Coronavirus: Schools “not ready to learn online”

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A union says schools are under-prepared for the challenge of delivering distance learning from next week and will be deprived of vital extra teaching capacity.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has warned that, when balancing face-to-face teaching, online teaching and the needs of their own students, teachers would find it difficult to meet the usual timetable.

The association points to evidence that supply contracts in certain places have been cancelled and accuses school administrators of using “sharp practices.”

Bad learners bear the brunt of a pandemic

The criticism comes after plans were updated for the new school year out of concern about the advent of a covid strain that is more easily transmitted.

For at-risk youth and the children of key employees, schools reopened Tuesday, while distance learning for all other students is expected to begin Monday and continue at least through January 29.

In view of the results on the Covid 19 version and progress on reducing transmission rates in populations, the arrangements are to be checked on Jan. 18.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary, said, “There needs to be an awareness of what schools can and can not accomplish over time, but I don’t think that has been realized.”

“Things have not been properly sorted out. In the guidelines, it is written that students should obey standard schedules, but that is not easy to offer.

“Mr. Searson added, “There are going to be a lot of teachers who are home with children of their own…. And that’s going to have an effect on the distance learning they will offer next week and in the coming weeks to students.

“Or there will be teachers who will have a group of at-risk and key-worker students in front of them, but will also have to homeschool the rest of the students.”

He said it could take radical measures to meet the challenges teachers are likely to face.

“It could be that schedules will have to be trimmed down so that students get two online contact sessions with their teacher a week instead of four, for example, and students would have to cover more material during those sessions,” Mr. Searson explained.

“But then it becomes absolutely critical that parents are there to support these kids and make sure they’re doing the work.”

He also emphasized that there are issues about the availability of teachers.

“Additional capacity of supply teachers and subject teachers is absolutely essential to support staff and struggling students, but we have received reports that some communities have terminated contracts with supply teachers,” Mr. Searson said.

“Before Christmas, we got reports of this from a number of people. It seems like it was agreed in some countries, ‘eh, the schools are closed, we no longer need to invest this money,’ even though John Swinney offered extra money to help restore education.

“That’s what I would call a sharp practice.”

SNP to keep campuses in line with schools closed

Despite Scottish Government guidance stipulating that attendance should be limited to staff required to enforce the revised reopening arrangements, there have also been reports of schools requiring all teachers to come in to look after key employees and disabled children.

“Mr. Searson said, “In some local authorities, we had schools – even until [Tuesday] night – asking all their employees to come in because they didn’t know exactly how many main workers and needy children they would have to take care of.

“We expect most schools to know how many children would fall into the Key Worker or vulnerable category.”

He added, “Hopefully, common sense is starting to prevail on this issue. The problem is that the guidelines have been woolly and ministers have said it’s up to local authorities.”

Searson also cautioned that there is a need to revise legislation for students with additional support needs (ASN) in special schools.

“The staff and children in these schools need every possible protection,” he said.

“That could mean that we only have one teacher working with a small group of children in these schools to build their own bubble.

“Maybe we need to get to the point where it’s accepted that not all ASN students can be in school all the time.”

To the BBC

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