As part of the Scottish Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Deputy First Minister announced on 19 March 2020 that all local authority schools and nurseries in Scotland would close from the end of the school day on Friday 20 March 2020.
Emergency childcare has been made available across Scotland in a series of -hubs- for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Schools were asked to support pupils with home learning, where possible.
Professionals from across the education and Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) sectors have stepped up to support children and young people through these challenging times. However, school closures are considered to be having a negative effect on all aspects of children's progress and development, their learning, and their wellbeing, including their mental health.
The Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group, including a subsequent sub-group on children and education issues, was established in March 2020. These groups apply the advice coming to the four nations from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), alongside a wide range of other appropriate sources of evidence and information, and use it to inform decisions in Scotland during the pandemic. This includes providing insight and modelling to ministers and the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG).
The CERG group was established in April 2020 to support government decision making through providing insight into the practicalities around reopening schools and ELC settings. The focus of the group is on how schools should reopen once the science indicates that it is safe to do so. The group has been supported by ten workstreams, which drew on expertise from across the sectors, to recognise and respond to multiple factors that have already affected or will affect children and young people, families and the education workforce. These include:
- the impact of school closures, home-learning and lockdown more broadly
- the process of reopening schools and the necessary steps to do so
- supporting the sectors to ensure that when face-to-face teaching resumes, that it is done safely
As scientific evidence developed on when it is safe to take a phased approach to reopening schools and ELC settings, the CERG worked alongside government officials to develop a framework for a practical staged reopening. This framework was published on 21 May 2020 and outlines a phased return to schools, with many pupils expected to experience blended learning from 11 August. The intention, in these circumstances, was for most pupils to split their time between experiencing face-to-face teaching in school, and distance learning from home, to allow for physical distancing to be maintained.
However, since this time, scientific data and guidance has continued to evolve and the Scottish Government has continued to adapt its approach accordingly. Due to the ongoing suppression of the virus, it is now expected that almost all pupils will be able to return to school full-time from August 2020. The full guidance underpinning this return to school is published at http://www.gov.scot/isbn/9781839609404. This full-time return remains conditional upon the continued suppression of the virus and therefore the plans for blended learning remain in place as a contingency.