But why were there no national or even education authority guidelines/instructions as to the level of home support that children were to receive? The average primary school class in Scotland has 23.5 pupils. For them to be contacted individually by videolink for 30 minutes each week by their teacher is only twelve hours work? So why is that, in many cases, not happening? Not only not weekly but in many cases not at all. And, anyway, why should it only be individually anyway? There are any number of free video apps that could have been used to create virtual classrooms. There seems to be some suggestion that this might be a safeguarding issue but the logic to that would be that all schools should have high walls in case "undesirables" look in. There is also the rather pathetic "not all children have computers or tablets" argument. That's an argument for getting them computers or tablets. That's the end of the argument. 93% of all homes have internet access and I bet that includes pretty much all of them with children. My client base includes a lot of poor younger people, parents or not. When we take new client details we ask for an email address. I do not recall a recent case where the client did not have one.
And then we have the "teachers are overworked" argument. Really? Doing what? And if they are, here's an idea. Not my own but suggested to me as I worked on this. Medical and nursing students have been recruited to great utility to assist the NHS at this time. Why couldn't not just teacher training students but undergraduates intending teaching as a career have been brought in on the same basis? I bet you a pound to a penny most are more tech savvy than most teachers and even if it was only to assist with that they would have provided a valuable service. Now it is inconceivable this didn't occur to anybody else, so the logical conclusion is that some objection was found to it. That's the problem. Throughout this whole thing, it has been clear that there has been a mindset based on finding reasons things "can't" be done rather than finding ways to do them.
Which brings me to my penultimate point. Holidays.
I get that working from home is not the same as being on holiday. I've been working from home myself and while it is far from a normal workload there is still noticeably less to do at weekends. But there has been a given throughout that the schools would be on holiday from the end of June until the middle of August. Why? Because they always are. Schools in England partially returned on 1st June for key sectors: Senior Secondary school and the very youngest and oldest of Primary pupils. Now Scotland has been about a fortnight behind England on just about everything. That's a matter for another day. Here however the argument was that there was no point in our schools going back on 15th June as the holidays were to start on 29th June.
Now, one of a variety of things could have happened with holidays. They could have been brought forward so that they ran from 1st June to mid July. Nobody was going anywhere anyway. Or they could have been pushed back so that there was a decent window after lockdown and before the holidays. That indeed might have increased the chances of children and teachers getting some sort of actual holiday. Finally, they could have been shortened either at the start or finish. Perhaps with an extended October break so that people might actually get away. There are any number of places in Southern Europe and beyond which still enjoy "holiday" weather at that time. None of this is going to happen. None of it appears even to have been contemplated. Again I ask why? Does nobody care about kids being out of school for a continuous five months? It genuinely appears not. That is a scandal.
And then finally, there is the question of the schools returning. On 1st June, the First Minister announced that there had been no new Coronavirus deaths in Scotland. That obviously has slipped back a bit but we are clearly on the right track. Later in the week Chris Musson reported that excess weekly deaths in Scotland from all causes were now only 37 more than the seasonal average. Yet, on the same day as the FM gave her welcome news, my own local authority, North Lanarkshire, in common, I understand, with others, advised that it had been decided already that on returning in August, children were only to receive ten hours a week schooling, two days a week. Beyond that their child care was their parents' problem.
There seems to have been no consultation with parents or pupils about this. It has been decided by producer interests alone.
Now there might be a second wave and that would potentially change everything but if there isn't, here is what we now know. Coronavirus is of little risk to children. Most who get it don't even know they have. Across Scotland there have only been three deaths under 15 and our children's hospitals have had negligible admissions for Coronavirus alone. It is also not much of a risk to anybody under 60. Sure it can be a nasty illness, sometimes involving hospital admission but the chances of you dying remain slim and are getting slimmer still as treatment evolves. The argument for part time return seems to that some children might be carriers and some teachers might catch it from them and then get seriously ill or pass it on to vulnerable relatives.
Well, I have news for you. Life during a pandemic has some risk. Indeed life has some risk at any time. If you drive on a busy road you increase the chance of having an accident. If you climb a hill you increase the chance of having a fall. If you go on an exotic holiday you increase the chance of being bitten by a snake. People apply a cost/benefit analysis to these and countless other things on a daily basis.
Where is the cost/benefit analysis here? When was it decided that shop workers must take that risk, and binmen, and bus drivers but teachers need not? Who has considered the continuing and potentially permanent damage to children's lives from ongoing part time schooling? Who has factored in the potential employment consequences, at best financial, at worst terminal, if their parents can't work full time?
This decision needs reversed now. The assumption should be that the schools will open normally in August. The damage done to children can't be undone but future damage can still be prevented.