Schools (Full-time Return of Pupils)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 24 March 2021.

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Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

5. To ask the Scottish Government what support it will provide to schools in light of its announcement regarding the full-time return of pupils in April. (S5O-05142)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

To date, we have committed more than £375 million to local authorities and schools as part of education recovery. That investment continues to fund additional teachers, support staff and, if necessary, the cost of safety mitigations in schools, such as infrastructure adjustments.

We are currently updating relevant guidance and will publish it before Easter. I have emphasised the importance of supporting young people’s wellbeing as they come back to school, and work is already in train across partners to deliver wellbeing and outdoor activities. As with all aspects of our education response to Covid, I have been grateful to the Covid-19 education recovery group for its expert advice as we have formed plans for the full-time return to school.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Since indicating the return to school, the Scottish Government has taken a less equivocal stance, particularly in relation to secondary pupils. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that he will give a minimum notice period for any changes to scheduled returns after the Easter holidays, to help parents and carers to plan? Further, can he assure local authorities that the additional costs that they face because of mitigation measures that he has recognised will be essential to enable pupils to return will be adequately supported by central Government, rather than coming out of local education budgets?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Government’s central planning assumption is that schools will return full time for face-to-face learning after the Easter holidays. In some parts of Scotland, that will be on 12 April; in the overwhelming majority of areas of Scotland, it will be on 19 April.

Of course, all primary schools and early learning centres are back full time, and secondary schools are back for all pupils—not on a full-time basis, but with pupils supported by remote learning.

Our objective and central planning assumption is for secondary schools to return full time, but we must take into account the prevalence of the virus at that stage, and we will give as much notice as we can on the approach to return.

The advisory sub-group on education, which provides us with clinical advice on these issues, will meet on 6 April, and its views will influence our planning and the steps that we will take to reopen schools full time from 12 April in some parts of the country.

The member asked about money, and the Government has committed more than £375 million to local authorities as part of education recovery. That is a significant investment by the Government in the additional costs of the local delivery of education, and we will continue to discuss with local authorities any issues that arise from such a substantial financial contribution by the Government.