Scottish schools shut until at least August; Wales and Northern Ireland taking similar paths

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Scottish government and teachers do not expect schools to re-open before the start of the new academic year in August.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said Scotland would not be returning to “full-time, in-school learning for the foreseeable future”.

The union also said it would oppose any moves to bring forward the summer holiday dates so that schools could re-open earlier in August than normal.

“August seems to us to be the best date to ensure an ordered approach and to secure parent, pupil and staff confidence that schools are safe,” an EIS spokesman said.

In a statement made after British prime minister Boris Johnson announced that he wants schools in England to re-open to some year groups from June 1, Mr Flanagan also said that class sizes would have to be cut dramatically to comply with social distancing and other health guidelines.

“The EIS is clear that schools, and indeed colleges and universities, should not be physically re-opening until a comprehensive ‘test trace and isolate’ capacity is in place to prevent a spike in infection,” Mr Flanagan said, adding that strategies had to be in place to ensure schools were safe for staff and pupils.

The EIS is represented on the Scottish government’s new Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) and is “working at pace” over these issues, he said.

“A blended approach, with some continuation of remote learning being in place, is inevitable. How this might work is precisely what is under discussion.”

For its part, the Scottish government says it is considering a phased approach to returning pupils to school, “when it is safe to do so” but does not expect this to start soon.

Scotland's education secretary John Swinney said there was a need to build confidence among schools, teachers and parents before any return to the classroom. He gave no indication of when this might be possible.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, has rejected the June 1 date and said that a phased re-opening before the summer holidays, which in Scotland begins in June, “might not be possible”.

A document published by the Scottish government last week (2020) said that the government could develop a chronological list of priority groups who would return to school in an agreed order, while also modelling a new approach whereby most pupils are likely to have a blend of in-school and in-home learning for the “foreseeable future”.

The document adds: “This would include attending school part-time in blocks of a few days or even a week at a time, to enable deep cleaning of schools between groups. Learning at home will be supported by consistent, high-quality online materials which will be developed to support the curriculum.”

In Northern Ireland, the partial re-opening of schools has been included as part of step 3 of a five-step plan unveiled on Tuesday (May 12). The Northern Ireland Executive has not set out a timetable, but first minister Arlene Foster said she hoped to reach the final stage by December and progression would depend on health-related criteria.

For schools, it states under step 3: “Schools expand provision for priority groups on a part-time basis, using a combination of in-school and remote learning.” And under step 4, it adds: “Schools expand provision to accommodate all pupils on part-time basis with combination of in-school and remote learning.”

In Wales, it has been confirmed that schools will not re-open from June 1. Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “The situation for schools in Wales will not change on June 1. You have my guarantee that we will give everyone time to plan ahead of a next phase starting. Any decision to increase the operation of schools will be communicated well in advance. We will continue to be guided by the very latest scientific advice and will only look to have more pupils and staff in schools when it is safe to do so.”

Back in Scotland, many teachers have voiced concerns about low attendance of online lessons and a failure by the government or local authorities to require a daily register. Less than half of children were “engaging” with teachers – i.e. logging in and participating – according to one survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association in April. Many young people are reported to be completely “off radar”.

Others have pointed to a widening disparity on this front between the independent and state sectors, with private schools said to be experiencing better participation and fewer problems over access to technology in families.

Further information

Scottish Government: Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - further information, May 5, 2020: https://bit.ly/2SWLw6k


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