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Scottish Government accused of u-turn from last week after announcing £130 million for the return of education

By Scott Maclennan

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney in Nairn.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney in Nairn.

The Scottish Government has been accused of performing a u-turn over education after committing around £130 million and announcing a target of full reopening without social distancing by August.

The move comes after the blended education model – with some time for home and some time for face to face learning – was slammed by parents, opposition parties and local authorities.

But according to education secretary John Swinney the development is based on better than forecast progress in suppressing Covid-19.

He proposed that local authorities will communicate with parents about the return to school while there will be £30 million for laptops for the 70,000 most disadvantaged pupils.

Highland Council, which already invested heavily in Chromebooks, tentatively welcomed the announcement after calling for more cash for the return of education last Thursday.

That money will not just go on helping get children back to school but also to “make up for lost ground” while every full registered probationary teacher will be able to secure teaching posts for the next year.

Mr Swinney said: “We have been clear that these closures cannot go on for a minute longer than necessary, we want Scotland’s children back in schools and soon as possible and as soon as it is safe to do so

“I have to be honest with parliament that when we prepared our plans back in May, I frankly could not have imagined that we would have made as much progress in virus suppression as we have.

“I must emphasise the importance of staying on track if we have to make it a reality and we must be clear that blended learning is a contingency that we may still need to enact.

“I can announce we will be providing a further £100 million over the next two years to help support the return to school and help children recover any lost ground. This new funding will see us invest to tackle the impact of coronavirus in our schools and ensure that children get the support they need.”

Highland Council’s education committee chairman John Finlayson said the move was welcome but the investment might not cover the needs of all Scotland's councils.

“This news will be both a surprise and a relief to many parents and it is crucial to appreciate that this is so dependent on the continued suppression of the virus across society generally," he said.

“It is encouraging to hear that some additional funding will be made available although a £100 million investment for 32 authorities might not be enough.

“School staff and parents who have been so busy drawing up plans locally will hopefully feel more positive about what happens next and also the responsibilities placed on us all to ensure we keep the virus suppressed.

“The Deputy First Minister John Swinney pointed out that we needed to ensure that the blended learning contingency plans operating and being developed are still in place and I think that is also very important.

“Overall I am sure there will be a sense of relief from parents tonight obviously tinged with the necessary caution we all need to be mindful of.”

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has also welcomed the "u-turn" on schooling.

He said: “I am delighted that parents and teachers finally have clarity about what the future holds for their children when schools return in August.

“This change in policy was desperately needed. Had the SNP persisted with their muddled plans, it would have caused huge harm to the prospects of many children here in the Highlands and Islands, and across Scotland.

“While pleased with today’s announcement, it's disappointing it has only happened due to sustained and intense pressure being placed on the SNP.”

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