EDUCATION: Swinney is “evasive, not decisive” over future of remote learning, says Wishart

By Lucy Ashton

As teachers and pupils prepare for the start of the second week of remote learning, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP has called on the Education Secretary to make sure his education quangos better support teachers with remote learning.

Her call comes after a week in which:

EIS leader Larry Flanagan (left) and Education Secretary John Swinney.

  • Education secretary John Swinney warned it will be a “tall order” for schools to return on 1 February;
  • The SSTA described teachers as “at the end of their tether” over workloads and late guidance, in response to questioning from Ms Wishart;
  • Proposals for inspection of remote learning were described as “a Big Brother approach” by EIS leader Larry Flanagan; 
  • IT problems continued to dog the provision of online learning;
  • The education committee heard that supply teachers are still struggling to find work;
  • Teachers highlighted a lack of clarity over what is expected for assessment of pupils and how they will gather evidence alongside catching up on missed learning.

Ms Wishart MSP said: “Once again the Education Secretary is evasive rather than decisive when responding to the situation for Scottish schools.

“Teachers have carried on working hard in incredibly tough circumstances. It is not fair that they are paying the price for months of indecision on the part of the Education Secretary and his quangos. For months we have known that remote learning could be on the cards, but teachers and pupils were not given the time or opportunity to prepare.

“The pandemic has been a national emergency, and so the national education agencies should have been at the forefront of managing the crisis. Instead, they have been missing in action.

“Ultimately though these failures can be traced back to the desk of the Education Secretary. Last week, guidance for teachers was issued at 17:37 on Friday, before remote learning started at 9am on Monday. This week, guidance for students failed to materialise completely.

“The Scottish Government is failing on Scottish education.”

Pupils working hard at school prior to the pandemic lockdown.

Meanwhile, Mr Swinney has warned it will be a “tall order” for schools to return on 1 February.

But he said it was “premature” to give a definitive view ahead of a formal decision this week.

Schools are currently closed to the majority of pupils because of concerns about the new strain of Covid, with remote learning being used instead.

Mr Swinney hinted the current arrangements could be extended given the continued prevalence of the virus.

Asked on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme whether he thought schools would fully reopen on 1 February, he said: “I think that’s a tall order to be honest.”

He added: “The government will look at these questions at the Cabinet on Tuesday and the first minister will give an update to parliament, but the virus is still at a very high level in general within society and we took the view that we had to have the level of community transmission suppressed to enable us to protect the NHS.”

Mr Swinney, who is also the deputy first minister, said it would be premature for him to give a decision at this stage, but that the government’s overriding priority was “keeping everyone in our society safe.”

The Scottish government is expected to make an announcement in the Scottish Parliament about when schools will reopen on Tuesday.

LibDem leader Willie Rennie criticised the SNP for for keeping going with their independence.

referendum  Meanwhile, speaking in response to news from Keith Brown that the SNP are starting their independence campaign in the next few days, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said:

“The First Minister promised that the SNP wouldn’t start a referendum in the middle of a pandemic, but off they go. They can’t help themselves. 

“Thousands of people are ill with Covid. Business and workers are desperately worried about their immediate future.

“Despite the promises of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, nationalists will always put their own interests first. Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.”

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