Full-time schooling in a pandemic – looking back at Term 1
No one could doubt the challenges that lay ahead when schools opened in August. We were asked – and we asked ourselves – how could pupils possibly safely return to full-time learning in the middle of a global pandemic?
Well, they could and they did.
Now, with most of Scotland’s children and young people on the autumn break, we can reflect on what has been a truly extraordinary effort by teachers, school staff, local authorities, parents, and pupils.
For everyone involved, this term was uncharted territory. Guidance, published with the Education Recovery Group, set out the measures that needed to be in place to keep pupils and staff safe. It has not been easy – enhanced cleaning, risk assessments, physical distancing where appropriate and for some, the use of face coverings.
But the broad picture is of an education system that has successfully returned to full-time learning.
Last month, Ministers heard from the Health & Safety Executive, who carried out a programme of checks to monitor compliance with the guidance. They told us that, overall, the schools they visited were doing “a great job” in implementing the guidance.
Inevitably, it’s not all been plain sailing. Some pupils and staff have had COVID-19. But in the vast majority of cases, it was contracted outside school, and where issues have arisen, quick action has been taken at local level to address them.
School attendances have been positive. Attendance rates since 8 September have been generally close to the 2018/19 average of 93.0%’.
Before and since the start of term, our teachers have been nothing short of heroic. They have worked tirelessly with pupils to begin making up for the learning time that was lost during lockdown and to get a good start on this year’s coursework.
Our school staff, from cleaners to janitors and catering assistants, have ensured schools are safe, welcoming places. As well as thanking them, I’d like to extend my gratitude to parents for their support. For many, myself included, it was hard, after so long in lockdown, to see our children leave the safety of home and go back to school. Parents have played a vital part in building confidence in children and in encouraging them to comply with necessary health measures, whether that’s making sure a clean face covering goes in the schoolbag every day or checking that hand hygiene is being followed.
As for the pupils themselves – the pandemic has been hard for all of us but particularly so for children and young people. I do not under-estimate that and pupils’ mental, as well as physical, wellbeing, is at the heart of our guidance for schools. The bravery and resilience of our young people at the hardest of times has been admirable.
Sadly, the challenges of coronavirus have not abated. In fact, they are increasing and we cannot predict the coming weeks and months. But this term has shown what can be achieved with a massive joint effort from our whole school community. Never before has a break been so well-deserved.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister