GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT OF £100 MILLION TO TACKLE POVERTY ATTAINMENT GAP

Schools will return full-time in August if Scotland continues to make progress on suppressing coronavirus (COVID-19), Deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced.

The moves comes after significant progress was made in reducing incidence rates of the virus, putting Scotland on a more positive trajectory than previously expected.

As a result, the Scottish Government has now made it a central planning assumption that pupils will return to class full-time in August. This is conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to control the virus, public health and testing systems being in place and protective measures and risk assessments being carried out in schools.

A new sub-group of the COVID-19 Advisory Group will monitor progress and provide further advice to Ministers shortly. The Education Recovery Group will also meet over the summer to oversee next steps.

Councils will continue to prepare blended learning models as a contingency and these will be scrutinised by Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education.

Mr Swinney also revealed that an additional £100 million will be invested over the next two years to tackle the impact of lockdown on schools and pupils, including ensuring every current probationer teacher who meets the standard for full registration having a teaching post for the year ahead.

Education Scotland will work with E-Sgoil, the digital training platform, to develop a national e-learning provision for all senior phase pupils to access high quality lessons online learning by qualified teachers. This is in addition to the investment of £25 million to provide tens of thousands of laptops for disadvantaged children and young people.

Mr Swinney said “Since May, because of the efforts of ordinary people to stay at home, we have seen Scotland make significant progress. There are now only around 2000 infectious people in Scotland – a reduction of around 90% since May. There has been a sustained downward trend in COVID-19 deaths since the end of 20-26 April, and intensive care cases now stand at a fraction of what they were.

“If we stay on track, if we all continue to do what is right, and if we can further suppress this terrible virus, then the government believes that we should prepare for children to be able to return to school full time from August.

“A return to full time schooling would enhance the life chances of our children and young people and start to reverse any damaging impacts of recent months.

“I must stress: this is the aim that the Government is now working towards. However, because it has to be achieved safely, it inevitably remains conditional and dependent upon ongoing scientific and health advice.

“But it is a change born out of the hard work and sacrifice of people in every part of the country, sticking to the guidance, staying at home and suppressing this virus.  In particular, we should highlight the many people who as parents have supported their children while continuing to hold down jobs and caring commitments.

“I want to commend the work of local authorities and school and early learning and childcare staff across Scotland for the way in which they have responded to this emergency. They have worked tirelessly to protect the interests of our children and young people – through our childcare hubs, ensuring ongoing provision of free school meals, delivering remote learning, and planning for the next term.

“I must emphasise the importance of Scotland staying on track if we are to make it a reality. We must continue to ensure the safety of pupils, teachers and staff by engaging in such contingency planning, and that is why Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education will continue with their scrutiny of the plans when the latest versions are submitted by local authorities tomorrow.

“Even with a return to full time education, it is imperative that we increase levels of digital inclusion, which is why we have already committed to a huge digital boost through the investment of £30 million to provide laptops and connectivity solutions for disadvantaged children and young people. This will include £25 million of funding to enable a roll out of digital devices to school pupils to enable them to study online.

“Finally, while we want to support the wellbeing of all our children and young people, we know lockdown has been particularly difficult for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Reducing the poverty-related attainment gap is a defining mission for this government. We will therefore be working alongside partners to increase support to those families and communities who need it most.”