by Steve Delaney – 27 June 2020
I’m sure most parents will agree that teaching staff across the city have done an excellent job putting together online learning resources for our children at short notice and keeping that going over the past 3 months.
However, there are significant challenges ahead as we adapt to new ways of getting back to something resembling normality whilst still have a requirement to take appropriate precautions to keep ourselves and others safe.
The Scottish Government’s initial plan was for all children in Scotland to return to school on 11 August 2020 on a part time basis using a “blended” teaching model which was to include some face to face classroom work along with some online learning. Plans were already well advanced for this as we head towards the final week of the virtual school term.
These plans would have involved smaller numbers of children in each classroom with a number of measures put in place to support social distancing and limit any possible spread of Covid-19 within a school environment. Councillors were recently briefed on these plans and I was most impressed by the amount of work which had gone in to ensure that both our teachers and pupils can stay safe.
There was of course one major challenge for all and that related to childcare. It is expected that many more people are likely to be back to work by the time the new school term starts. If in-class attendance is not following the usual timetable from Monday to Friday each week, who is going to look after the children the rest of the time? Parents will be at work and it may be unwise to ask elderly grandparents to help out in the current situation. Additional childcare comes at a cost but there’s never enough places to meet normal demand, never mind this increased demand. This was a real concern for parents and one for which the Scottish Government had been unable to offer answers.
A few days ago the Scottish Government had a re-think and decided to open all schools to all children full time from 11 August . My concern is that, like the previous “blended” model, this latest approach may also be undeliverable as it currently stands, but for different reasons.
It will not be possible to put in place social distancing if all children return full time as there’s not the space to do this. Therefore, unless social distancing rules change, it appears that teachers and pupils will be afforded less safety measures than the rest of the population.
The decision on whether to re-open schools on 11 August on a full time basis will be taken towards the end of July and nobody can second guess where we are going to be in respect of the Covid-19 recovery at that point in time. I would hope the virus has by then become a reducing and hopefully negligible threat but this remains unknown at present.
I’m sure we can all agree that the longer children are away from full time schooling the more risk there is of them falling behind. We would all like to see education get back to normal as soon as possible, but this must not be done at the cost of increased risk to Covid-19 for our children and their teachers.
Although no public authority (UK Government, Scottish Government or local council) has got everything right, most decisions to date have been taken in good faith based upon the science. My greatest fear is that we may now start to see decisions being taken for political expediency without due regard to the risks posed from both a practical and a safety point of view.
The Scottish Government needs to gain the trust of parents and teachers by publishing the scientific evidence upon which they have based their current plans. They also need listen to parents, listen to teachers and most of all adhere to the medical and scientific advice. Only by doing this will they be able to come up with a solution which is deliverable, safe and workable for everyone.