Delight and apprehension - one parent's take on the plans for Scotland's schools

For Pamela Dickson, a change programme consultant from Ratho, whose day to day work involves managing risk, the past three months have been an unsettling time as a parent.

Pamela Dickson with her sons, Jake and Sam. Picture: Pam Dickson

Her youngest boy, Jake, four, already has his school uniform hanging in the wardrobe ahead of starting primary one in August, while big brother Sam, seven, is set to go into primary four. The experience of homeschooling the boys during lockdown, their mother says, has changed over time.

“At the beginning of it all, I was quite relaxed about things, and thought they would only miss out of a couple of months, but the thought of blended learning, especially for my youngest, who doesn’t fully understand what school means, made me uneasy,” she explained.

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As she read Tuesday’s announcement by John Swinney, the education secretary, which detailed the Scottish Government’s aim for all schools in Scotland to reopen full-time, with no physical distancing in place, Ms Dickson felt conflicting emotions - “a mix of delight and apprehension,” as she puts it.

“Every bone in my body wanted to be relieved and glad, but the reality is, we don’t have any level of certainty, and the government can’t give us that level of 100 per cent certainty,” she said.

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“There are a lot of caveats, and parents in Edinburgh have been told that only 33 per cent of kids will be in school at any time. I’m still a little terrified that if the R number doesn’t stay low, my kids could be going back to school under that model.”

A supporter of the 50:50 parents campaign, which calls for a minimum of 50 per cent in-school time for children come August, Ms Dickson urged authorities in Edinburgh and further afield to set out their plans for how many pupils can be accommodated in-school depending on how well the virus is being suppressed. Otherwise, she says, the uncertainty and anxiety will continue.

She said: “If the science and the experts determine that it’s safe for all kids to go back, then great. What I don’t understand is how some councils can claim it’s safe for just 33 per cent of pupils to attend, and others say it’s safe for 50 per cent to do so.

“There’s a balance to be struck, and I’m worried that if the numbers aren’t suppressed by August, the only contingency plan in place for my kids is for one day a week in school. There’s a huge difference between that and a full time education, and I’m worried that Mr Swinney’s announcement will distract from that discussion.

“Our school and nursery have been amazing, but in terms of me trying to tell the boys what’s happening, I don’t even know what I’m trying to explain any more,” she added. “I can’t tell Jake how many days he’ll be back in school, or whether he can wear his uniform, and I’m worried about his emotional and social needs.”

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