Education Secretary John Swinney revealed his family’s own “odd situation” of lockdown learning as he warned that home schooling could return in the event of virus outbreaks.
As the Deputy First Minister took part in crucial talks on how to pull the country through the Covid-19 crisis son Matthew, 9, was doing his schoolwork in the next room.
Matthew was taught in the living room by mum Elizabeth Quigley, who with multiple sclerosis is in the high risk category and had to keep a two-metre distance from him.
The temptation to share his school day with his dad was often too great, and on one occasion Matthew gate-crashed an important online meeting wearing a snorkel and goggles.
Virtual school trip
Matthew’s Blairgowrie school, in Mr Swinney’s Perthshire North constituency, had arranged a virtual trip to a Hawaii ocean park.
Mr Swinney explained: “That prompted Matthew to ask me to get his snorkel and goggles out, and while I’m in the middle of a video call Matthew makes an appearance in the said snorkel and goggles to the delight of everybody else watching involved in this call!”
Due to shielding, Mr Swinney’s wife led most of the home learning from the opposite end of an extended table.
While I’m in the middle of a video call Matthew makes an appearance in said snorkel and goggles!”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney
He said: “While all that’s going on I’m sitting at this desk, broadly on the phone or the computer all the time engaged in all sorts of conservations about Covid and recovery all the other issues that go with it.
“It’s been quite an environment!”
But he added: “The school has gone to great lengths to do a number of things to keep the school community together.
“They had a virtual sports day which was consistent with every sports day he has had at primary school. It was pouring with rain so it had to be inside not outside, very Scottish!”
Local lockdowns could mean more home learning
Speaking before the lockdown in Aberdeen prompted by an outbreak of Covid-19, Mr Swinney warned that such local restrictions could see pupils return to learning at home.
Mr Swinney said: “The blended learning propositions are very valuable because what they enable us to do is restore face-to-face learning where face-to-face learning didn’t exist between March and June.
“Blended learning is a step of progress compared to where we were in the immediate lockdown period where had no face-to-face learning.
“I can’t in all honesty predict what the course of coronavirus is going to be over the period ahead and there may be circumstances where we have to undertake some local arrangements.
“In that circumstance having access to a blended learning approach will be of real advantage because it will allow us to have less interruption to learning than was the case since the lockdown in March.”
I can’t predict the course of coronavirus… and there may be circumstances where we have to undertake some local arrangements.”
Pupils start returning to Tayside and Fife schools on Wednesday, and his priority, Mr Swinney said, was ensuring young people were safely reintroduced to full-time learning.
“That’s my biggest priority just now it’s been my priority since lockdown, to get young people back safely into full-time face-to-face learning as early as possible.
“And then to make sure that, if we are able to do that, that there is then every possibility of supporting young people to acehive their potential and to make sure that the wider objectives of education policy about closing the poverty-related attainment gap can be fulfilled as a consequence.”
Catching up required
Teachers, he said, would do what they always do, in assessing the learning position of each pupil and added: “Then they will take forward the rebuilding work that is required.
“There will be catch up that is required.”
He added: “It is really important that schools take time to make sure that everyone is ok.
“Fundamentally, young people will only learn effectively in a school if they feel safe and happy there.”
We don’t know all of the impact that lockdown has had on all young people.”
Mr Swinney added: “We don’t know all of the impact that lockdown has had on all young people.
“Some young people will have been able to go through lockdown well supported without really being particularly perturbed by it, others will have had a very different time.
“We have to make sure that teachers have adequate opportunity to build the relationships that are necessary so they can support young people in their wellbeing so they can then go onto their learning.”