Education secretary ‘determined’ to get pupils back safely

Shirley-Anne Somerville said the Scottish Government is looking at whether it can make changes to self-isolation measures.

Education secretary ‘determined’ to get pupils back safely miljko via IStock
Classroom: Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville was speaking on Good Morning Scotland.

Scotland’s education secretary has said ministers are “determined” to do everything they can to ensure young people can go back to school as safely as possible, with as few restrictions as possible.

Shirley-Anne Somerville also explained that the Scottish Government is “looking very seriously” at whether it can make changes to self-isolation measures currently in place for children and young people.

It comes after UK education secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Tuesday that pupils in England will not need to self-isolate unless they test positive for Covid-19, with the changes coming into effect from August 16.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, Somerville acknowledged the disruption to learning caused by the impact of the pandemic.

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She said: “We know that young people and their teachers have had an exceptionally difficult time over the past year or so, and I would like to again pay tribute to their resilience during this really difficult time.

“But we do know that there was disruption to learning obviously. We’re aware that that has impacted young people differently in different parts of the country.

“And that’s why we’re determined to do everything we can to ensure that young people can go back in the next academic year being supported by their teachers in as safe a way as possible, with as few restrictions as possible as long as the clinical advice allows for that to happen.”

“The Scottish Government is looking very seriously at whether we can make changes to the self-isolation measures that are in place for children and young people.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Education secretary

Somerville was also asked about a study which indicated that pupils across the UK have lost out on a third of their learning time amid Covid-19 – even when home lessons are taken into account.

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Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Exeter found that the poorest pupils suffered larger learning losses than their richer peers amid the pandemic.

She said: “Well, it is a concern and I’ve read that research note with interest today. But I think we should also be clear though about the context about when we’re looking at, for example, at the end of the school term, the absence rate within schools was around about 4%.

“But only 3% of that number actually had Covid. The vast majority of the rest of the children that were off school were self-isolating.

“And I think again that shows why the Scottish Government is looking very seriously at whether we can make changes to the self-isolation measures that are in place for children and young people as we move into the next academic year.

“But as I’ve said, that will of course be based on clinical advice and guidance.”

The Scottish education secretary said that people will expect the Covid education recovery group to work through the process to developing guidance.

She said: “I think we have a responsibility within Scotland to look at what’s happening here, and we also have a set way of developing that guidance.

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“We have our Covid education recovery group which has unions, parents, young people and other stakeholders, where we review that advice together, chaired by myself, and we discuss that guidance and come up consensually as far as possible with the guidance that goes forward.

“So that’s the process that’s in train at the moment and I think people would expect us to go through that due process to make sure that parents, young people and staff have the confidence that the guidance we’re putting together is fit for purpose and we’ve worked through that process together.”

“The welfare of our school pupils must be a top priority as we look ahead to returning to normality”.

Oliver Mundell, Scottish Conservatives

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Oliver Mundell said that the welfare of school pupils must be a top priority.

“The SNP Government have failed our children and young people throughout the pandemic,” he said.

“The current system in place is unsustainable and cannot continue in the new school term. “Pupils have already suffered so much disruption to their learning as a result of Covid.

“While teachers and young people are enjoying a well-earned summer break, SNP ministers should be urgently using this time to ensure that entire classes do not have to self-isolate where the risk of onward transmission is low.”

He continued: “As we look to end legal restrictions for people and businesses ahead of schools returning in August, it is imperative that safe and robust measures are put in place by SNP ministers in our schools to guarantee pupils will be able to learn in our classrooms. 

“The welfare of our school pupils must be a top priority as we look ahead to returning to normality.

“Ensuring an end to the current self-isolation rules is communicated well in advance of pupils returning would be an extremely welcome step forward from SNP ministers.”