New £45m funding package to help schools and families with ‘challenges’ of remote learning

Schools and families across Scotland will be supported by a new £45m funding package to help them deal with the challenges of remote learning during lockdown, according to measures announced by government.

Local authorities will be able to use the cash – equivalent to 2,000 additional teachers – to recruit extra staff, to purchase digital devices or for family support as part of a range of options to help with the difficulties of home learning forced by the latest Covid rules.

The commitment is on top of £160 million already allocated for education recovery since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total additional support provided to more than £200 million since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Private and third sector day care of children settings will also receive almost £4 million in temporary financial support.

Education Secretary John Swinney also asked HM Inspectors of Education to commence with a national review of the quality and effectiveness of remote learning across the country with the first report published next Friday, 22 January. The measures were announced after the national digital learning platform, Glow, was rendered inaccessible earlier this week after a global problem with Microsoft Teams affected users’ ability to log on. The issues have since been rectified.

The aim is to ensure all appropriate mitigations are in place to support a safe return including enhancing the testing programme in schools. Pilots of two different testing models – one using in-school testing with Lateral Flow Devices (LFD), and another involving at-home testing using PCR tests – will also begin in a small number of schools from next week.

Mr Swinney said: “I appreciate only too well the additional burden home learning is placing on many of our children and their families. After the last period of school building closures we commissioned an Equity Audit, published today, to better understand the impact on children’s learning and health and wellbeing, particularly disadvantaged pupils.

“Since the start of the pandemic our funding has led to an additional 1,400 teachers and over 200 support staff being appointed. The new funding can be used to recruit further staff – which might include teachers, classroom assistants, administrative staff, home/school link workers or other support workers – as well as the resources that families and schools need to support home learning, including additional digital devices where there is any remaining unmet need, and other home learning resources.

“The quality and effectiveness of remote learning across the country will be reviewed by HM Inspectors of Education. A programme of ‘national overviews’, will commence immediately and last for the duration of remote learning. These will seek to identify what is working well and where further improvement is required. These overviews will be published weekly to ensure they are available for everyone to learn and build from, starting week ending 22 January.

“I am aware that remaining open for very small numbers of children creates pressure for some childcare providers, and I can therefore confirm we will make temporary financial support of up to £3.8 million available for each four week period of restrictions to day care of children providers and childminding settings caring for 12 or more children who remain open for vulnerable and keyworker children during these restrictions. We will confirm details as soon as possible.

“If the evidence tells us we can get some pupils back safely, we will do that, and we will ensure the package of mitigations in schools remains robust and tailored to the circumstances we face. As part of that work, we expect that pilots of two different testing models – one using in-school testing with Lateral Flow Devices, and another involving at-home testing using PCR tests – will begin in a small number of schools from next week, helping to inform options for wider rollout.

“I am grateful to our hardworking, dedicated teaching professionals for their intense work to plan, organise and deliver learning. The virus will be beaten, and schools will return fully to intensify our efforts to achieve excellence and equity for all of Scotland’s children.”

The national e-learning offer in Scotland has been significantly expanded since the onset of the pandemic with increased live remote learning, recorded lessons and supported learning.

The offer includes e-Sgoil, which currently encompasses 27 courses ranging from national 5 to advanced higher, including live webinar lessons for advanced higher pupils. It includes a bank of online recorded lessons and 14,000 items of supported online learning and teaching materials, including resources for teachers to use in planning and delivery.

Access to that work is made possible for learners across Scotland through the Glow platform: in November 2020, more than 420,000 users logged on to Glow more than 7.6 million times, compared with approximately 260,000 users logging on to the platform around 3.7 million times during the same month in 2019.

However opposition MSPs criticised the government’s record on education during lockdown; Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party spokesman for education, said: “The move to remote learning has added to the pressures on teachers, on working parents and, more important, on young people. The move has been the Government’s contingency plan— its plan B —for quite some time, so why, 10 months into the pandemic, are there still so many uncertainties, such as about why access to meaningful remote learning has become a postcode lottery and whether teachers are supposed to give live lessons?”

Iain Gray, Labour spokesman on education, added: “It is clear that teachers in difficult circumstances have worked hard over recent months in preparation for a sudden shift to remote learning and that they were ready with materials and programmes for their pupils to continue learning at home.

However, many will feel that they have been let down by the national platforms on which they thought they could rely—most notably through a widespread software failure. There have also been problems with the flagship e-Sgoil platform. One headteacher told me that pupils logging in did not get the licence that was advertised, that links have not worked and that, in any case, most subjects are still not covered.”