Ministers urged to go for full-time schools return

SAFELY restoring education to our young people as we hopefully continue to emerge from the worst of Covid-19 is one of a number of challenges facing the Scottish Government.

Ministers at Holyrood are looking to local authorities to introduce a 'blended' mix of learning, some digital, both at home and in school, whilst maintaining social distancing and other precautions.

I've been contacted by parents deeply concerned about the part-time nature of the proposals both from the point of view of a negative impact on children's education and the disruption to their own working lives and household budget.

I agree that a much more ambitious approach needs to be drawn up before the schools return in August and I am supporting a national online campaign advocating a greatly expanded in-school element to any plans.

Local authorities are currently looking at part-time options for when classes resume, as few as two days a week in some age-groups.

Naturally parents' main worry is ensuring children of all ages are safeguarded from coronavirus and I'm sure that is everyone's priority. 

But plans for as few as a couple of days in school each week, for what could be a lengthy period ahead, very much represent a second class education in many parents' eyes.

We all must accept these are difficult times. 

However, most of those who contacted me genuinely believe their children's prospects are being damaged and a more creative approach should be applied to ensure our young people receive as near as possible a full-time education in school.

There are other options. For example, I believe greater use could be made of newly qualified teachers, retired staff and supply teachers. 

Whilst many schools, particularly in rural areas, have spare space, where that is not the case there may be other options such as portable buildings, ideally located on the school campus.

Community buildings, such as public or church halls, have been suggested although with strict health and safety inspections required and other considerations, I understand that is not always as straightforward a concept as one would expect, at least in the shorter term.

It is important that the Scottish Government ensures local authorities have the funds in place to safely increase children's in-school education at the earliest possible date.

We need to be ambitious, whilst accepting, that, if the virus figures spike again, we must scale back these measures.  

However, children's hopes and aspirations are being damaged by the prolonged shutdown of normal schooling and that must be swiftly addressed.

It is not good to keep young people cooped up in the house and deny them more face-to-face education with teachers and the opportunity to socialise with their peers.

Resuming full-time education also eases the logistical nightmare facing working parents. It allows them to get back to their employment or business and will reduce the long-term damage to the economy which also threatens serious social consequences.

I understand the First Minister's caution during this difficult period but many believe she has been too slow to get detailed plans for schools in place and left local authorities without proper guidance.

Parents wishing more to be done to allow pupils to resume full-time education earlier than proposed can make their views known through an online campaign, promoted by the Scottish Conservatives, which seeks a more fuller return of Scotland's schools in August.

It is available online at https://action.scottishconservatives.com/back-to-school/