The latest announcement from first minister Nicola Sturgeon was one of the most baffling and concerning ones to date.
During a previous announcement, she said that she aimed to bring “more senior pupils back” in three weeks’ time. The vague nature of this statement created consternation among school leaders and left them facing three weeks of anxiety about what she meant by “more”.
If there was a possible worst-case scenario, then it was realised in today’s announcement by the first minister. Secondary schools have just completed a model for 5-8 per cent of the pupils to return and will now need to create a model that will allow all pupils to return for at least some of the week, while maintaining social distancing.
And we will also need to do blended learning. There are so many issues with this position that simply cannot be worked around, but here are four that spring instantly to mind:
1. Pupils tend to not socially distance
It is almost impossible to force this upon pupils. They will be walking to school together, having lunch together and, in reality, probably seeing each other at the weekend. Therefore, attempting to force this in a school building is challenging and is also extremely difficult to achieve because of the width of corridors and other factors that there are just no getting around.
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2. We will only be able to engage with pupils in the building
In order to socially distance one class of 30, the average school will need three to four teachers. If you take a maths department, which has five classes at once, that would equate to 15 teachers. Additionally, if you are in a one-person department, in a subject such as home economics, you will only be able to have around six to eight pupils in a kitchen at one time. This will arguably put pupils at a bigger disadvantage than they are at currently because they will have less teacher interaction.
3. School timetables will need to be rewritten (for three weeks)
We will now have to rewrite a school timetable for a period of three weeks before normal service resumes after Easter. The workload attached to this is nonsensical and is, quite frankly, extremely challenging to achieve. If you reference my maths example above, it highlights the complex nature of this situation. If you duplicate that across the school, it throws up many difficulties. Additionally, there will be a number of staff shielding, which will make it impossible to timetable certain departments. Subjects such as PE will also have severe restrictions in their ability to offer activities in larger numbers.
4. Senior phase is not prioritised
The main issue teachers have right now is meeting the deadlines set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. This announcement does not prioritise the senior phase pupils and will actually hinder them when they are at home, because teachers will also have to deal with other pupils in school. The Scottish government keeps saying it has offered millions of pounds worth of funding but this is not being seen on the ground.
Teachers have once again been treated with utter contempt by Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government. Education secretary John Swinney continually refuses to listen to the education profession: if ministers wanted schools to return in this way, schools should have been prioritised for staff vaccinations. This latest announcement appears to be an attempt to please everyone that ends up pleasing nobody.
The Scottish government continually drops the ball when it comes to education – and we teachers feel like our health, wellbeing and safety are a complete afterthought.
The writer is a secondary school leader in Scotland