Falkirk pupils may only spend one day in classroom each week

Falkirk school pupils are likely to return to school only part-time when the schools finally reopen and ‘blended learning’ – between school and home – will almost certainly be used.

By Kirsty Paterson
Thursday, 21st May 2020, 7:30 am

Youngsters could be in the classroom for as little as one day a week.

Education chiefs say children starting P1 and those who are making the crucial change from P7 to secondary will be made a priority for starting back, while they will continue to look after key workers’ children and the most vulnerable pupils in the district.

At a meeting of Falkirk Council’s emergency executive, the director of children’s services, Robert Naylor, stressed that the  decision to reopen schools will be taken by the Scottish Government.

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But he believes that whatever happens, pupils will have to observe social distancing which will make a return to the normal classroom setting impossible.

Mr Naylor, said: “We are looking at an environment now where there will be a blended learning approach, possibly for many months.

“My view is that unless something materially changes in terms of contact tracing and vaccines and so on, we could be in a situation where we’ve got part-time attendance at school almost to Christmas.”

Mr Naylor told the meeting – which was held by video conference – that plans were being made and his department is now looking at ways in which they can have children in school safely.

He said: “Officers have been in schools and have mocked up how pupils might enter and exit the school and individual classrooms and looking at issues including toileting and handwashing.”

They also looked at the spacing that would be needed in classrooms and in the playground.

“All of the arrangements are complex,” said Mr Naylor. “We will continue to need to provide childcare for key workers as well as begin to open schools.

“We also need to take into account the operational needs of those who supply us with home to school transport and transport for children with additional support needs.”

Labour councillor Joan Coombes said she was worried about the effectiveness of remote learning, following the experience of recent weeks.

She said: “I appreciate that it has been done on the hoof and it’s great that there has been some element of teaching and teachers are doing their best .

“But a lot of the teachers I’m speaking to on a casual basis say they are not getting the engagement and it’s nowhere near the level of learning pupils would be getting in a classroom.”

And Conservative leader Lynn Munro pointed to figures that showed that just 30 per cent of pupils were engaging in learning while the schools were closed – but in Larbert which 
piloted the digital programme the uptake was around 90 per cent.

Mr Naylor agreed there was a mixed picture across the district but said the Larbert school’s success showed how important the digital learning programme would be. 

He said: “One of the concerns that we have is that those who have had access and have had the benefit of the school being early adopters, there is potential for the gap to be widening.” 

He said that one of the challenges was to ensure there was a universality of what was offered across the district.

Mr Naylor said they had learned from the work they had done over the past eight weeks in the seven childcare hubs around the district, which have a teacher/pupil ration of one to five .

“If that remains the ratio, we could potentially be talking about children attending one day a week,” he said.

But he also believes the effects of the coronavirus crisis could leave a profound mark on the Scottish education system.

He said: “What will begin to emerge, I think, will be a different balance of schooling.”