Half-day week for Edinburgh pupils branded 'inadequate, unclear, and likely to make lives more complicated'

Plans for some Edinburgh schoolchildren to only return to classrooms for a half-day a week have been branded as ‘inadequate, unclear and likely to make lives more complicated’ by opposition councillors.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 3:33 pm
Updated Friday, 5th March 2021, 7:05 pm
The return of Edinburgh school children to classroom teaching could be for as little as a half day a week - putting ‘huge pressure’ on teachers and making life ‘very, very difficult’ for working parents.
The return of Edinburgh school children to classroom teaching could be for as little as a half day a week - putting ‘huge pressure’ on teachers and making life ‘very, very difficult’ for working parents.

Andy Gray, chief education officer at Edinburgh City Council, has written to parents outlining the plan for reopening school from March 15.

Parents have been informed that “senior phase pupils (S4-6) who are taking national

qualifications will be prioritised for face-to-face lessons, but all year groups can expect a

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minimum of half a day per week of in-school learning”.

Portobello and Craigmillar councillor Callum Laidlaw, education spokesperson for the council’s Conservative group, said: “While we welcome the SNP Government’s U-turn on children returning to school, the Conservatives, and many parents, share concerns that the part-time learning being offered to secondary school pupils is inadequate, unclear and likely to make lives more complicated for parents and teachers alike.

“We know that the classroom is the best place to deliver learning and close the attainment gap, and it’s just not acceptable that some secondary school pupils in Edinburgh will receive less than a day a week in class.

“I would urge the council to urgently clarify the provision to parents and for the Scottish Government to consider some of the measures, such increased testing, that are enabling secondary school pupils in England to return in full on Monday.”

The letter reads: “Primary schools already have P1-3 children back in school and, from 15 March, all P4-7 pupils will return.

“Arrangements for key workers and vulnerable children in primary schools will end as these children will rejoin their respective classes.

“Breakfast clubs and after school care services will also be able to recommence from 15 March, but please contact your school for further details.

“Schools will be in touch with parents/ carers by 12 March with further details of the return to school arrangements.

“School lunches for primary school children should be ordered by the usual method using Parentpay by Wednesday 10 March at the latest.

“From 15 March, secondary school learners will receive a blend of in-school and remote learning.

“Arrangements for key worker support for those in secondary settings will continue until 1 April.

“As part of the new measures, all pupils and staff will have to maintain two metre physical distancing and will be required to wear face coverings throughout the day.

“Each school will provide a mixture of in-school and remote learning until the end of term on 1 April.

“During this period of transition, senior phase pupils (S4-6) who are taking national qualifications will be prioritised for face-to-face lessons, but all year groups can expect a minimum of half a day per week of in-school learning.

“Schools will be in touch with parents/carers regarding the changes by 12 March.”

Children and young people attending special schools will all return on March 15.

However, the Scottish Government has said it has a ‘clear expectation’ that all high school pupils will be full time after Easter.

A government spokesperson said: "It is for schools and councils to decide how to safely balance in-school learning based on local circumstances and what schools can safely deliver within the coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines.

“Every school building is different, so what can be done safely in each can only be decided locally.

“Subject to progress in suppressing the virus, we have a clear expectation that all secondary school pupils will be back in school full-time following the Easter holidays.”

Responding to the news, one concerned Edinburgh parent, a member of the Us for Them Scotland parents group on Facebook, said they didn’t want their daughter being treated like “vermin” and were now thinking to keep her at home.

They fumed: “Not sure what the point is of half a day in school. I don't like her being treated like vermin and sat two metres away from everybody.”

Colinton and Fairmilehead councillor Scott Arthur, Labour, said: “School staff right across Edinburgh have been working incredibly hard since lockdown started to deliver home learning and support the children of key workers.

“I am desperate to get my S6 son back at school as soon as possible, but the Scottish Government needs to listen to teachers and ensure they have the resources and time to teach safely.”

Councillor Laidlaw added: “It will vary school to school, subject to subject, year group to year group, but parents need that clarity about what that looks like as soon as possible.

“As people try and return to work as normal, I think getting our children into classrooms should be the priority and it’s just not clear.

“I’ve been informed it will vary from being pretty much full time for some subjects in some schools, to the very minimum of a half day.”