A virtual meeting of the International Council of Education Advisers was held via zoom on 30 April 2020, in order to discuss the Covid-19 Pandemic and its impact on the Scottish education system. The meeting was chaired by the Deputy First Minister.
Overall, the Council was very positive about the Scottish Government’s response to managing the Covid-19 crisis, including the establishment of the C-19 Education Recovery Group. The Council had particular praise for the paper which had been prepared on the phasing options for re-opening schools and ELC provision, with one Council member describing it as ‘the best scenario building paper on school re-opening he had seen anywhere in the world’.
However, there was some concern about the fact that the debate about opening and closing schools is being fuelled by the media (across the whole of the UK, not just in Scotland.) The Council was very clear that we should not be distracted by the hype. The Council also felt it was important to be very clear with the public that there is no perfect solution to the problem of how to tackle the re-opening of schools. Whatever approach is taken, there will be unintended consequences in the short, medium and long-term.
The Council made a number of recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider:
- the likelihood is that whatever option is put in place won’t be a quick fix to get schools through the next couple of months – it will be long term. It is crucial that physical distancing does not mark a return to 1950s style teaching, with children learning in rigidly spaced rows of desks facing the teacher. One solution might be to consider a flipped classroom approach where the limited time that students spend in school is used to focus on active learning and student-centred social interaction, and the book-based work is carried out at home
- curriculum and learning – this is a time when less is more. Important to focus on maintaining literacy and numeracy, health and wellbeing, and ways to ease the digital divide
- need to consider the rights of children and young people. That can’t be lost in the debate around health and safety. School is more than just a place to learn. It is an important part of the lives of young people. A place to meet friends, meet other adults, and feel safe
- children suffer from lack of social interaction. All young people need to have at least some opportunity to go back to school and have a level of interaction with their peers
- at the end of this, there will be a lot of children and young people, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will have gaps in their learning that may take years to remedy. Addressing this should be the priority, and it is right that the Scottish Government is already focusing on issues of equity
- when looking at the options for re-opening schools, there is an argument for prioritisation to be used to overcome the disadvantage that some children will have experienced as a result of the C-19 pandemic
- another priority should be those who are in transitional years (nursery into primary, and from P7 to S1). Having an opportunity to get together before the summer break might help to ease that transition
- think actively about how we support parents to support their children – most parents are not qualified teachers, and should not be expected to function as such
- also need an active way of supporting our teachers’ mental health, and helping them to support each other. A big part of that is helping the public understand what it is that teachers are trying to do during the crisis. Nobody is out on the doorsteps applauding the teachers
- if there is an option to begin the process of opening the schools in June, it might be an idea to be look at 2 or 3 small and fairly self-contained communities, and develop solutions about school schedules with employers and communities, as well as educators, then learn from them and bring them back to the table for a system wide solution from August. Chris Chapman has been looking at working with groups of researchers to do this in Dundee
- the ICEA recommended an exploration of the creative use of public and other buildings that could provide additional capacity to the school estate. This could increase the number of children and young people that could receive face-to-face educational provision. For example, these buildings might include libraries, sports centres, scout huts, stadia and conference venues such as hotels
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