Big questions remain despite full-time schooling shift

Everyone wants children to go back to school safely but there is no single view on how to do that.

Schools: Pupils could now go back full-time in August. Getty Images
Schools: Pupils could now go back full-time in August.

A “u-turn”, a “change of direction”, a “sign of significant progress”.

In a week where the majority of schools reached the end of their summer term in a year like no other, the Scottish Government’s decision to aim for a full reopening of schools in August has been given several labels.

But away from the political-point scoring at Holyrood, parents and teachers I’ve heard from really don’t care what name it is given.

Their priority is the education of their children, their pupils’ safety as well as their own.

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Of course, there is no single viewpoint among either parents or teachers.

Whilst many celebrated the news, others have been left anxious by the pace of change.

Within ten days, the education secretary John Swinney has gone from saying blended learning could last a year to his current aim for a full-time August restart.

Teachers have spoken of their frustration at working for weeks on end to rearrange their classrooms and come up with complicated timetables to abide by social distancing guidelines, only for it to be pushed to one side days before the summer break.

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Their work will not be wasted, says the Scottish Government. The measures are now a contingency, and if the virus shows signs of a resurgence they will be brought in.

But many remain angry they were left to keep preparing for blended learning right up until the announcement was made in parliament.

Meanwhile parents’ groups who raised concerns about home learning and childcare have been claiming victory.

Others however, fear the lack of social distancing will put everyone at risk of a second surge.

Big questions still remain over how transport to and from school will work, particularly in rural areas.

There are also issues needing resolved around catering, protective equipment for teachers and the need for more time to prepare.

Members of the government’s education recovery group can expect a busy few weeks ahead.

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It will be the end of July before we know for certain whether schools will in fact reopen fully at the start of term. That leaves little room for slippage.

By then, the Scottish Government will need to have built confidence among teachers and parents as well as unions around safety if it is to turn ambition into reality.

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