Children and families must be urgently supported during any further school closures, says Children’s Commissioner

Key points

  • All children’s human rights need to be protected, despite the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland.  
  • Commissioner understands Scottish Government’s decision to extend the school holiday period and to move to online learning for a short period of time to protect public health.
  • Closing schools presents a serious risk of harm to the wellbeing of children and young people, and to the fulfilment of their rights. The closure must be limited and defined and under review.
  • The decision must be backed up by swift, national action to ensure that children and families are able to engage with learning and all other supports required, particularly vulnerable children who are most affected by such decisions.
  • Additional supports for teachers trying to deliver online learning as well as in class learning must be put in place.

The Scottish Government must prioritise supporting children and families facing another period of school closures by ensuring the national roll out of digital devices has reached all in need, consistent online learning support, and direct payments to families eligible for free school meals.

Commissioner Bruce Adamson is raising his concerns directly with the Scottish Government and said whilst he supported the government’s focus on the right to health and understood the decision to close schools for a limited and defined time, he warned that children’s education and mental health cannot be sacrificed.

The Commissioner said:

 “The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency for Scotland, but since schools first closed in March I have been clear that this is a children’s human rights emergency as well. In order to tackle coronavirus we must support the government’s focus on the right to health — and, indeed, the right to life – but we must do everything in our power to mitigate the significant impact on children.  Many of the concerns I have raised all year with the Government must be addressed as a matter of urgency before online learning begins on 11th January.”

Deep concerns around online learning

The Commissioner remains deeply concerned that support for online learning is being provided inconsistently across the country and there is not enough national guidance and support for schools from Scottish Government. Inconsistent delivery of online learning, between local authorities and individual schools, continues to widen the attainment gap between rich and poor children and young people. There is no nationally agreed resource to direct the provision of online learning.

The Commissioner said:

“Many children and young people have had continued problems accessing online learning during periods of self-isolation, especially those with disabilities, and those from families on low incomes and families with one parent. We know that parents and carers are doing their very best to support children to learn at home but they need help to do so. The Scottish Government must ensure that every child that needs a device to access education, has one and can access meaningful support for education online.”

Delivering online learning: More support needed for teaching staff

Additional support led by Government for teaching staff is key to delivering meaningful online learning in this period of school closure.

The Commissioner said:

“Teachers are doing an incredible job in supporting children to learn both at school and online but they must be properly supported with more digital resources, additional staffing where possible and the acknowledgement that many will be working with their own children at home at the same time.”

More needed to make sure educational support is accessed

Although the Commissioner welcomed the announcement that schools will be open to key workers and vulnerable children he warned that the Scottish Government needs to do more to ensure that those families who need to, can and do access this support. Hub schools were not widely accessed during the last lockdown.

Pupils sitting National Qualifications this year need urgent reassurance about how their progress will be assessed. 

The Commissioner said:

“I have particular concerns for senior students who are still awaiting details on the alternative assessment approach to their qualifications. Hearing about the alternative to exams when at home and with limited access to support from teachers will create more stress at an already anxious time.  Young people need reassurance that alternative assessment will be fair and take account of the interruptions they have experienced to their learning since March. 

“We were already concerned about increasing rates of poverty and declining mental health. Our focus must be on ensuring health and wellbeing is prioritised and ensuring help is put in place while schools are closed, including through direct payments for those entitled to free school meals.

I am raising my continued concerns directly with the Scottish Government as although local authorities and schools deliver education, Ministers continue to have the ultimate responsibility to ensure children’s rights to education and mental and physical health are realised.”

Back to top