Schools deserve at least the same protection as football – Alison Johnstone

Pupils return to school this week (Picture: John Devlin)Pupils return to school this week (Picture: John Devlin)
Pupils return to school this week (Picture: John Devlin)
The way young people have been treated by the SQA is unacceptable, writes Alison Johnstone

Starting school after the holidays always heralds a mixture of excitement and nerves, especially for those joining primary one or moving up to high school.

This year, though, those feelings are more heightened than ever, with widespread concern about how safe the return of school will be, whether we can avoid a second wave of the coronavirus and how all the disruption is impacting our young people’s learning and mental health.

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It will be especially worrying for parents and teachers who are more vulnerable, such as those with long term conditions or from our BAME community.

Concerns are being raised in England about whether the return of schools in September will be safe, while ours are returning this week. We’ve seen in other countries how quickly this virus can spread in schools, so it’s vital this process is as safe as possible.

Current advice remains that teachers and secondary pupils should maintain social distancing where possible, but the vast majority of schools simply don’t have the space for this to be practical.

Regular testing of teachers is needed to monitor the situation so that we can respond quickly. We’ve already seen how it works in football, with Aberdeen’s positive cases picked up immediately before they can spread it throughout the league and beyond. Our schools have busy classrooms and corridors and surely deserve at least the same protection as football stadiums.

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The start of a new school year is a big moment for pupils. Many young people will be excited to see friends and classmates they may not have seen since March, and those who were denied a send-off from primary school will be making that big step up to secondary.

What has been unacceptable though is the way many of those achieving grades last week have been treated by the exams authority. Greens Education Spokesperson, Ross Greer MSP, has repeatedly asked the Scottish Qualifications Agency to publish the system it was using to moderate grades and the SQA refused.

This was a system that marked teacher assessed grades up or down depending on what school they went to. Ross warned that the system would unfairly penalise pupils from poorer areas and that is exactly what happened.

Given the Scottish Government claimed closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils was their number one priority, it is shocking that the Education Secretary did not heed these warnings and hold his exams agency to account before the results came out.

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John Swinney’s statement in Parliament this afternoon must confirm what action the Scottish Government will take to urgently sort out the chaos caused, but the most important thing is that fairness prevails, and the damage is undone. The needs of our young people are of utmost priority so that they are not denied the opportunities they deserve.

Our education system shouldn’t leave anyone behind, because accompanying those feelings of anxiety and excitement should be a confidence in a fair system that gives everyone a chance at a better future.

Alison Johnstone is Green MSP for Lothian region

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