Youngest and oldest pupils set to go back to school first under 'phased return' plan

Dan Sanderson
·3-min read
John Swinney, the education secretary, said a phased return was likely - Russell Cheyne/PA
John Swinney, the education secretary, said a phased return was likely - Russell Cheyne/PA

The youngest and oldest pupils will return to classrooms first once schools reopen, under plans being considered by the SNP.

John Swinney, the education secretary, said on Wednesday that it was likely that there would be a “phased” return for pupils once face-to-face teaching resumes.

He revealed that this could mean very young primary pupils returning first, along with older secondary pupils who have upcoming qualifications. Special schools could also be allowed to welcome back pupils sooner.

Although exams have been cancelled this year, pupils still need to be assessed through coursework and by their teachers.

Schools north of the border did not open after the Christmas holidays, and will remain shut until at least the middle of February after lockdown was extended.

Mr Swinney stressed that he did not want restrictions in place "for any longer than is actually necessary" but said a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus was causing a “colossal burden” for the NHS.

"We are looking at all possible avenues to secure the resumption of face-to-face learning and we are looking at the way in which that might be delivered,” Mr Swinney said.

Watch: COVID-19 - Schools to get two weeks' notice before reopening - says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

"This is unlikely to be a binary choice - either everybody in or everybody out. IIt is much more likely to be a phased return where we will look at particular cohorts of pupils.

"The groups we are particularly looking at are the very youngest pupils in early learning and in early primary, where the analysis from our clinical advisers is these groups are unlikely to be transmitting the virus."

Ministers are also considering if senior secondary school pupils who are studying for qualifications could return earlier.

Mr Swinney added: "We want to make sure they have access to all the learning and teaching they require to command those certificates."

The SNP government resisted calls from teaching unions to close schools ahead of the Christmas break, arguing there was little evidence that having schools open fuelled a wider spread of the virus. They relented in December when a fast-spreading strain of the virus emerged.

It was initially hoped that schools would remain shut only for January, although reopening them was postponed this week.

Scottish school children will continue learning from home online until at least mid-February - phil wilkinson/alamy
Scottish school children will continue learning from home online until at least mid-February - phil wilkinson/alamy

Schools have remained open to some vulnerable children or those of key workers, although the vast majority have been told to learn online from home.

Jamie Greene, education spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said that parents needed "clarity" from the Government about when children would be back in school.

"Parents are simply seeking clear messaging from the SNP Government over their plans for schools and what it will mean for them and their children," he said.

"Ten months into the pandemic, asking for a route map towards getting our young people back into classrooms, when it is safe to do so, is surely not too much to ask of the SNP education secretary."

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