Nicola Sturgeon rejects criticism from teachers union over schools return plan

The First Minister said the contingency plan of blended learning remained in place.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon before First Ministers Questions on Wednesday at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.

Nicola Sturgeon rejected accusations from Scotland’s leading education union that the Scottish Government’s decision to plan for a full time return to school for pupils in August was “political”.

Responding to questions from journalists during the daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said the decision was made because the science had changed rather than due to political pressure.

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Rejecting accusations that the plans were “half-baked” and that the government did not have their “ducks in a row” with the plans, Nicola Sturgeon said she would be lying if should could provide complete certainty in any plans.

She said: “It is probably as close to being as unfair a thing as anyone could say. We are dealing with an unpredictable virus so you can characterise it as being half-baked and not having our ducks in a row but actually what it means is we don’t know exactly what we are dealing with in terms of the levels of infection and the transmission of the virus.

“We can do certain things to control the virus but we know that we don’t have 100 per cent certainty or 100 per cent guarantee that we will be able to keep it at a low level.

“If I was to come right now to a fixed and settled plan for what we were doing seven weeks away, if I was to say to you here is the fully baked plan right now and that will not change, then I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities because we are not dealing with a situation that is fixed and unchangeable.

“That flexibility we need in all of our planning right now I am afraid is just a fact of life right now.

“All governments have to plan for the scenario they think they will be in and up until recently we thought that we would be in a scenario with infection levels too high to have full time education, now we think we are in a different place so we are planning for full time education.”

The Education Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest education union, had criticised the government’s announcement on schools, labelling it “political” and stating it did not meet the union’s three main red-lines to be met ahead of a return to schools.

In an email to members, the union said: “It is worth making clear that this was a political announcement from the Scottish Government – not an agreed outcome from CERG (Covid Education Recovery Group) which met only last week and discussed support for blended learning and the plight of NQTs but had no discussion around yesterday's statement.

“The EIS is not convinced that no physical distancing between pupils is safe and we are absolutely certain that physical distancing between pupils and teachers remains essential.

“We have raised already the issue of further mitigations potentially being required. At the moment we have asked for these to be considered without specifically advocating for them, and it may be that members will have different views which we will need to ascertain but, for example, why would it be mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport but not in a classroom?

“Why would a till assistant be protected by a perspex sheet but not a teacher? These are issues which need to be further examined.

“We need to be absolutely clear that it would be a fundamental error on the part of the Scottish Government, our employers, parents, or indeed anyone, to believe that Covid 19 will have gone away in August and that it will be business as usual for schools. It will not be.

“If that is a politically inconvenient truth for anyone, it nonetheless remains a truth.”

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