School closures will hit poorest pupils hardest, admits Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “acutely aware” of the impact of continuing school closures on children across Scotland, with pupils having been due to return to class today after the Easter holidays.

Teachers and young people will instead remain at home in the coming weeks with no sign of lockdown restrictions being lifted in the short term.

The First Minister said she was aware school closures were likely to have the “biggest impact” on disadvantaged children, but stressed that there was no expectation on parents to “replicate classrooms” at home.

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Opposition MSPs have warned the coronavirus crisis will only worsen the pre-existing attainment gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds, with wealthier parents likely to be able to devote more time to home schooling.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was aware the impact school closures were having on pupils

Earlier today the Scottish Government published new guidance to support home learning for children, aimed at teachers and other professionals working in the education system.

Further advice, aimed specifically at parents and carers, is due to be set out in coming days.

Speaking at her daily media briefing in Edinburgh today, Ms Sturgeon said: “For most children and young people, this week would have been the start of the summer term.

“I’ve said before, the decision we took to close schools, and to keep them closed, is one of the hardest I’ve had to take as First Minister as I know how disruptive that is to the lives and education of our young people, and I would like to thank them for putting up with this disruption so well.

“I also want to say a special thank you to parents and carers - I know many of you are juggling looking after children with work and other responsibilities, and the worries and anxieties that all of us have during this pandemic.”

She continued: “We are very aware this current situation is likely to have the biggest impact on the most disadvantaged children and young people in our society. We have provided local authorities with the flexibility they need to redirect resources we give them, aimed at closing the attainment gap, to help mitigate the impact.

“It is worth stressing at this stage, no one is expecting children, parents, and carers to recreate classrooms while schools are closed. I don’t think that’s either possible or desirable. But we do want to continue to protect their welfare, while continuing their ability to learn.

Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said: “It is no secret that poverty is the biggest driver of inequality in our schools.

“What is extremely concerning is that this huge inequality existed before the current crisis took hold.

“We know that the pandemic will only make this gap grow, with wealthier parents often able to stay at home and support their children, whilst many essential workers are among the lowest paid and unable to offer their kids the same support. Even access to an internet connection, which is essential for learning from home, is impossible for many families.

“A few weeks ago the Greens secured a government review of the relationship between the availability of Highers and poverty levels in a school community. That review will be essential to understanding this problem in the long term but there is a need to take bold action now to make sure our most disadvantaged children don’t see their education suffer the most during this lockdown.”

the most during this lockdown.”

The Scottish Government guidance aims to build on the “significant amount of positive work” that has already been undertaken by teachers and education professionals across Scotland to support learning at home, as well as the advice and resources that are already available.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Given the unprecedented circumstances, we cannot predict when schools in Scotland will reopen. However, our focus is that while schools are closed, learning continues, and we all have a role to play.

“Local authorities, schools, teachers and practitioners know their learners really well and have shown extraordinary dedication and professionalism in adapting and making decisions in the best interests of the children and young people.

“While we do not expect teachers, parents and families to replicate schools or classrooms, we are committed to working with all partners in Scotland’s education system to protect pupils’ wellbeing, and ensure learning can continue in an appropriate way, wherever possible.

“The guidance is aimed at those working in our education system. We are working closely with the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) on further advice, aimed specifically at parents and carers, which will be published in the coming days.”

Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) General Secretary Larry Flanagan, said: “This acknowledgement of the work being undertaken by teachers and schools is welcome as is the commitment to provide further support to parents, pupils and teachers across an unprecedented period of extended closure.

“The EIS also welcomes the recognition that supporting the health and well-being of pupils and staff is a critical aim, as without that, maintaining engagement with education at any level becomes even more difficult.”