There has been mixed reaction to the First Minister’s announcement that schools across Scotland are to remain shut to most pupils for the rest of the month.
Pupils had been due to return on January 18, following a week of home learning staring on Monday.
However amid concern over the new variant of the virus, schools will now remain closed until February 1.
Senior pupils, teaching unions and parent organisations have all been reacting to the news – with some welcoming the move and others labelling it as damaging to young people.
Home learning concerns
Senior pupils were among those who raised concerns over the effectiveness of home learning, with one member of the Scottish Youth Parliament highlighting pupil worries over the impact it will have on getting into further education.
Carnoustie High School pupil, Brooke Barr, who is in her final year at the Angus school, said: “From speaking to young people I know they are concerned a lot more about how effective online will be as it wasn’t during the first lockdown.
“Pupils sitting national courses are concerned about how this will affect their qualifications. They are not sure they learn as well at home as they would at school.
“Pupils are worried this will impact their chance to get into a higher education course at university or college.”
Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, also expressed concern that children living in poverty would be impacted most by the closure of schools.
Posting on social media, he said: “Teachers, parents and carers have done great work over the last 10 months to support home learning, but much more support is needed.
“The experience of students is mixed, with those experiencing poverty most badly affected.
“Education is not just about academic achievement, but about developing personalities, talents, and abilities of children to their greatest potential.
“It is essential to address health, including mental health, social, educational, economic and recreational impacts.”
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the closure of schools, citing the mounting concern over the level of infection across the country.
EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: “There was already heightened concern from teachers in level four areas around school safety and the surge in infection levels, driven by the new variant, will have compounded those concerns especially as it seems clear that children can be as easily infected as anyone by the new strain, with subsequent transmission also occurring.
“Given that social distancing amongst pupils is physically impossible in crowded classrooms, moving to remote learning is the correct decision, therefore, if we are to successfully drive down community infection levels.
“Suppressing the virus is key to school buildings safely reopening.”
However, echoing the concerns of Brooke Barr and Bruce Adamson, the union leader outlined the need for all pupils to have equal access to online learning.
He added: “Whilst the education system is better prepared to deliver education remotely than during the first lockdown, challenges remain and we need to ensure that all pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can access learning on an equitable basis.”
“We have raised with the Scottish Government the question of prioritising vaccination of school staff as a mechanism to allow school buildings to reopen for all pupils.”
Parent group UsForThem Scotland reacted strongly to the First Minister’s announcement, with organiser Jo Bisset saying school doors have been “slammed shut indefinitely”.
She said: “This is the news parents across Scotland have been dreading.
“They have been repeatedly assured by the Scottish Government that schools would stay open, and yet the doors have been slammed shut indefinitely.
“Now that the schools will be closed until February, no-one seriously believes they will be properly open again this academic year.”
Ms Bisset also claimed the closure of schools would lead to a “second-class education system” in Scotland.
She said: “For children, that means a second-class education system if they’re lucky, and complete isolation from their social groups. This is time they cannot get back.
“For many parents, especially those in shift work or on low income, this will mean falling into poverty with no prospect of a way out.
“We’re almost a year into this pandemic and children are suffering more than anyone.
“Only time will tell the full extent of the impact of this decision, but there’s no question that the damage being done to the lives of young people is significant.”
“Alongside school closures, the other measures to protect life and health announced today will have a significant impact on children.”
Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland
However, the National Parent Forum of Scotland, which represents parent councils across Scotland, said the safety of children is the priority when making these decisions.
Chair Margaret Wilson said: “There is no decision today that is going to please everyone in this situation.
“The pressures faced by families, living with restricted measures, coping with stress created by the pandemic, supporting remote learning whilst balancing many other issues will be a challenge to all parents/carers.
“Our young people have already been through a significantly stressful time. However, the safety of our children and young people is paramount.
“Most importantly we must ensure parents are aware that their school is available for support and to make contact with them as soon as possible.”