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Schools can fully reopen in August, with no social distancing, if Covid-19 progress continues, says Scottish Government

By Scott Maclennan

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney in Nairn.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney in Nairn.

The Scottish Government has announced that schools will fully reopen in August without the need for social distancing – if Covid-19 continues to be suppressed.

The move comes after criticism of the proposed "blended learning" model which would see pupils split their time between home and school.

Education secretary John Swinney says the ability to plan for a full return to school in August is based on better than forecast progress in suppressing Covid-19.

He also announced an extra £100 million of funding over two years to help children return to school and "recover any lost ground" and £30 million to be spent on laptops for the 70,000 most disadvantaged pupils, amid concerns about the impact of home learning on the attainment gap.

Highland Council, which has already invested in Chromebooks for schools, welcomed the announcement.

It had previously said the Scottish Government would have to pay additional costs associated with blended, socially distanced learning, claiming that many school buildings could not accommodate pupils as required.

Mr Swinney told the Scottish Parliament today: “I have to be honest...that when we prepared our plans back in May, I frankly could not have imagined that we would have made as much progress in virus suppression as we have.

“I must emphasise the importance of staying on track if we have to make it a reality and we must be clear that blended learning is a contingency that we may still need to enact."

Highland Council’s education committee chairman John Finlayson said: “This news will be both a surprise and a relief to many parents and it is crucial to appreciate that this is so dependent on the continued suppression of the virus across society generally.

“It is encouraging to hear that some additional funding will be made available, although a £100 million investment for 32 authorities might not be enough.

“School staff and parents who have been so busy drawing up plans locally will hopefully feel more positive about what happens next and also the responsibilities placed on us all to ensure we keep the virus suppressed.

“The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, pointed out that we needed to ensure that the blended learning contingency plans operating and being developed are still in place and I think that is also very important.

“Overall I am sure there will be a sense of relief from parents tonight, obviously tinged with the necessary caution we all need to be mindful of.”

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron also welcomed the change of policy.

He said: “I am delighted that parents and teachers finally have clarity about what the future holds for their children when schools return in August.

“This change in policy was desperately needed. Had the SNP persisted with their muddled plans, it would have caused huge harm to the prospects of many children here in the Highlands and Islands, and across Scotland.

“While pleased with today’s announcement, it's disappointing it has only happened due to sustained and intense pressure being placed on the SNP.”

Related: Alness parents get a glimpse of what return could look like

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Remote learning could be a game-changer

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