Attainment gap ‘five times worse under blended learning’

An education policy expert warns gap between richest and poorest pupils could be five times wider by December.

Schools: Plan for pupils to attend part-time at first. Getty
Schools: Plan for pupils to attend part-time at first.

The attainment gap between Scotland’s richest and poorest pupils will be made five times worse by December under current blended learning plans, an education policy expert has warned.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants pupils to return to normal schooling as soon as it is safe.

Following the holidays, schools are expected to reopen on August 11 in a “blended learning” model, involving pupils attending classrooms as little as one day a week in some council areas.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, said this would exacerbate inequality.

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He told The Sunday Times: “We know from research that most of the inequality in children’s progression at school happens during the summer holiday when they are not attending classes.

“Scotland’s complete school lockdown from March to August will therefore have imposed three-and-a-half years of inequality in the space of less than half a year.

“The total effect of the lockdown, plus part-time schooling to December, would be equivalent to imposing five years of inequality in less than a year.”

The Scottish Government said meeting the learning needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds continues to be a “priority”.

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But Keir Bloomer, one of the architects of Scotland’s curriculum for excellence, told the newspaper: “For disadvantaged learners this is an educational catastrophe.”

He added: “Participation in worthwhile learning at home has been shown by research to be very disappointing, with the disadvantaged faring worst. This has happened during a period when teachers have been largely free of class contact and able to devote time to support both children and parents.

“From August, they will be teaching again. The time for supporting home learning will largely disappear.

“What has happened over the past 12 weeks has been ineffective. In August it will be much worse. ‘Blended learning’ will be no more than a cynical euphemism for part-time schooling.”

Their comments came as the paper launched a campaign to allow children to receive face-to-face schooling five days a week from August and to sit exams next year.

Meanwhile, former first minister Jack McConnell said not having pupils in school full-time from August could cause worse damage than when 2000 pupils were given the wrong exam results in August 2000.

Writing in the Herald on Sunday, the Labour peer said: “Twenty years on and we face an educational crisis that could damage another generation even more deeply.

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“And the class of 2000 are among the parents of 2020, but they are now fighting for their kids.

“This is a crisis every bit as serious as the threat to health in March and the threat to jobs from lockdown.

“The UK and Scottish governments mobilised on a scale never seen before to save lives and protect jobs. They must do the same now for full-time education.”

He continued: “In the past week I have spoken to single mums home-schooling kids on their mobile phones, parents out of work worrying they will never get a job if every employer has to give them days off to home-school, teenagers miserable and worried sick about their future.

“All feel nobody in authority is listening.”

He said the first option for pupils returning in August should be full-time learning at school, with the “basic minimum” being the home-schooling part of the current plans being organised by schools and not at home.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise that the disruption and challenges caused by the pandemic are hitting children from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly hard and we have been encouraging schools to target support where it is most needed.

“We are providing local authorities and schools with flexibility to redirect resources aimed at closing the attainment gap.

“This includes the announcement of £250m for pupil equity funding over the next two years.”

She said 25,000 laptops and internet access worth a total of £9m are going to disadvantaged children, learning hubs for vulnerable children and key workers will remain open in summer.

The spokeswoman added that “meeting the learning needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to be a priority as we plan for the safe reopening of schools”.

On Lord McConnell’s comments, she said: “When schools reopen on August 11, we expect councils to have made arrangements that maximise the time that pupils spend having face-to-face learning safely.”

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