Swinney to give Holyrood statement on plans for schools

The Scottish Government has faced criticism over its plans for 'blended learning' when pupils return.

Education secretary John Swinney will brief MSPs on the Scottish Government’s plan for schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ministers have faced criticism over proposals for “blended learning” when pupils return on August 11.

Under the plans, students would divide their time between classes and home schooling.

Swinney, who is also the deputy first minister, has said he wants to see at least 50% of pupils’ time spent physically in school.

However, a number of councils in initial consultations with parents only offered one in-school day a week for some secondary pupils.

The education secretary will make a previously unscheduled statement at Holyrood on Tuesday on the “next steps” for reopening schools.

Nicola Sturgeon gave the update at Monday’s briefing on Covid-19, saying Scotland faced an “education emergency” as well as public health and economic crises.

Speaking last week, Swinney said it could take up to 12 months for schools to return to normality.

The First Minister later stressed her firm hope was blended learning would not last the whole academic year.

However, councils and schools say there are significant limits on the numbers of pupils they could have in schools at one time as long as two-metre social distancing remains in effect.

Critics of the current plans include former first minister Jack McConnell, who compared the situation to the SQA’s botched exams in 2000, when thousands of pupils were given the wrong results.

The Labour peer said: “Twenty years on and we face an educational crisis that could damage another generation even more deeply.”

A former SNP health secretary, MSP Alex Neil, also slammed the policy as “bleeding learning”.

The Scottish Conservatives, who at the weekend demanded an education statement from ministers, said “parents are fuming”.

Sturgeon told Monday’s briefing: “As we have made clear, we want to get children back to education on a full-time, normal basis as quickly as possible.

“That is because of the importance of getting children back into education, starting the process of any catch-up on education… but also because we recognise, from a mental health perspective, getting children not just in school but interacting with their friends and peers on a normal basis is really important.”

The FM continued: “In government, you have to create the conditions to make that happen and that is what we’re very focused on.

“Because I think the one thing, hopefully, we would all agree is that the return to full-time, normal education has to be safe.

“It also has to take account of the considerations to protect children’s physical health and the physical health of teachers, who are also often parents and have families as well.”

She added: “The deputy first minister will say more on that tomorrow.”

Tory shadow education secretary Jamie Greene said: “It should not have taken opposition parties to drag John Swinney and this SNP government to parliament to explain themselves.

“The furore surrounding the SNP’s plans for re-opening schools is symptomatic of its decade-long shambolic stewardship of Scotland’s education system.

“Parents are fuming and want answers from this SNP government.

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