LibDem education spokesperson Willie Rennie and the SNP’s Shirley-Anne Somerville.
By Bill Heaney
The wind of change that was promised to blow through Scotland’s classrooms has been reduced to little more than a draught.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie today accused the Scottish Government of having no idea whether classrooms are appropriately ventilated.
In response to parliamentary questions from Mr Rennie, Education Secretary Shirely-Anne Somerville was unable to provide the total number of air filter devices that are being used in school classrooms.
Mr Rennie said: “The Scottish Government don’t know if classrooms have air filters and can’t be bothered to find out.
“It’s completely ridiculous that packed classrooms are the norm again, but in many cases the only option for ventilation is to open the windows in mid-winter.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see an air filter in every classroom. This would make classrooms safer, have a long-term benefit in terms of reducing cold and flu outbreaks and allow us to eliminate the need for masks much faster.
“Instead the government seem to just want to wash their hands of the whole business. It’s shockingly neglectful for the Education Secretary to just leave this in the hands of local authorities.
“The Scottish Government is planning to spend millions on standardised testing, despite the warnings from teachers that these tests are unfair and unhelpful.
“Tests for P1 pupils should be scrapped and the money redirected towards making sure schools and classrooms are safe.”
Willie Rennie had asked the Scottish Government whether a running total of the number of air filter devices that are being used in school classrooms will be published.
Shirley-Anne Somerville replied that it is for local authorities to exercise their statutory responsibilities and deliver a safe environment for all school users.
It is also for local authorities to determine what remedial action is required in their schools, in line with guidance.
The recently announced funding of up to £5 million is in addition to previous funding of £10 million to address issues around ventilation and CO2 monitoring, and on top of £90m of COVID-19 logistics funding.
Meanwhile, a new contractor has been brought on board to deliver Scotland’s standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy, with the cost to the taxpayer expected to be £17 million over five years.
The Scottish Government announced just £5 million for air filters last week, but this has to be divided up between the country’s 32 council areas.
Willie Rennie said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats and education campaigners won a hard-fought parliamentary victory to call for the scrapping of standardised testing of P1 pupils.
“In response the flailing government claimed that the tests were endorsed by the OECD, yet the OECD are clear that they now recommend scrapping them. There is no evidence that they improve schooling and there is persistent criticism from professional teachers.
“Rather than spend millions more on standardised testing, Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see this money used to put an air filter in every classroom.
“This would make classrooms safer, have a long-term benefit in terms of reducing cold and flu outbreaks and allow us to eliminate the need for masks much faster.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie has proposed that the Scottish Government ensure that air filters are installed in every classroom so that the requirement for students to mask-up can finally be dropped.
In response to parliamentary questions from Mr Rennie last week, the Education Secretary was unable to provide the total number of air filter devices that are being used in school classrooms.
Mr Rennie said: “Packed classrooms shouldn’t have to be opening the windows in mid-winter as their only option for ventilation.
“The Scottish Government need to ensure that air filters are installed in every classroom so that the requirement for students to mask-up can finally be dropped.
“It’s not good enough for the Education Secretary to pass the buck to councils. The First Minister needs to use her statement tomorrow to overule her Education Secretary and ensure that the money is provided to make every classroom safe.
“If she’s worried about the cost then I would recommend redirecting the money this government is planning to waste on putting four- and five-year-olds through a battery of standardised tests, which teachers say are unfair and unhelpful.”
UPDATE: STOP PRESS
Responding to today’s Covid statement from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton revealed a leaked report commissioned by Edinburgh City Council which showed all but two schools surveyed in detail failed CO2 threshold tests amid concern about the ventilation in classrooms.
The report commissioned by the City of Edinburgh Council dated May 2021 stated that most of the schools monitored in the detailed study (a sample of 9 schools) demonstrated periods where the maximum recorded CO2 concentrations exceeded threshold values.
Earlier today, the Education Secretary Shirley Anne Somerville confirmed that based on informal local authority feedback around 2,000 classrooms have so far fallen into the “problematic” category.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “We know how important it is to limit the impact of Covid on our classrooms.
“But the Education Secretary has this morning finally admitted there are 2000 classrooms that fall below the air quality standards.
“And I have here a report from Edinburgh City Council, kept from the public since last May and passed to me this morning. Of those schools surveyed, all but two failed CO2 threshold tests.
“Yet for months we have been repeatedly told it was all under control.
“Parents, teachers and pupils will be rightly angry they have been kept in the dark.
“I urge the First Minister to publish all the evidence that has been gathered so we can determine for ourselves whether this is just the tip of the iceberg.”