Blended Schooling “undeliverable and impossible for us to put into practice” in Orkney

Orkney is unable to provide the blended schooling recommended by Scotland’s Education Recovery Group according to  OIC Leader, Councillor James Stockan.

James Stockan is pressing for schools in Orkney to be returned to a ‘near normal’ schooling experience in August.

James StockanHe said:

” we have been fortunate in having relatively few cases of Covid-19.

“With effective test and protect measures in place, we all hope this will continue over the weeks and months ahead.

“In these circumstances, I am asking the Government to adopt a regional approach to the reopening of schools. We want to see a return to full in-school teaching as early as possible in areas like Orkney.”

Guidance on blended learning was published by the Education Recovery Group which includes representatives from Scotland’s local authorities, teachers’ organisations, parent groups and trade unions.

Education authorities and schools are asked to use the national guidance to work and develop their own local plans  in partnership with trades unions, staff, parents and children.

The return to school with blended learning would take place on 11th of August – the start of the Scottish school term.

During lockdown teachers and education staff, at every level,  have provided schooling for vulnerable children and those of frontline workers. For those working at home online learning and printed materials have been provided.

Teachers and staff have been preparing for weeks for the new term.

The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union – and the largest in Orkney. Has 3 red lines over the reopening of schools.

  • Established capacity to “test trace and isolate”

  • Significant operational changes in place to ensure implementation of all health guidelines e.g. effective social distancing, enhanced hygiene routines, and ongoing risk assessments in place
  • Transparent and shared evidence that the spread of infection is under control and that schools and educational establishments are safe places to work

A survey of EIS members established that a fifth  have underlying health conditions with just under that with shielding responsibilities.

Schools have to be safe for all those who work in them – pupils and staff.

The guidance drawn up by the national Education Recovery Group includes:

  • a focus on prioritising the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people, practitioners and families
  • using the Refreshed Narrative for Curriculum for Excellence as a practical tool for practitioners.
  • continuing engagement with children and their families to support them in this new way of learning
  • considering the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19), especially in vulnerable children and young people and those with additional support needs

In May the Scottish Government relaxed the conditions of the £250million Pupil Equity Fund so that councils could use it with more flexibility. Existing funding streams could also be used to support the most vulnerable children in their communities.

Download: Education and Early Learning and Childcare funding flexibility – May 2020

The Scottish Government invested £9 million for 25,000 laptops or tablets – with internet access provided – for disadvantaged children  to support their learning outside school. Additional funding of £50 million also went to councils with the highest rates of deprivation.

Council Leader James Stockan has said that Orkney does not have enough school transport, teachers or suitable space to provide blended learning as recommended by the Education Recovery Group.

James Stockan said:

“Teachers would have little or no time to prepare online resources for at-home learning – especially as there would need to be paper-based alternatives, given that many areas of Orkney have low or no digital connectivity.

“Quite simply this is undeliverable and impossible for us to put into practice. With the resources available to us, we calculate that the majority of our children and young people would be at school for two days a week at best.

“This would have a massive impact on our local economy, with one or more parents having to remain at home for much of the week, and on the wellbeing of our young folk.

“The alternative would be to spend vast amounts of money on the extra resources required to meet the Government’s aims – again with potentially devastating consequences for our community.”

The Education Recovery Group which provided the guidance is made up of the following representatives from councils, teaching bodies, trade unions and parents.

  • John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, MSP (chair)
  • Stephen McCabe, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), Children and Young People spokesperson (co-chair)
  • Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, MSP
  • Alison Cumming, Scottish Government, Director of Early Learning & Childcare
  • Carrie Lindsay, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), President
  • Eddie Follan, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA),
  • Fiona Robertson, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Chief Executive
  • Gayle Gorman, Education Scotland, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Chief Inspector of Education
  • Gillian Hamilton, Education Scotland, Strategic Director
  • Graeme Logan, Scottish Government, Director of Learning
  • Greg Dempster, Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), General Secretary
  • Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland, Chief Executive
  • Jim Thewliss, School Leaders Scotland (SLS), General Secretary
  • Joanna Murphy, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS), Chair
  • Karen Reid, Perth & Kinross Council, Chief Executive
  • Ken Muir, General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), Chief Executive
  • Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), General Secretary
  • Sam Anson, Scottish Government, Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing
  • Sheena Devlin, Perth & Kinross Council, Executive Director
  • John Gallacher, Regional Manager (UNISON)

Councillor Stockan has asked for a meeting with the Education Minister John Swinney “so we can jointly explore an acceptable way to move more quickly to remove current restrictions in Orkney – to help us deliver an earlier return to a near-normal education for our children and young people.”

school pupils

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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