Education secretary under fire over remote learning

Scottish government accused of ‘sitting on’ £800m as families struggle with home-based learning

Emma Seith

Coronavirus and schools: Scotland's education secretary, John Swinney, has come under fire over pupils lacking access to online learning

Labour has accused the Scottish government of “sitting on” £800 million from the UK government for Covid-related expenditure while there are children “falling through the gaps” and “being left behind” due to the move to remote learning.

As the deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney updated the Scottish Parliament today on the coronavirus restrictions – confirming there would be no change for schools announced until next week at the earliest – he came under fire over the quality of remote learning.

The Scottish Conservatives' education spokesman, Jamie Greene, said the online learning experience for pupils was “still not satisfactory” and called for young people to urgently get the experience “they deserve”.

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Jackie Baillie, the acting leader of Scottish Labour, meanwhile, referred to the first Education Scotland review of online learning, published on Friday, which highlighted that devices and internet access remained barriers for many.

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She questioned why the Scottish government was “sitting on £800 million of unspent money from the UK government for Covid-related expenditure” when that money could be used to help struggling families and councils.

She said: “There are multiple cases of families in my constituency, and indeed across Scotland, struggling to home-school their children.

“Education Scotland point to a lack of Chromebooks or IT or broadband; teachers report a lack of support and guidance. Children are simply falling through the gaps and far too many are being left behind.

“Local councils are struggling to provide the resources for the scale of the educational challenge faced. Today we hear from Audit Scotland that councils have a staggering budget gap of £767 million as a result of Covid.

“So can the deputy first minister tell me, therefore, why the Scottish government is sitting on £800 million of unspent money from the UK government for Covid-related expenditure. Why is this not being allocated to help struggling families home-school their children? And why is the SNP not putting our children’s education and wellbeing at the very top of the agenda?”

Mr Swinney said that Ms Baillie’s take on education was “far from reality”.

He pointed to the money that had been allocated to recruit 1,400 additional teachers and 200 additional support staff.

He said that, in total, £70 million has been allocated to increase recruitment and improve connectivity for pupils “the length and breadth of the country” and that there was a “huge amount” of very welcome support for educators.

In his statement, Mr Swinney also announced a further £30 million of support for students, colleges and universities.

Of this, he explained that £10 million would help colleges and universities make up for lost revenue linked to the pandemic.

The remaining £20 million would “provide further hardship support for students”, Mr Swinney said

He added this could be used to help those students who were having to pay rent on properties they could not live in at the moment.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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