This latest of the educational continuity directions is significantly different from those which have recently preceded it, and so I will cover it in more detail than the last couple. This one runs from one minute past midnight on Saturday 13 March 2021 until one minute to midnight on Good Friday (2 April 2021) – i.e. from now ’til the Easter holidays.
As always, the Scottish Ministers, before issuing the direction, have consulted with the Chief Medical Officer and are satisfied that it is “necessary and proportionate” for the continued provision of education. The direction applies only to education authority provision, but in practice directions have been followed pretty closely by the independent sector as well.
The direction requires education authorities to:
- plan and prepare for all pupils to return to school full-time “at the earliest time it is safe to do so”;
- provide school education (during term time) to all primary age pupils in their schools;
- provide school education (during term time) to all secondary age pupils in their schools – subject to local arrangements and Scottish Government guidance – in particular: children of key workers; S4-S6 pupils studying for a national qualification; and as much provision for other pupils (S1-S3) “as reasonably practicable”;
- continue providing remote learning (during term time) for secondary age pupils as necessary to ensure that they receive “adequate and efficient school education” – including any school attendance they get; and
- provide reasonable alternatives where free school meals cannot be provided to those pupils eligible for them.
Education authorities are still, however, required to restrict access to all schools (except nursery schools) other than where access is required for any of the above purposes, or:
- for permitted use of outdoors sports activities;
- for the facilitation of a Covid-19 testing programme;
- for the maintenance of buildings and facilities;
- for any aspect of the local authority’s response to coronavirus;
- in relation to Scottish Parliament, local government or UK Parliament elections (if reasonable alternative arrangements cannot be made).
As before, any failure to comply with certain legal duties can be disregarded where the failure is a result of the direction. The duties covered by this rule are:
- the duty to provide free school lunches (Section 53(2) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980);
- the duty on parents to provide education (Section 30(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980);
- the duty to make adequate and efficient provision for the additional support needs of children and young persons with such needs (Section 4(1) of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004); and
- duties and time limits under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 – other than those relating to placing requests, which are covered in other amendments to those specific regulations.
Finally, in putting all of this into practice, the education authority must have regard to:
- the objective of preventing the transmission of coronavirus;
- the welfare of children and young people and staff;
- the importance of continuity of education; and
- relevant guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers.
As stated above, this direction will take us up to the Easter holidays. A further direction will presumably be issued thereafter which, all being well, should be less restrictive than this one.