Employers ‘must be flexible to allow home-schooling’

Education secretary John Swinney says he is 'wrestling' with the issues amid plans for a phased return to schools in August.

John Swinney: We hope lots continue to work from home. Getty Images
John Swinney: We hope lots continue to work from home.

Employers will have to be “flexible” with parents whose children have to learn from home when schools return, the education secretary has said.

John Swinney said the Scottish Government is still “wrestling” with issues such as how the children of parents who have to go out to work – such as NHS staff – will be home-schooled from August.

The Scottish Government’s plan for easing lockdown measures – if the spread of coronavirus is controlled – would see schools open on August 11 with a combination of in-school teaching and at-home learning.

However, this model has caused concern for parents who are unable to work from home.

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Swinney did not explain how the child of two frontline NHS workers would be taught at home, but said: “Our route map is predicated on lots more people continuing to work from home to contribute towards the work of their employers.

“We are not going to return to a pre-Covid normal of how schools or businesses operate.

“What this will require is employers to be flexible about the way in which they’re asking their employees to engage in work.”

Asked about the logistics of the plan, Swinney said he and economy secretary Fiona Hyslop are “wrestling with some of these questions with the First Minister”.

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Speaking to the BBC, he said the aim is to “make sure that business and education and other aspects of the community are working harmoniously as we adapt to what’s a really difficult situation”.

Swinney was also challenged on Scotland’s test, trace and isolate (TTI) with 600 contact tracers known to have been hired so far – well short of the government’s target for 2000 by June.

“I’m sure every effort will be made to increase the numbers,” he answered.

“But 600 is a good contingent of numbers to have in place to begin the work on contact tracing.

“Contact tracing is only valuable where you have suppressed the level of coronavirus in the community to be able to manage all of those contacts and to pursue them.

“So we will have the resources in place to do that so that we can take forward the test and protect strategy that the First Minister outlined yesterday, and that will be an integral part in supporting the decisions that we can take under the route map to further relax the constraints that people are operating under.”

Swinney also defended health secretary Jeane Freeman over accusations that she has lost the trust of the public after it emerged that 921 hospital patients were discharged to care homes before compulsory Covid-19 testing was enforced – significantly more than previously stated.

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He said: “I think any dispassionate observer would recognise that nobody could have given more commitment to leading the health service during this pandemic than Jeane Freeman.”