The Scottish Government’s u-turn on reopening schools full time has been welcomed by Lochee councillor Michael Marra – but he warned councils now face a “challenging” task to develop new plans.
Education Secretary John Swinney said blended learning was a necessary contingency plan to prevent against a second wave of coronavirus.
Mr Marra, who is leading a new campaign Better Than This for Scotland’s Children, said the announcement will be a relief to parents across the country.
But he warned that the contingency plans – a mix of schools-based and home learning – must be “acceptable” for parents and teachers to deliver.
It comes as the Lochee councillor recently appealed to Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson to investigate the Scottish Government’s approach to blended learning.
On behalf of the Better Than This campaign, he said: “Parents across Scotland have made clear to the Scottish Government that the chaos of recent weeks, the lack of government planning, the absence of leadership was completely unacceptable.
“Passing the buck to headteachers was simply not on and led to a patchwork of approaches with many children set to suffer.
“Parents will be immediately relieved at this significant change of approach.
“Delivering the new policy will be incredibly challenging for councils and especially at this notice.
“Firstly, all of the work of recent weeks needs to be revised. Blended learning plans need to be in place and acceptable in case they are needed.
“Secondly, the work to get schools open safely and teaching staff in place starts today.
“Many teachers and other staff will be in vulnerable groups and it is not yet clear whether they will be able to return to work in a few short weeks.
Passing the buck to headteachers was simply not on and led to a patchwork of approaches with many children set to suffer.”
Councillor Michael Marra
“The government needs to be clear on the scientific advice that is underpinning their thinking so that policies are in place to keep people safe and so that parents and staff are confident that everyone will be safe.
“Crucially, today the Children’s Commissioner wrote to Better Than This and made clear that legal responsibility for making all of this work sits squarely with government ministers.
“It is their responsibility to put the policies and resources in place for the return to school and to make good the damage that the crisis has done to the life chances of Scotland’s children.”
But Mr Swinney said the government’s contingency plan would be scrutinised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.
Councils to prepare schools for pupils to return full-time
Dundee City Council’s children and families service convener Stewart Hunter said the council would be working to prepare schools for full-time education.
He said: “Our school staff have been putting in phenomenal efforts to ensure that plans were in place for the return of pupils in a phased manner from August 11.
“Ensuring the safety of our young people and staff is paramount.
“We will now be working with the Scottish Government, trade unions, staff and parent councils to help prepare for the possible resumption of full-time education from August.
“We will keep families informed of developments as soon as we can.”
Education decisions will have lifelong impact
The announcement comes as the Children’s Commissioner said Scotland’s education recovery group must use all available resources to the maximum extent to support children’s education.
In a human rights briefing paper, Bruce Adamson urged the government to heed the United Nations’ guidance on education to frame recovery plans.
The commissioner referenced the report in his response to Mr Marra, writing: “I am calling on the Scottish Government to take a leadership role that recognises ministers’ obligations under international law, to ensure that mechanisms are in place to hear children’s voices, to assess the impact of decisions on children’s human rights and to prioritise those whose rights are most at risk in access to services and support.
“The paper makes clear that in order to comply with international human rights standards, the restrictions on children’s rights to education must be in place for a minimum time necessary and must only restrict those rights to the minimum extent necessary.
“Although in Scotland, the government largely delegates the delivery of education to local authorities, ministers retain the responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil children’s human rights.”