Fears have been raised that the “inconsistent” way in which the strictest level of Covid-19 restrictions is being interpreted in schools will widen the attainment gap, with the government’s approach labelled “irresponsible”.
A report on the investigative journalism website The Ferret reveals that some councils under level 4 restrictions have decided to continue with face-to-face supported study classes for senior students after school hours, while others have moved them online or suspended the classes altogether.
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Optional supported study classes are provided in order to help prepare senior-phase students for end-of-year exams.
Eleven Scottish local authorities were placed into level 4 restrictions this month. Although schools are expected to remain open under these restrictions, some enhanced measures were put in place including “pausing of the provision of non-essential activities or clubs outside the usual school timetable”. However, no definition is provided to clarify which activities are “non-essential”, and The Ferret found that councils had interpreted the rules in different ways.
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In East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Glasgow and South Lanarkshire face-to-face supported study classes were continuing during level 4 restrictions.
However, schools in other council areas had either suspended supported study classes or moved them online, with authorities citing Scottish government guidance as the reason for their decision.
Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, told The Ferret: “It is simply unfair that some schools are offering study support whereas others are not.
“The students who most need study support from the school are those whose parents are least able to provide it, for example because the parents are working full-time in a shift pattern that reduces their time with their children.
“Not providing study support would exacerbate all the usual ways in which children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind unless they get help from the school.”
Professor Paterson added: “It seems to me to be rather irresponsible of the government to say that this is solely a matter for local authorities.
“The government is very willing to provide leadership – indeed to provide instructions – on many aspects of the present health emergency. Why not on schooling?”
The Scottish government has also been criticised recently for failing to provide clear national guidance when it comes to the delivery of practical subjects, such as music.
Alastair Orr, a member of the EIS teaching union’s instrumental and vocal teachers’ network, who is a brass instrumental music instructor, told Tes Scotland last week that clear guidance from the Scottish government on the teaching of wind, brass, bagpipes and singing in schools was needed.
He said in some authorities face-to-face lessons were going ahead but in others they were not.
“There is no doubt that pupils who are able to receive a face-to-face lesson are in a more advantageous position when preparing for exams,” Mr Orr said.