Coronavirus: Dismay grows over numbers in schools

Petition calls for scrapping of all SQA external assessment, amid fears over number of staff and students told to be at school tomorrow

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Dismay grows over numbers in schools

A petition is calling for an immediate end to external assessment in Scotland for 2020, amid growing concern about the number of staff and senior students told to be in schools tomorrow.

While there is widespread support for schools providing a service to the children of "key workers" and vulnerable pupils, many have expressed opposition to the guidance in parts of Scotland that – barring exceptional circumstances – all staff and S4-6 students should be present in school tomorrow.

On Wednesday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that all schools would close from Friday. However, many staff and students are being told they should come in next week to complete coursework or even to sit new assessments and prelim exams, after this year's Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams were cancelled on Thursday.

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Some staff and students have been told that schools should be considered as operating as normal close to possible and that pupils should wear their uniform.

On Friday evening, more drastic measures were announced to combat the spread of coronavirus, with first minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing that pubs, restaurants and gyms should close. Yesterday, UK government education secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted: "You should only send your child to school on Monday if you have to, because your work is critical to our Covid-19 response. If you are able to keep your child at home, you should.  

The petition, which was started yesterday afternoon, had, by just before 10am, been signed by 1,031 people.

It reads: "The Scottish government have taken one step in the right direction by cancelling exams this year, in the interests of public safety.  However, this measure is invalidated by the SQA's apparent unwillingness to cancel the uplift of assessable unit work/ coursework for examination, despite the fact that school closures will definitely have impacted on pupils ability to meet the deadlines set. This has led to teachers now being told to report to work, which compromises their safety. Senior pupils, worried about their grades are now considering risking their health to complete folios. This flies in the face of current advice.

"Unprecedented circumstances should dictate unprecedented responses. For this year the only sensible option is to apply estimates and close schools to all except the vulnerable kids and the children of key workers. With of course a rota of skeleton staff 

"Use grade estimates and teachers professional judgement for this year's awards."

One secondary teacher, Andrew Bailey, has shared online a letter he has written to his MSP and MP, because he is so concerned about "the unnecessary health risk of continued SQA assessments". In "truly exceptional circumstances", he said, there should be "no need for any coursework this session to be externally marked".

Nicola Fisher, a former EIS union president, tweeted this morning calling for clearer messaging at a national level.

On Friday afternoon, EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan told Tes Scotland that, other than those already exempt from working for various reasons, teachers would be asked to work in a school on Monday.

However, he said that number would fall over the course of next week as it became clearer what level of demand there would be for support for parents who are deemed "key workers", such as nurses and doctors.

Secondary teachers would also be completing coursework to ensure their students had enough evidence to show their progress this year, now that exams have been cancelled, he added. He said that schools should not be generating extra evidence by, for example, setting new prelim exams next week.

On Friday, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) published advice for its members, which states that the "first consideration for members is your own personal safety" and there "must be no normal lessons, including senior classes, taking place after [5pm on Friday] as schools are closed".

NHS guidance states: "Social distancing measures are for everyone, including children. We should all be trying to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19)."

The guidance also says: "Work from home, where possible - your employer should support you to do this."

It states: "Avoid large gatherings and small gatherings in public spaces pubs, restaurants, leisure centres and similar venues are currently closed as infections spread easily in closed spaces where people gather together."

The Scottish government and SQA are being contacted for comment.

More details will follow.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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