Union boss says Scottish schools will be part-time until vaccine


CHILDREN will not return to school for a normal full week until a mass vaccine is produced for the coronavirus, the leader of the country’s biggest teachers’ trade union has warned.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Education Institute for Scotland and a member of the Scottish Government’s education recovery group, said social restrictions for pupils and teachers were likely to be in place for the long term.

The First Minister will set out in a statement to Holyrood today details of the plans for children returning to school as part of a four-phase route map to lift the lockdown, in place since March 23. She earlier confirmed schools will follow a “blended” approach to learning when they re-open on August 11, with pupils spending part of the week in class and part at home.

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It was believed the blended model would only be in place for some weeks, with the normal school week resuming later in the year. However, Flanagan said this was not the case.

“This is not a short-term plan, it is something that needs to be sustained,” he said.

“We are quite clear it will have to continue until as a society we have managed to control the virus, until there is a vaccine, that is the only way we would have complete control.”

He added that because of social-distancing requirements for pupils and staff to stay two metres apart, from August, on average a class would have around 10 pupils – a third of the usual number – and that each pupil would attend school for around a third of the usual face-to-face teaching time.

It was not yet clear whether or how teachers would be required to teach the remaining 20 or so pupils at home at the same time, he added, saying that styles of teaching in the classroom would also change with less working in groups.

“There will be a more didactic form of teaching with the teacher at the front of the room,” he said. “That will be very strange for our pupils as we have spent a lot of time in Curriculum for Excellence moving towards a style of active participation of pupils. It will be a little bit back to the future.”

The education recovery group is also considering a need for pastoral care to be given to children who have lost loved ones and experienced trauma during the pandemic, as well as ensuring all pupils have computers and broadband at home to support remote learning.

The plan for schools – and wider easing of restrictions – is dependent on medical advice and an effective test, trace and isolate strategy.

Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government’s route map will see each of its four phases assessed every three weeks. A move to the first phase will only occur after the next three-weekly lockdown review on May 28, if suppression of the virus continues to be successful.

“The enormous sacrifices made by people and businesses across Scotland have had a real impact on the spread of Covid-19 and I would like to thank everybody who has helped to protect themselves, each other and our health and care services,” the First Minister said.

“For the time being the advice on staying at home except for essential purposes remains the same, but we hope to shortly be ready to start easing the lockdown restrictions and today’s route map will outline how we can do that.

“At all stages in this process we have listened to the views of people and organisations in Scotland and have been guided by the latest scientific advice.”

She added: “Today’s document is based on the guidance set out by the World Health Organisation and the experience of other countries as they have eased their lockdown – as well as what we have learned about the impact of Covid-19 in Scotland.

“This will be a very gradual process as we monitor how changing behaviour affects the infection rate and we will only be able to move toward easing more restrictions if we continue to work together to suppress the virus. Protecting lives will continue to be our number one priority.”

Meanwhile, scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine. The World Health Organization has a list of 76 contenders but it could be 18 months or so before one is produced.

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