Schools ‘only planning for two-metre social distancing’

MSPs were told full-time education for all pupils is impossible while two-metre distancing remains in place.

Schools: Assumption two-metre distancing will be in place. Getty
Schools: Assumption two-metre distancing will be in place.

Pupils returning to class with two-metre social distancing in place is the only scenario for which Scottish schools are planning, MSPs have heard.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government is considering evidence on the safety of reducing the measure in schools, amid warnings it will be “impossible” for all pupils to return under it.

But councils’ representative body Cosla has said all work to reopen schools on August 11 is being done assuming two-metre distancing will be in place.

Carrie Lindsay, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland president, said schools will need a significant amount of time to adapt their plans if the coronavirus guidance changes.

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She told Holyrood’s education committee: “It takes quite a long time to develop a plan like this.

“It’s not something you can change quickly, so there does need to be a space for us to make those changes.”

Cosla’s education spokesman Stephen McCabe added: “If there’s going to be significant changes then that will obviously add to the challenges for the local authorities.

“At this point in time, the government advice is two-metre social distancing.

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“We can’t therefore accommodate 100% of the pupils in schools so we have to have a blend of face-to-face learning and home learning.

“That’s the plan at this point in time, but if things change then plans will need to change – but it’s not easy to quickly change plans.”

Asked about the potential for relaxing the two-metre rule in schools during the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, Sturgeon said ministers are looking at options “that don’t involve the same degree of social distancing”.

She added: “I want to see if we can get that different model that I think will make it easier to get children back to school full-time as normal, but we’ve got to work through these things in order to satisfy ourselves that is safe.”

The First Minister said education and the safety of children will be “at the heart” of any plan, but she does not know if the current guidance will be changed in time for pupils’ return.

During the committee’s evidence session, ex-health secretary and SNP MSP Alex Neil said the current proposals – where regional differences could see some pupils returning to school for just one day a week – are “absolutely unacceptable”.

He said: “That is not good quality education, that is not blended learning, it’s bleeding learning. Surely we can do far better than that for our children?”

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McCabe responded: “What’s on offer is absolutely second-best, because the reality is that the best for children is to return to full-time education in school without any requirements for social distancing.

“The reality is that we are being advised by the government and by the scientists at this point in time that children can only come to school in August on the basis of a two-metre social distance.

“Therefore it’s impossible for us to provide full-time education with that constraint.”

Warning that councils are “under enormous financial pressure”, he added: “We’re striving to maximise the amount of time that young people can spend in school and be supported face-to-face, within the resources available to us at this point in time.

“If additional resources are made available, we can potentially increase that.”

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw called for Sturgeon to “show a bit more ambition and imagination” in getting more pupils back to school.

Announcing a campaign to “open our schools”, he added: “It’s simply not acceptable for some children to only be going back to school once or twice a week.

“That will worsen the already damaging situation of lockdown, and risks leaving Scottish children at a disadvantage compared to their contemporaries across the rest of the UK and Europe.”

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