The largest teachers’ union in Scotland has endorsed a plan to extend the Christmas break to prevent teachers and students from having to self-isolate in January – but ministers have yet to decide whether to go forward with the change.
On Thursday, the Education Recovery Committee of the Scottish government considered extending the school break from Dec. 18 to Jan. 11 – but ministers are still debating whether to follow the revision.
It is suspected that the extension is being promoted to ensure that school staff are not busy socializing during the holidays, which may consist of complete classes or mixed lessons with students learning from home.
Parents who have to balance their interests between work and child care will be affected by the postponement, but a decision is planned to be taken “as soon as possible,” stressed Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.
A leaked memo for Scottish councils from the umbrella body, Cosla, cautioned that the extension of the Christmas holiday “could impact on future considerations of whether schools should remain open,” citing clear concerns about staff safety from teachers’ unions.
“There would be no provision for emergency child care as previously provided by school staff, and therefore there are implications for key workers and vulnerable children and youth.”As previously provided by school staff, there will be no provision for emergency child care, and therefore there are implications for key workers and vulnerable children and young people.
The Minister of Health emphasized that “looking at how we maintain our commitment, which is to keep our schools open.” remains the focus for the Scottish government.
Ms. Freeman said research into whether schools should close for longer had taken place by the Education Rehabilitation Community “regardless of whether there is a relaxation of restrictions over the holidays” – rejecting speculation that after the regulations are relaxed, the public could anticipate a similar arrangement.
“She added: “We will come to their conclusions and I have no doubt that after the holidays, the Deputy First Minister will set out the steps he needs to see in order for schools to return successfully.
We are really conscious that school parents, teachers and children want to know what’s going to happen. We’re going to make sure that we form an opinion based on the expert group’s recommendations, and we’re going to make sure that we form an opinion so that people have advance warning as soon as possible,’ he said.
If there is going to be some adjustment at all, we want to tell people as soon as possible. That decision has not been made at this stage.
The Minister of Health added that the wider debate on the pre- and post-Christmas steps would also extend to universities and colleges.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union and member of the Education Recovery Committee, endorsed the principle that schools should be closed longer over Christmas for security reasons.
“He said, “The EIS agrees that there is a strong argument for the extension of school closures during the winter break to reduce the risk of a rise in diseases spreading through school populations over this time, reduce staff stresses and protect families from the Christmas period.
“Whether this is based on the introduction of distance learning during the period of the extension or a direct extension of the Christmas and New Year vacations, the EIS would support this in the interests of the health and wellbeing of pupils, staff and their families.”
But the Scottish Conservatives have cautioned that if blended learning proposals are carried out after the Christmas break, all students must have access to suitable technology.
“We want young people to grow up to have the best possible careers and any further dilution of their teaching time must be properly accounted for at home,” said Jamie Greene, the party’s education spokesman.
“Every child should have access to appropriate IT equipment and learning materials to ensure they don’t fall behind in their learning.”
Mr Greene added: “We should not underestimate the enormous pressure that would put countless working parents on an extended Christmas break and everything should be done to support them.”
“Reopening key worker hubs to share the burden of child support is a must if an extended break is indeed approved.”