Millions of pounds of additional funding has been promised by the Scottish Government to help support local authorities with home learning.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament this morning, John Swinney announced that £45 million would be made available to local councils across Scotland.
The money is to be used to prioritise the purchase of laptops for children still waiting for devices for home learning, as well as the recruitment of additional school staff.
Due to the increased Covid-19 infection rate and the threat of the new coronavirus variant, most pupils are learning at home until at least the end of this month.
This is due to be reviewed in mid-January.
Why are young people being asked to use game consoles to access online learning”
Jamie Greene, shadow cabinet secretary for education
Mr Swinney said: “I can announce today a package of £45 million of new funding which will allow local authorities to deploy more support to their schools and families.
“This money is in addition to the £160 million I have already committed for education recovery since the start of the pandemic.
“The funding is sufficient in principle to support the recruitment of an additional 2,000 teaching staff up until the end of the financial year.
“However local authorities have the option to use it for other vital staffing needs including classroom assistants, administrative staff to support contact tracing and facilities management staff.
“Since the start of the pandemic, our additional funding has led to an additional 1,400 teachers and over 200 support staff being appointed.”
How prepared are schools for home learning?
Concerns had been raised about the preparedness of schools after it was revealed thousands of pupils were still waiting to receive devices days before the new term was due to start.
In Dundee, just 150 laptops out of a bulk order of 1,250 made last autumn had been handed out to pupils across the city.
Delays by the companies providing the devices were said to be to blame.
Thousands have already been distributed in Fife, but issues with supply meant more than 800 devices from an order made last summer were still to be delivered at the start of this term.
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for the Lothian region, claimed he had been inundated with families coming to him with their own concerns about home learning provisions.
This morning I put out a FB message asking for families in my region who don’t have access to IT for home learning to get in touch – I have been inundated with responses. I will send them all to the relevant council but this is clearly a very big issue that the Govt must address
— Neil Findlay MSP (@NeilFindlay_MSP) January 11, 2021
He said: “On Monday I asked families who did not have a computer or broadband access for online learning to get in touch with me and detail their problems.
“Within 24 hours, 100 families had made contact and I think this is very worrying.
“If 100 families from one single social media post in a limited area that my social media reach can get to contacted me, then what is the situation across the country in terms of those families who cannot access online learning.
“What is the government doing to quantify that and address it?”
Following revelations that Xbox and PlayStation devices could be used to access learning platform Glow, Jamie Greene, shadow cabinet secretary for education, also asked: “Why are young people being asked to use game consoles to access online learning and why does every pupil who needs a device to learn on still not have one?”
Addressing these concerns, Mr Swinney said that equipment for 70,000 pupils across Scotland had already been made available by the government.
He said: “We did a data collection exercise with local authorities last year and that identified that 70,000 young people needed to have devices or connectivity packages to help them access learning.
“The government put in place resources, some with the direct provision of Chromebooks and some some with direct funding to local authorities that enabled these needs to be met.
“I accept that is a moving picture and there may be other cases that will emerge, but that’s why I’ve put more resources on the table today to support local authorities in that endeavour.”
In his address to parliament, John Swinney also announced that school inspectors in Scotland are to start assessing the quality of remote learning.
He said: “A programme of national overviews will commence immediately and last for the duration of remote learning.
“These will evaluate what is working well and where further improvement is required based on information collected from various sources.”
Education Scotland, a government agency tasked with improving the quality of the country’s education system, has previously published guidance aimed at support teaching with remote learning.