John Swinney: 1,000 extra staff for reopening schools

Primary and secondary schools on track for full return in August, but no final decision will be made until next week

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Around 1,000 extra staff will be hired to help schools in Scotland fully reopen next month, says education secretary John Swinney

Some 850 extra teachers and 200 additional support staff will be called on to help with Scotland's ambitious plans for reopening schools in August.

Both primary and secondary pupils should be able to return to school full-time next month, education secretary John Swinney told the Scottish Parliament this afternoon – although the final decision will not be made until next week.

However, concerns about Covid-19 transmission in secondary schools means that extra measures may be required in secondary schools, such as "managing the flow" of staff and students in school corridors, and rearranging the layout of classrooms.

Mr Swinney also outlined a series of health measures in school, such as quick access to Covid-19 testing for symptomatic staff.

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A final decision on the reopening of schools will be made by the Cabinet on Wednesday 29 July and set out to the Scottish Parliament the following day.

Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene criticised Mr Swinney for not making a definitive statement on reopening schools until next week.

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In response, Mr Swinney said that all local authorities will be opening their schools on 11 August, but that it was up to them to assess exactly when every pupil should return.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said the announcement of extra school staff – at a cost of £50 million  amounted to less than half a staff member per school.

He called for a drive to recruit "every available qualified teacher we can".

When asked about face coverings in schools, Mr Swinney said that staff and pupils should be free to wear them if they choose to. However, he added that the scientific evidence showed that face coverings should not be mandatory.

The education secretary also announced that £20 million would be allocated to councils for "additional costs associated with new health protection measures, school transport, enhanced cleaning and other essential logistical issues". Another £3 million will go to youth work, "to support education recovery".

Mr Swinney, who is also deputy first minister, said: "All of the school workforce have a crucial role to play in our education recovery mission, and it is vital that they are supported to do so. The ring-fenced £50 million funding to recruit more teachers and support staff will enable schools to intensify support for children and young people as they return to full-time, face-to-face education and help to mitigate for learning loss. The final numbers will be dependent on the precise mix of staff recruited and the needs of children and young people.

"The £20 million funding recognises the extremely valuable work of our school cleaners, facilities management and school transport staff, who are essential to the successful delivery of education in Scotland and to whom I want to pay tribute today."

EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The confirmation of ring-fenced funding to support the recruitment of an additional 850 teachers is a welcome step in the support required for educational recovery in schools across Scotland.

"It is essential that local authorities make use of this funding to recruit more teachers from all those currently available and seeking work – including newly qualified teachers, recently qualified teachers and teachers on supply and temporary contracts. The EIS would urge the Scottish government to clarify that this additional funding is open to employ qualified teachers from all of these categories."

Mr Flanagan added: "Clearly, with less than three weeks until schools are set to reopen, it is vital that local authorities act quickly to ensure that the promised additional teachers and support staff are recruited prior to the start of term."

Local authorities' body Cosla said it was "pleased we are close to agreement with the Scottish government on an additional £50 million to be invested in teachers and classroom support".

However, it added that the £20 million for other costs was "a disappointment". 

Cosla said: "We are currently awaiting updated guidance. As such, it is not clear at this time what the additional costs for classroom cleaning, supporting vulnerable pupils, providing school meals, school transport and PPE [personal protective equipment] are, or if vital resources can be found before schools return.

"Today’s announcement throws up a considerable roadblock on the progress towards schools reopening safely, and presents significant additional financial risks for councils."

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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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