Education secretary John Swinney admitted some pupils may have more “face to face” time with teachers in the classroom than others when the new “blended” schooling model gets underway.
It has now emerged that some local authorities, including Fife, will see pupils return for just two days a week at primary school. But secondary school pupils in Fife will receive even less class time at first, only returning one day a week during August.
This will rise to between one and two days a week in a second stage of return. A third stage for secondary pupils in the kingdom will see their time in school increase to 50 per cent of the week, although the timescale remains unclear.
Only a third of school pupils in Edinburgh will be attending classes at any one time.
Other councils are still to confirm their return-to-school plans. Most schools are scheduled to return on 11 August, although the final decision is down to local authorities, with some pupils starting as late as 13 August.
And although schools are planning to hold national exams next year following the cancellation of this year’s diet, Mr Swinney admitted this was still not guaranteed as he appeared before Holyrood’s education committee yesterday. The physical distancing required in schools to suppress the spread of Covid-19 means not all youngsters will be able to return at the same time when schools go back.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday rejected calls to relax the 2m social distancing rule. The resultant “blended” approach will see pupils attend in “part-time” blocks.
Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene told Mr Swinney yesterday: “Looking at some of the plans I’m seeing from local councils – some are proposing as few as two days per week attendance in school in August and beyond for some pupils.” He questioned whether this was a “justified and proportionate” response given the low rates of infection among under-15s.
Mr Swinney said he wanted to see the amount of time pupils spend in school being “as close to 50 per cent” of the week as it could be. But he added: “I accept in some circumstances that will not be possible.”
Mr Swinney went on: “That will vary around the country because there will be varying levels of school occupancy.
“Given the variation in school occupancy, there will be schools in the country that will be able to offer more face to face schooling and more time in school for young people than others.”
Pupils will be taught at home when not in the classroom through remote schooling, with employers being widely encouraged to let staff work from home to assist for child-minding purposes.
In Edinburgh, only a third of school pupils will be attending classes at any one time. Every pupil will have a mix of teaching in school and learning at home and the days they attend will be determined by their school.
Nursery and primary children will be grouped together to enable family members to attend school on the same days. In secondary schools, pupils will be grouped together either by year group or family group depending on the individual arrangements made by their school.
Pupils at special schools will be in for 50 per cent of the week with the majority offering two full days in school and the rest as home learning.
Mr Swinney conceded the blended learning model, with pupils returning to classes part-time in August with some learning also being done from home, would mean “educational outcomes will be jeopardised”. He said: “The current model for the delivery of education is not as effective as the model we had prior to Covid.”
SNP MSP Gail Ross told the education secretary a “lot of parents are absolutely dreading” the blended learning system after “struggling” with home schooling.
The Government is already seeking a collaborative approach between “the world of education” and the world of business to reach an agreement on this issue.
Mr Swinney said: “The economy secretary Fiona Hyslop and I regularly discuss with the business community the importance of employers being sympathetic and supportive to the challenges that individual parents will face as a consequence of their children not being at school full time and therefore some greater time being required to be spent at home.
“That is a model that our society has become more accustomed to given the fact that we’ve had a prolonged period since March in which fundamentally people have been told to stay at home.
“We need to work to a position where there is that understanding and dialogue between employers and employees on these questions.”
But he warned that going against the scientific advice on this would be a “recipe for anarchy” as the authorities seek to establish some kind of schooling model in Scotland.
“I don’t want the blended learning model to go on for a minute longer than is required,” he said.
“I do not want this to be a long-term educational model for Scotland.”
Mr Swinney said work was under way for exams, which were cancelled this year, to be held in spring 2021.
But he warned the “ongoing impacts” of Covid-19 meant he could not say “with absolute certainty” these would be able to take place.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has been in touch with schools to make staff aware of the need to gather information and evidence on students’ performance throughout the coming academic year in case exams cannot take place for the second year in a row. Further guidance will also be issued about “collecting information and evidence to support the judgments about the achievements of young people”.
Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said “inevitably” the blended learning would have an impact on learning, as he questioned why exams could still be “conducted in a normal manner”.
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