Ministers need to answer basic questions on childcare as parents plan for return to work


Back to school – childcare costs are big problem for parents.

By Bill Heaney

As workplaces and schools plan for their phased re-opening, Scottish Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP has asked the Scottish Government to be “clear and open” about how work life and childcare will be balanced.

During the Scottish Parliament’s remote portfolio questions, Ms Wishart pointed out that part-time schooling will create difficulties for parents who are being asked to return to work full time.

Education Secretary John Swinney failed to set out what further provisions would be made available and confirm whether the government would cover the additional costs. He said that there would need to be “adaptation” to the new circumstances.

Wishart Beatrice Wishart
Beatrice Wishart

Ms Wishart said: “There are whole sectors of the economy – retail, construction and more – where working from home is impossible. When the time is right sole traders and shop owners will need to resume work to earn a living, but what will they do without childcare?

“Many grandparents are shielding, and capacity in other childcare centres may be reduced.

“The Scottish Government needs to plan for the myriad of problems that parents in these jobs are set to encounter during the new model of blended schooling.

“Ministers must be clear and open about what these parents are expected to do and how they are going to help them. Will further childcare be provided? And if so, who will pick up the cost?

“Parents who are balancing childcare and working face enough uncertainty and disruption already. These are important points that cannot be ignored.”


  1. It’s interesting how this Liberal Democrat lady very much sees the return to school as a childcare issue for parents returning to work because in relation to part time schooling, she specifically says it’s a childcare issue.

    I don’t know about anyone else but for me childcare is not the big issue here, but part time schooling is. Indeed, does anyone with their child’s education a heart really consider that the current proposal of two days teaching at school, then three days self teaching at at home, as is currently being proposed is a good thing. I certainly don’t.

    Put simply, if you can teach children through three days self teaching at home, then why have we previously stuck with five days school teaching.

    The whole thing quite frankly seems to be potentially setting up for a lost education generation. Teachers are at the heart of education, not teaching by homework. Moreover school children with less capable parents, will have less support, and there will of course be the ever present risk that some children will do little in their three days at home.

    The virus certainly has given rise to very real difficulties, and in so many many ways, with education being badly impacted. I’m not a teacher but the logistics of trying to cover coursework with classes having to be restricted to meet social distancing sounds, and is fifteen or thereabouts is a challenge.

    And so, if distancing is the key, then why are the authorities not giving consideration to creating school configurations that can accommodate larger classes, and pupil movements that can accommodate social distancing.

    Halving class sizes in simple terms would concomitantly give rise to the need for double the teachers. And so in the absence of double the teachers ergo the plan to slightly more than half pupil teaching by way of two days and two days with a day in the middle for the teachers to prepare.

    As a way forward it sounds a nightmare with the real losers being the children in their education and social interaction.

    And yet not a cheep from parents that I can discern on the matter. The biggest impact on their children’s education in a generation, and the concern appears simply to be when can folk go back to work and what about childcare.

    Now I know work is important and make no comment there. But education is important too, and much more important than childcare. Childcare does not equip a child with an education for the future. Education does.

    And so I do despair at the thought of a two day school week. If we have a roadblock in attainment levels at the present, the proposal for a two day week does not bear thinking about.

    And this is the biggest roadblock to our children’s education in generations. Save for the cries about childcare very much silence with certainly no educational engagement from the Council.

    As I say, I am not a teacher. But surely there must be ways where schoolchildren can get at least four to four and a half days at school. Can classrooms not be created or reconfigured to allow for for increased spacing. The utilisation of gyms, meeting areas, assembly area or even moving or removing partitions, could these not be options to deliver classes with increased social distance.

    Or what about reducing period size slightly to increase the number of periods, whilst considering extending the school day by maybe 45 minutes let us say Monday to a Thursday with a half day finish Friday.

    Or what of the more extensive use homework classes. Or a specific Saturday morning class, or even just a Saturday homework class. The French after all do Saturdays.

    But I digress. In the apparent vacuum of silence maybe the Democrat would consider doing a piece on what our children may be heading back to with a call for some engagement from the authority on the matter.

    I’m sure many of the PTC’s and many parents more widely would welcome the opportunity to understand and engage on what is being proposed for their children’s schools.

    One size does not fit all.

  2. Lots to think about there, Willie. And discuss. I don’t want to cause a nationwide row, but the solution to this which might give more space for some of the measures you have talked about – and save £millions – is to desegregate schools. This could be of the silver lining on the very dark cloud of this pandemic. I wonder what our readers think? Meanwhile, I learn that the Irish plan is this: Share to Twitter
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    Schools may be asked to keep groups of students or classes apart from each other at all times as a way of getting around social-distancing requirements when they reopen in late August.

    On Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed primary and secondary schools would reopen at the end of August.

    The idea is one option which Department of Education officials are considering as a way of ensuring as many students as possible can attend class full-time, according to well-placed sources.

    Under current social-distancing rules, it estimates that smaller classrooms could only fit three or four pods of children, or 12-16 pupils.

    Speaking to reporters, Mr Varadkar said the Government realised it was not a “no-risk scenario but we know it’s a low-risk scenario”.

    While it may not be possible for every pupil to attend every school for the whole day every day at the start of school terms, he said the intention was to reopen schools as “fully as possible”.

    The eligibility criteria for children returning to childcare at the end of June have been broadened to include those whose parents need the service to return to work or training, the Department of Children announced.

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