July 29, 2020 Blog

With less than two weeks to go until schools are due to return to full-time learning – clarity is urgently needed from the SNP

August is just around the corner. Schools are due back imminently, but this year, parents like me still do not know what to prepare for.

The big questions related to safety and how the school day will run still remain unanswered.

With only weeks to go, uncertainty persists regarding matters as varied as hygiene procedures, provision of mental health services and the availability of wraparound childcare to allow parents to return to work.

As worrying as the situation is, many concerns could have been alleviated if the SNP had implemented a clear plan to reopen schools. Instead, the lack of clarity every step of the way from John Swinney, the Education Secretary, has made a troubling time worse, and statements to Parliament have often raised as many questions as they answered.

In the months that schools have been closed, the phased approach the Scottish Government has taken to get other sectors back on their feet could, and should, have been applied to schools.

Such an approach could have planned for full reopening as a baseline, with phases working towards this if it was not immediately possible.

Instead, schools and local authorities were left in a six-week scrabble to co-ordinate a new plan after the previous one of “blended learning” (part-time in-school, part-time at home learning in real speak) was ditched towards the end of June.

Despite education being the Government’s supposed ‘top priority’, the fact is they took the time to prepare a phased approach to reopen pubs, but not schools.

In the absence of risk-assessed phases to fall back on, schools have been left vulnerable, without procedures to follow in the event of local or national flare-ups.

The SNP Government has to be realistic. We simply cannot allow a situation to unfold whereby teachers, school staff and pupils are returned to classrooms without proper provisions in place. And to that end, every new announcement must be backed up with the relevant scientific evidence and updated as our knowledge improves of how COVID-19 behaves.

As important as the everyday running and safety of schools is, attainment and quality of education is the other pressing issue.

Long-term, pupils cannot continue to be governed by structures that have led to decreasing standards and a persistent attainment gap. But short-term, in the absence of clear data of the impact of school closures on young people, especially those who are most disadvantaged, it is essential that the Scottish Government undertakes a pupil equity audit. This would be an investigation focussed on the extent to which Covid-19 and school closures have exacerbated the attainment gap.

Such an audit is essential if we are to know what interventions are necessary and where resource is best allocated.

No matter what is announced next, the long-term effects of school closures will be felt for years to come. We must continue to hold to Scottish Government to account and ensure they are doing all that they can for the next generation, especially those whose futures stand to be the most impacted by the pandemic.

Daniel Johnson, MSP

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