Blended learning is ‘worst-case scenario’ for new school year

The Scottish Government has planned for the “worst-case scenario” with its controversial blended learning plans, a member of Nicola Sturgeon’s expert advisory group on education has said.

A year 7 pupil at the Lipson Co-operative Academy in Plymouth, Devon, has a temperature reading.
A year 7 pupil at the Lipson Co-operative Academy in Plymouth, Devon, has a temperature reading.

Lindsey Watt, one of the Scottish Government’s International Council of Education Advisers, said if Covid-19 infection rates can be kept low over the summer “there are high hopes we may return to nearer normal levels of attendance in August”.

The former head teacher’s comments came after the First Minister suggested on Wednesday that schools may be able to open with “nearer normality” in August, depending on how successful efforts to suppress coronavirus have been.

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Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she will “move Heaven and Earth” to try to achieve that, describing the blended learning plans as a “contingency”.

At First Minister’s Questions at the Holyrood parliament on Wednesday, she pledged to get schools back up and running as normally as she can by the time they are due to return in August and committed to provide the cash needed by councils to ensure social distancing measures can be put in place.

She also said local authorities should be using “creative” ways to restart face-to-face teaching.

As it stands, schools are set to open up again on 11 August, with local authorities planning for children only to have face-to-face teaching in classrooms some of the time, with the rest of their learning done at home.

With some children only spending one day a week in a classroom, the proposals have prompted anger from parents.

Ms Watt told BBC Radio Scotland yesterday: “What we have planned for is a worst-case scenario for August.”

She stressed safety is at the forefront of the plans, saying: “The Scottish Government issued guidance based on scientific advice and international experience on how school communities could return to their buildings after Covid-19.

“Lots of people, including the International Council, the Education Recovery Group, parents, local authorities, have been consulted on how that might look.

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“At the forefront of all of these meetings it was the health and safety of Scotland’s children, school staff and local communities that were given the highest priority.”

But she added: “If infection rates are kept low over the summer I believe that there are high hopes we may return to nearer normal levels of attendance in August, and I believe that is what the Scottish Government wants.

“We can be reassured that everyone in Scottish education is working together to get the bairns back into school.”

Stephen McCabe, the children and young people’s spokesman at local authority group Cosla, said more cash for councils would help them increase the amount of time pupils could spend in school.

He told the same programme: “The more help we are looking for is more funding and we are actively engaged through Cosla with the government in trying to secure more funding which would potentially councils to increase the amount of face to face learning they could deliver.”

Mr McCabe said in some areas extra money could help pay for more staff while in others it is needed to fund a combination of expanded accommodation and additional teachers.

He said: “The guidance is clear from government that we should assume two metres social distance, we’re not planning for one metre. But if that advice was to change our plans would need to change.

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“We are doing all we can to try to maximise the number of young people that can get back to school at any single time and to support young people when they are learning at home.

“So I think we are moving Heaven and Earth to try to achieve that blended model.”

Mr McCabe added: “We are working on guidance provided by the government and agreed through the Education Recovery Group, which is about a return to school in August on a blended learning model.

“That is the plan that councils are focused on and working hard to deliver. That is the scenario that we are planning for at this point in time.

“If advice from the government changes obviously plans will need to change and be adapted.”

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