South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has described Education Secretary John Swinney’s u-turn in parliament yesterday (Tuesday), on a return to full-time schooling from August, as a ‘victory for parents’ but warned questions remain over the details of the Government’s plans.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills addressed the Scottish Parliament yesterday afternoon, announcing that the Scottish Government is now working towards, and planning for, pupils to return to classes full-time after the school summer holidays with no social distancing.

Until now Mr Swinney had said just half of pupils would attend school at any one time in a ‘blended learning’ model which would have meant pupils in class for between one and three days a week with social distancing of two metres. Just 10 days ago he said the ‘blended learning’ model could last for an entire year but now says it is unlikely to be used at all.

Councils have been working round the clock to prepare extra school transport, re-arrange classrooms for social distancing, plan additional cleaning, draw up new timetables for each pupil and prepare learning materials including for home learning. With just a couple of days until the school holidays, councils will now need to develop plans for a return to full-time education.

Colin Smyth said: “This U-turn by the Government is a victory for parent power and will be greeted with a sigh of relief by many people who have been deeply worried by the Government’s handling of their children’s education.

“But the news that the return to school will be based not on new resources for extra teachers and classroom space but on scrapping social distancing for pupils will have many asking why John Swinney claimed days ago scientific evidence suggested we could need such distancing in schools for a year but now says we don’t need it at all.

“The last minute rushed announcement just days before school holidays start gives teachers no time to re-write plans and many questions remain unanswered.

“There is no government funding for councils to meet the massive extra cleaning bills they face or how extra transport will be provided for those who use service buses to get to school, as these buses will still have social distancing which limits numbers.

“There remain no plans for a proper transition for P1 and S1 pupils or how extra support will be provided for pupils to help them catch up from weeks of lost work. Crucially the Government is silent on what protective measures and testing will be carried out to keep teachers and other staff safe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, that developed into an economic one and now the Government’s shambolic handling has turned it into an education crisis.”

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