P1-P3 return to school
The First Minister announced on 2 February that children in P1-P3 should return to full-time in-person schooling from 22 February and this was confirmed on 16 February. In its report published on 3 February, the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues advised that on the current balance of evidence, the reopening could take place subject to a continued decrease in the levels of community transmission and in the prevalence of the virus. This advice reflects the key developmental stage of this age-group, for socialisation as well as learning and development; the evidence that young children are less likely to transmit the virus and to have serious health effects from it; recognition that these children are less likely to successfully engage with remote learning than are older children; and that vulnerable children at this stage are less able to access other resources for their protection and wellbeing than are many older children.
While bringing back to school children in P1-P3 will be relatively straightforward in many schools, it will be less straightforward in those that have composite classes. P3/P4 classes are fairly commonplace, some smaller schools run P3/P4/P5 classes, while the smallest schools have the entire primary cohort in a single class.
Where P3/P4 composite classes are in place, it is expected that the class teacher continues to plan for both groups as they are at the moment. P3 children should be taught in school and remote learning should continue for P4. Local operational decisions will be key; it will be for the school (and local authority) to consider how best to organise staff to enable elements of live learning to continue when appropriate for the P4 group. Having P4 children in composite classes in school would increase the number of children in school and would also send mixed messages about which children are returning to school.
P3 children in P3/P4/P5 classes should also be taught in school and similar arrangements to provide remote support should be put in place for P4 and P5 children in those schools.
Schools and local authorities will need to consider the workload implications for staff in providing learning to both learners onsite and for those learners who continue to learn at home. This is an area in which local authorities could prioritise the use of additional teachers to provide support.
For very small schools (those with 25 children or fewer on their school roll), where the entire primary cohort is taught in a single class, there may be insufficient staff to teach P1-P3 in school and P4-P7 remotely. These schools often have a single teacher for the whole class and it would not therefore be possible to teach the class and provide remote learning at the same time. In those circumstances, where it is not possible to provide remote learning for P4-P7, the Advisory Subgroup has advised that the school/local authority can decide to bring the entire cohort back into school from 22 February, given the very small number of P4-P7 children that would involve. Where it is possible to provide both in-school (P1-P3) and remote learning (P4-P7) at the same time, that is how these schools should operate.
In exceptional circumstances schools may consider providing in-person learning for all children within P3/4 composite classes. Before doing so, they should consider reconfiguring existing staff where possible, as well as exploring avenues to bring in additional staff if necessary. Only as a last resort, and in an event where they could demonstrate it was impossible to maintain in-person and remote learning in parallel, should they look to use this provision.