Falkirk gives cautious welcome to back to school plan

The leader of Falkirk Council says she shares the Deputy First Minister’s ambition for schools to open full-time in August if it is safe to do so.

Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 4:45 pm

John Swinney, who is also the cabinet secretary for education, announced in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that the Scottish Government’s aim is now to reopen schools full-time when pupils return, with no social distancing taking place.

He said this was possible because “significant progress” had been made in controlling the spread of the virus – but he stressed it would only be possible if the virus transmission rates remained low.  

The announcement was made on the same day that many primary pupils across Falkirk received detailed arrangements of how they will return to school. The measures include staggered start and finish times and much smaller class groups, with the children staying in those groups for lunch and breaks.

Children could be back at school full-time by August

Director of Children’s Services Robert Naylor has since written to parents, saying they are preparing to reopen schools on August 12, but now need to await further clarification and guidance from government.

Cecil Meiklejohn, the leader of Falkirk Council, said: “We share the ambition of the education secretary in aiming to have our schools fully re-opened for mid-August.

“While preparations have already been made for a phased return, we are hopeful that the management of the Covid-19 virus will be at a stage where it is safe for schools to operate normally.

“We are following the daily advice and guidance from Scottish Government and we will take our lead from this in how we respond to this difficult situation.

Robert Naylor

“Employees have worked extremely hard throughout to support our children and young people and will continue to do so.”

Mr Swinney stressed that the work done by schools to prepare for blended learning had been necessary as it was still a contingency plan if levels of the virus started to rise again.

The EIS, Scotland’s largest teachers’ union, cautiously welcomed the news.

Falkirk EIS local association secretary, Colin Finlay, said: “The EIS in Falkirk are supportive of the Deputy First Minister’s statement, as long as the conditions are met and it’s safe to operate in schools in August.

“The EIS has been clear and consistent on this. A significantly reduced R number, an effective ‘test and trace’ regime and clear evidence that the virus is under control in society. Health and safety of pupils and staff is everything and will remain so.“

Councillor Alan Nimmo, Falkirk Council Labour Group’s Children’s Services spokesperson welcomed the statement, although he said he was keen to hear from the Scottish Government what safety measures will be in place for staff and pupils.

He added: “We are being told this is not a u-turn.  It is certainly a huge change of tack. It is only a few weeks ago that Mr Swinney was telling us he could see children, under their ‘blended learning’ scheme, in school for only a few hours a week, well into 2021.

“We are being told these were just contingency plans. However, the tone was different. We were being told to expect the worst – a message that left parents across the country confused and frightened for their children’s future. Thankfully the SNP have changed their tune.”