Scottish pupils are set to begin returning to school on Monday 22 February, but some secondary staff say they have not been able to plan because of a lack of detailed guidance from the Scottish government.
On Tuesday 2 February, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish government was planning for P1-3 pupils to return full-time on 22 February, while some senior secondary students would return part-time to complete “practical work that is necessary for the completion of national qualification courses”.
However, the Scottish government has confirmed it will not be until tomorrow – more than a week after Ms Sturgeon’s announcement – that secondaries will receive the detailed Education Scotland guidance on the subjects this includes.
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A further obstacle to preparations is the February break: some local authorities in the west have already had their mid-term holiday but in some parts of Scotland, including Edinburgh, schools will be off on holiday when the guidance is published tomorrow.
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In some areas this means there will be as little as three working days to plan for the safe return of pupils.
When the changes come in – something which the Scottish government is expected to confirm on Tuesday – headteachers say they are going to be expected to run three schools: one providing online learning; one providing childcare for vulnerable pupils and key workers' children; and another providing face-to-face teaching for those included in the first wave of returns.
They say they need more staff and support, with primary teachers raising the question of how staff with composite classes that include pupils in upper and lower primary are going to provide face-to-face teaching and online learning.
In secondary – because social distancing of two metres will be in place – fewer students will be able to attend at any one time. One design and technology teacher told Tes Scotland that this would mean five pupils in a workshop, with the result that one practical class of 20 pupils becomes four classes.
A secondary headteacher also raised this issue, saying that practical classes would need to be split to allow for social distancing. He described the return as “a logistical nightmare”.
School staff are also concerned about childcare, given that they could be returning to school full-time while their children continue to be at home for school.
HTs are effectively running 3 schools with this approach - hub/ key worker provision, online learning and in school support for Primary 1-3s. The impact of this on our HWB is massive. We need more staff and time to plan. Waiting on an announcement on Tues is too late!— Mrs Emma Johnstone (@emma28008777) February 10, 2021
My mum has a p1-7 class, how is she meant to deliver online for p4-7 when she has p1-3 infront of her? Common issue in rural schools. It's not like you can provide and find another teacher at the drop of a hat, it's hard enough to recruit at the best of times.— Mrs Chaimbeul @Millburn (@MrsC_MillburnG) February 11, 2021
There needs to be more PPE for all staff, social distancing needs to be implemented. Schools are not safe until mass testing is implemented and it covers all staff. Not just teachers. But Everybody who works in a school.— Olivia G (@OliviaG37717638) February 10, 2021
A Scottish government spokesperson confirmed that the guidance on the planned phased return of students in S4-6 is due to be published tomorrow. She said that when the guidance was published, councils and schools could then implement it to best suit their local circumstances.
She added: “We are indebted to teachers for their hard work during this crisis and, through the [Covid-19] Education Recovery Group, we continue to meet regularly with teachers’ representatives and to discuss with them how best we can support our school staff.”