path for Covid in the next 12 months so the SQA will give advice to schools about the importance of capturing evidence about the performance and achievements of young people to ensure that can be properly borne in mind in any certification process in 2021.”

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Scottish Labour’s education spokesman asked for updated science advice to be consistently published to reassure teachers and parents as schools reopen.

“We need them to be confident it will be as safe as possible to return,” he said. “The scientific advice is evolving and in some respects remains inconclusive, will be promise to publish updated advice as he has it in the coming weeks, can he guarantee that all teachers in all schools will have access to an established test and protect system in June when they return, and will he assure that government will provide all the extra funding required by councils to reopen schools safely.”

Mr Swinney said the government had published the latest scientific advice, and he was committed to “openness” and would publish more as it came to light. “We can only reopen schools when it is safe to do so and when there's public confidence around the actions of so doing,” he said.

“Test, trace and isolate will be running from first of June and on the issue of funding the Scottish Government is in constant dialogue with local authorities on funding.”

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