By Bill Heaney
Many families in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll are worried about the continuing closure of schools, according to Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie.
She told the Education Minister, John Swinney: “There are multiple cases of families in my constituency—and, indeed, across Scotland—who are struggling to home school their children.
“Education Scotland points to a lack of Chromebooks and poor information technology and broadband, and teachers report lack of support and guidance. Children are simply falling through the gaps, and far too many are being left behind.
“Local councils are struggling to provide the resources for the scale of the education challenge that they face.
“We hear from Audit Scotland that councils have a staggering budget gap of £767 million as a result of Covid.
“Why, therefore, is the Scottish Government sitting on £800 million of unspent money from the UK Government for Covid-related expenditure?
Ms Baillie, left, asked: “Why is it not being allocated to help struggling families to home school their children? Why is the SNP not putting our children’s education and well-being at the very top of the agenda?”
Mr Swinney looked and sounded like someone whose break-time scone had been stolen.
He told MSPs: “That was Jackie Baillie’s familiar take on all education issues, but—of course—it is far from the reality.
“The Government has provided resources to support delivery of education in the exceptional circumstances that we face.
“We provided money to recruit 1,400 additional teachers and in excess of 200 additional support staff to our education system.
“A couple of weeks ago, I allocated £45 million to assist delivery of education through recruitment of more staff or enhancement of IT connectivity for individual pupils.
“The Government has also already provided £25 million for the purchase of Chromebooks and connectivity solutions for 70,000 pupils the length and breadth of the country, which is the estimated number of children and young people who had difficulties accessing technology. Local authorities provided us with the figures.
“The Government has provided a huge amount of financial support to assist delivery of education at local level.”
He added: “Education Scotland has provided what I would describe as well-received curricular advice for the education system.
“That advice has been endorsed by the education recovery group, which, of course, includes local authorities and professional associations.
A huge amount of very welcome support is available to educators around the country. We will continue to enhance that support as each week goes by.
“I thank members of the teaching profession for the extraordinary efforts that they have made to ensure that young people are well supported through remote learning, in the difficult circumstances that we face.”