Schools to get 850 new teachers through £50m boost

Scotland’s councils will be able to recruit 850 new teachers, plus 200 additional support staff, to help cope with the new demands of coronavirus when children return to full-time schooling next month.

Education secretary John Swinney yesterday said that half of a £100 million package of Covid-19 educational support announced last month will be spent recruiting staff to ensure schools can be made safe.

However he was accused by opposition MSPs of failing to have a proper “route map” for schools return, while “dithering” over making a firm decision that all schools will return on a full-time basis from 11 August.

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Education secretary John Swinney

Mr Swinney has said he would wait until 30 July before giving the final go-ahead for schools to return, which would leave less than a fortnight for parents to organise work and new childcare arrangements.

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Jamie Greene said that was “completely unacceptable”.

He added: “Parents are furious and bewildered as to why pubs, restaurants and shops are all open, yet there’s still no final decision on schools. John Swinney could easily have provided that much-needed certainty by taking a stand and making a decision on schools already. Instead he’s keeping parents, pupils and teachers on tenterhooks.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said Mr Swinney had left too many questions unanswered. “How ready are we really? How many additional teachers have actually been recruited? What proportion of school buildings have actually risk assessed for pupils’ return? As for mitigation, we are all of us over the age five, wearing face coverings in shops – can it really be the case that nobody is to wear them in schools?”

He added: “Schools are due to open just over two weeks. Yet we still have no final decision, councils still don’t actually have the resources they need and guidance on risk reduction is still being written.”

A demand for routine testing of teachers and other staff was made by Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer, who also said the guidance on social distancing was “an unclear fudge”.

“Teachers must keep distant from pupils, primary pupils don’t have to distance themselves, but secondary pupils are to somehow keep a distance at the same as being in full attendance. How this is possible in school buildings which don’t have any more space than they did in March hasn’t been explained.”

He added: “Given last week’s advice that the burden of requesting protective measures would be put on vulnerable young people themselves, it was reassuring to have it confirmed that every school is to carry out a risk assessment which fully takes their needs into account. With what we now know about the virus, those assessments must include the risk to young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”

The move to recruit more teachers was welcomed by the Educational Institute of Scotland, but it warned that more would be needed to support young people “in education recovery” and said councils needed to act quickly to ensure staff were in place in time for schools reopening.

Mr Swinney said the funding would give councils the “assurance they require to progress plans immediately” and stressed the government would work with Cosla “to understand the additional costs associated with the school re-opening guidance that each local authority is facing, and how these can be addressed alongside any loss of learning.”

He added: “We are currently developing guidance on health mitigations and precautions that will be in place to allow schools to fully re-open in August and a final decision on school re-opening will be announced on 30 July.”

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