Plans to help the education system recover from the Covid pandemic and build on “significant innovation and growth” which took place during the public health crisis have been unveiled by SNP ministers.

With the use of digital tools and resources accelerated as a result of disruption to schooling over the past 18 months – the strategy outlines how the Scottish Government will further harness the power of technology in the classroom.

Recognising that devices were “relied heavily upon” during lockdowns to “help motivate and engage children and young people in their learning”, the recovery plan commits to building on the National e-Learning Offer (NeLO).

In part, this will be done through the delivery of the National Digital Academy, which will allow learners to access the full Highers curriculum, regardless of age, school or location.

And it promises to maintain the NeLO so that schools can use it to support pupils who may need to access additional resources “to consolidate learning”.

The NeLO was developed into a full scale programme in 2020 and 2021. It includes live, interactive lessons through Stornoway-based remote learning facility e-Sgoil, recorded video content through West OS for learners to use as directed by their teacher, and study support webinars and resources.

The document reads: “Significant innovation and growth took place over the pandemic, building on the solid foundations of the Glow platform and the trailblazing work of e-Sgoil. By the time of the January lockdown, we saw schools, teachers and young people making much more extensive use of the resources available through the NeLO – in part enabled by the rollout of devices which reduced the number of young people who could not access remote learning because they lacked a device or internet access.

“While enforced remote learning was clearly second best to in-person learning, the experience has given us evidence and understanding of how digital and remote learning platforms can enhance young people’s experience of education and provide more tools for teachers and schools to engage their pupils in learning.”

The plan also pledges to provide a device to every child in Scotland during this parliamentary term, which will “continue to support increased use of digital resources”.

It states: “To support continued learning during the pandemic, we provided funding of £25m for around 70,000 devices and 14,000 connectivity packages which were distributed to learners across Scotland – and we are committed to providing a device to every child in Scotland during this parliamentary term.”

Reference is made to numerous “innovative ways” in which councils have used these devices to support remote learning – including lockdown journals, online dance instruction and art lessons, maths-based scavenger hunts and digital assemblies.

According to education expert Keir Bloomer, chairman of the Commission on School Reform, the new strategy shows that the government is “keen to learn from the Covid experience”.

Bloomer said: “There is a clear recognition of the importance of new technology during lockdown and a willingness to see it assume a greater role in the future… This suggests an interest in the continuing use of some degree of blended learning.”

But although Bloomer believes “there is much in the plan to applaud”, there are “many points of detail which need to be explored”.

He asked: “How will parents be supported to help learners use the additional resources? Will the government ensure that poor households are fully able to use their devices? Will the government tackle lack of wifi [and] crowded spaces? Will it support flexible use of teacher time or the engagement of tutors? Has the plan be fully thought through?”

The new plan also includes:

  • further support for learners who are sitting exams in 2022
  • access to in-school mental health and wellbeing support that young people need, including counselling services
  • recruiting 3,500 additional teachers and 500 support staff over this parliamentary term
  • expanding funded early learning and childcare for children aged 1 and 2, starting with low-income households
  • committing £1 billion to tackle the poverty related attainment gap and support education recovery

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said the SNP has “lost its way on education”.

He said: “This is the same old, same old plans reheated by an SNP government that has lost its way on education. The poverty related attainment gap is as wide as ever and the SNP have run out of ideas on how to close it. The pandemic hit young people hard so you would expect the government to step up the support rather than just repackaging the same policies in a shiny new document.”

And Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the Educational Institute Scotland (EIS), called the education recovery plan a “missed opportunity”.

He said: “Clearly, there are significant elements within the plan to be welcomed – not least the commitment to increasing teacher numbers, the creation of more permanent posts to tackle the scandal of 10 per cent of current teaching posts being temporary, and the reduction in class contact time to 21 hours.

“Overall, however, the plan largely restates existing workstreams and fails to promote a single big initiative such as a reduction in class sizes, which would catalyse an education recovery programme and bring immediate benefits to Scotland’s children and young people.

“Smaller class sizes, even on a limited basis as a starting point, such as P2 and P3 or S1 and S2, would mean more teacher time per pupil and assist with targeted interventions where the pandemic has impacted disproportionately on children’s lives. As a country, we need to be bolder in our ambitions for our youth.”

Ms Somerville said: “Our collaborative and ambitious programme of support to aid recovery right across our education sector has been underway for many months.

“Schools are still dealing with the pandemic and we will continue to support them through these challenging time. However, as a Government we must also be focused on recovery. Supporting children and young people remains our top priority, and almost £500 million of additional funding has already been committed during 2020/21 and 2021/22 as part of education recovery. Of this, £240m is to recruit extra staff to ensure resilience and to provide additional support for learners and teachers.

“Other initiatives will play a crucial role, such as the provision of free school breakfasts and lunches all year round for all children in P1-7, digital devices for every child, abolition of fees for instrumental music tuition, removal of core curriculum charges, and our extended early learning and childcare offer.

“Pupils sitting exams in spring 2022 will be offered a package of support, which will include online revision classes and targeted help for those who need it most. At the heart of all of this is our children and young people, who we will ensure have the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential in school and beyond.”