Cllr Callum Laidlaw, Conservative Group Education Spokesperson and Scottish Parliamentary Candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Last year I was proud to play my part at a local level in the Scottish Conservatives ‘back to school’ campaign which successfully fought for pupils to return full-time to our classrooms. It was all too apparent in the first lockdown that the attainment gap widened as pupils faced divergent facilities and technology to learn from home and education professionals were caught on the hop.
Little did we expect to find ourselves in the position post-Christmas of another lockdown, with schools closed and children learning from home. I know many parents are frustrated that the approach taken in our schools can inconsistent, and the amount and type of learning on offer can feel like a postcode lottery.
That said, I have been receiving regular briefings from the Council Education Department and it appears that the offer, both in terms of content and how it is delivered is improving and teachers are now adapting to the delivery of a new way of learning that could be with us for some time, though both myself, and the Council, are of the position that returning children to our classrooms should happen at the earliest opportunity.
However while online learning continues, hopefully, the below information, in answer to some of questions I have posed, will offer some clarity as to what is being delivered. And please do get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any issues you would like to raise.
Q. How much learning should schools be delivering to pupils at home?
At a minimum schools should be offering the following:
Primary: 15-20 hours weekly
S1-S3: 15-20 hours weekly
S4-S6: 20-25 hours weekly
Every child will have regular access to a teacher, with at a least a daily live check-in with teachers to provide support with learning, provide feedback or speak with pupils (classes, groups or individuals) about their Health & Wellbeing.
If you feel that your child is not making progress with learning, or if you want more information about digital learning, please raise this directly with the Headteacher. Support is available for teachers and for learners in a variety of ways. Currently circa 4000 children are receiving additional support.
Q. What sort of learning should be provided?
The facility for recorded video teaching is available for all. Although there will be examples where live (synchronous) teaching is used, it will not be the default.
Research supports learning approaches which aim to ‘chunk’ learning into more manageable chunks and allow for young people to access the learning more flexibly, for example through pre-recorded learning or on-line learning resources, allowing pupils to watch explanations again or for it to be accessed at a time convenient to parents providing learning support.
Q. Why is the offer so different between schools?
Schools have different offers based on their digital estate, parental support, professional confidence and competence and expectations.
The Council is trying to ensure greater consistency through support, specifically Peer to Peer Headteacher sessions which are in place to share good practice weekly.
Q. How are parents being communicated with?
Communications to parents and carers are currently in the form of the FAQs on the council website and How To guides which are being tweeted from the Edinburgh Learns account.
Q. How are teachers being supported to deliver online learning?
The Edinburgh Learns Teaching and Learning Team have provided significant training since the start of lockdown. Professional learning is available for all staff through EdinburghLearns@Home, this includes self-led digital professional learning (so that teachers can access the knowledge and skills they need at a time and place relevant to them), bitesize professional learning videos on key aspects of practice and live webinars which complement this offer and allow teachers to hear about delivery of high quality remote learning directly from other practitioners. Bespoke support programmes are also available as required.
Q. Are sufficient numbers of device available for all pupils to be able to access online learning?
Scottish Government supplied devices have been allocated to schools to supplement their existing digital provision, so they are able to lend devices to pupils in the event of self-isolation or lockdown. The vast majority of our pupils now have access at least to a shared device at home, although some may be relying on a mobile phone as their device. Additional devices have been received from the Scottish Government and are currently being distributed to improve this access. This is a dynamic situation and we are currently re-surveying schools to identify any remaining/new gaps in provision which we can them address with additional devices.
Q. There have been issues raised about some online learning tools not being accessible via ChromeBooks; has City of Edinburgh purchased/supplied any of these devices?
City of Edinburgh’s chosen platform is iPad. No Chromebooks have been purchased or advice given in relation to Chromebooks.
Q. Is there any ability to access catch-up tutoring similar to the offer provided by the department for Education in England as part of the National Tutoring Programme?
The National Tutoring Programme is only for England and this is a programme of support provided to students. Schools will provide opportunities to check-in with students about their learning and wellbeing, and provide support where necessary to ensure that all students are supported regardless of their circumstances. Over 4000 learners are receiving additional support and this will be expanded further.
Q. What additional teaching resources are available for learning? Is there access for all to Glow (Scotland's digital learning platform) and is the West Partnership Online School and the extensive output available through the Oak National Academy produced for English schools been reviewed to see if it can be used where curricula cross-over?
Schools are signed up to ClickView an extensive content base, which also has the West Partnership materials in place and available for all to use.
All school children have Glow account however the use of Glow in Edinburgh has not traditionally been high. Learners can access SCHOLAR materials through Glow without the need to log on separately which may increase uptake. There have been a number of glitches on Glow using the Teams app function.
There has been no formal review of the Oak National Academy content by the Council as it is structured around the English curriculum but schools have been made aware of this resource, and where it complements the Scottish Curriculum, schools can make use of any relevant content when planning and delivering their remote lessons, alongside content from a range of other sources.
Q. Who is eligible to take up school places for the children of key-workers, given the Scottish Government has not defined specific jobs that qualify, and how do they apply?
Scottish Government guidance has been integral to the decision making of City of Edinburgh senior leadership teams when allocating places to children of key workers in schools. Each request for a space, made by a family, has been looked at individually and when required parents have been contacted for further clarity about their employment and their ability to work from home. The ability to work from home to mitigate the spread of the virus has been a key driver in decisions made, in accordance with the Scottish Government guidance.
The City of Edinburgh Council is guided by the Scottish Government's definition of a keyworker:
• Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff.
• Category 2 – All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (for example: fire, police, prisons, social workers, courts), as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.
• Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised).
Parents/carers are able to apply for a place in the childcare setting by applying online. Each application has been looked at individually to assess if we can offer key worker childcare support.
As per the Scottish Government guidance, the following key principles apply:
Only those children that meet the criteria (i.e. those that are vulnerable or are the children of keyworkers as defined in this guidance) should be offered a place within childcare settings.
If it is possible for children to be at home during this exceptional period, until settings reopen more fully to them, then they should be.
Only key workers who are physically attending their workplace or who cannot fulfil their critical functions when working remotely may qualify for places.
Where alternative options are available – e.g. where childcare can be provided or supported by one non-key-worker parent or carer who is able to work from home – these should be used instead of attending childcare settings in person.
They have no access to appropriate alternative childcare arrangements. Alternative childcare arrangements may include informal childcare (grandparents, family member or friend) or accessing a childminding service (which remain open to all children at present).
Decisions should be taken based on the circumstances of individual families. Whole workforces or entire groups of staff should not be designated as key workers. Doing so would undermine the collective effort we must all make to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives during this period of strict lockdown.