Scotland’s education secretary John Swinney has suggested that all pupils could be back in school before the end of this academic year, as younger children and some secondary students prepare to return to classes on Monday morning.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Mr Swinney dismissed suggestions that full-time lessons for all children would be delayed until September, saying that authorities want to follow the effects of the limited classroom re-opening first, to make sure it’s then safe to get other pupils back to school.
“I’m very keen to make sure that pupils get back to face-to-face learning at the earliest opportunity, and we’re taking the step we’re taking tomorrow because we think that’s a right and very appropriate step for the very youngest children to do so” Mr Swinney told journalist Martin Geissler.
Younger children, said Mr Swinney, are “the ones who have the greatest challenges engaging with remote learning, so we want to get them back to face-to-face learning.”
It was announced this week that children in primaries one to three would be allowed back to school, while some secondary students who need to undertake practical work to complete a specific qualification requirement are also able to attend classes from Monday.
“Safety is absolutely paramount” said Mr Swinney. “We want to move on to further stages of an education return when it’s safe to do so but we have to monitor the effect of this first part of it to make sure it’s safe to make that next step.”
Although authorities in Holyrood and Westminster insist they’re collaborating closely on a four-nations approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland and England are out of step when it comes to the strategy on education.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of March 8th to re-open classrooms south of the border, a move supported by the Labour Party but opposed by teaching unions.
Mr Swinney says that the Scottish Government has got to “tread with great care” and that the respective administrations in Scotland and England have to make their own decisions around education based on the evidence available to them.
Different plans on restrictions, and easing out of lockdown
Mr Swinney was also asked about longer term plans to come out of lockdown, with both the UK and Scottish Governments set to unveil their own road maps in the coming days.
Although London and Edinburgh have stressed the need for caution, and said there won’t be any rapid return to pre-pandemic normality, there are likely to be differences in how exactly each government takes the next steps in that process.
“We’re all trying to cooperate, but we all accept and respect the fact that we’ve all got our own decisions to take in our own context” said Mr Swinney.
“When it comes to relaxing lockdown we have to take our own decisions based on science, and based on the evidence and based on our own judgment about what is the right step to take for our own community.”
There are already different regimes in place for compulsory quarantine of incoming air passengers, with England mandating quarantines for any traveler coming from a list of 33 high risk countries, while Scotland is enforcing quarantine for all incoming airline passengers regardless of their country of origin, with limited exceptions.
Mr Swinney says that public health officials know from last summer and autumn that foreign travel was one of the main reasons for a resurgence of the virus in Scotland, and he would like the UK Government to enforce the same tougher requirements for arriving passengers as Scotland already has.
“The type of practical measures that we think are necessary on quarantine we would like the UK Government to follow as well because we think that would protect absolutely everybody in the United Kingdom.”
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