Children’s right to education in a pandemic: Our evidence to the Education and Skills Committee

Our office has responded to the Scottish Parliament’s call for evidence around school closures, exam cancellations and vulnerable children. 

Key points in our evidence 

Children are still missing out on support 

In our evidence to Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, we stress that 11 weeks into lockdown children are still missing out on support― including many who the Scottish Government would define as vulnerable.  

They include disabled children, particularly those with the most complex additional support needs.  

The current system of hub schools isn’t appropriate for everyone. They don’t all have the specialist equipment needed to teach disabled children, while children who live with someone classified as high-risk for coronavirus can’t attend. 

Because of this, we need alternatives in place so all children in Scotland have their human rights realised― to education, to benefit from social security, for their parents to receive the help they need and, if they have a disability, to special care and education. 

Families need alternatives to free school meals 

Poverty and food insecurity were the biggest human rights issues facing children in Scotland before the pandemic. 

Now things are worse. Children have the right to enough nutritious food and to an adequate standard of living, and Scotland and the UK should be taking immediate measures to make sure this continues to happen. 

Scottish Government, Local Authorities, civil society and community organisations have all made significant effort to make sure children have access to food, but it hasn’t been enough. The Trussell Trust recently reported a 62% rise in emergency food parcels for children.  

More needs to happen. The Scottish and UK Governments have a legal duty to make sure that children have a good enough standard of living. 

Since school closures were announced, we’ve called for every child entitled to free school meals to be supported with a direct payment of at least £20 a week to their families. That includes families who’ve become eligible for free school meals since lockdown began, and should be in addition to other support – like food delivery – when it’s appropriate. 

Digital exclusion remains a significant issue 


When people create services for you to use they often assume that everyone has access to the internet all the time. If someone doesn’t, they may find it more difficult – or even impossible – to access a service, and when that happens we say they are digitally excluded. For example, a child without home internet access would be digitally excluded if they were asked to research a topic online.

Two common ways in which Scotland’s children and young people are digitally excluded are:

  • because of the cost of internet and devices used to access the internet
  • because of the poor availability of broadband in many rural parts of the country, especially in the Highlands and Islands.

Digital exclusion is still a significant issue across Scotland. If it isn’t addressed then this will still be true when schools reopen, as a lot of learning will still take place online. 

Not having fast and reliable access to the internet has a significant impact on a child’s right to education, and it’s something that disproportionally affects those in poverty. But it’s also more likely to affect those in rural areas where broadband and mobile coverage remains an issue, and those in families where devices are shared by several people. 

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted that online learning shouldn’t make existing inequalities even greater, but this is something that’s currently happening in Scotland. 

We’re glad that Scottish Government committed £30 million to digital support for children’s education, but these are issues that will need to be addressed urgently. 

Young people aren’t involved in decisions around exams  

Article 12 of the UNCRC requires children and young people to be involved in all decisions that affect them— but the decision to cancel all exams was a hugely significant one and they weren’t involved. 

It’s not clear how the SQA will prevent disproportionate negative impacts on particular groups of young people, or how the appeals process will be created in a way which young people can easily access. 

We’re pleased that the SQA might be willing to meet our Young Advisers and listen directly to their concerns, but this sort of opportunity is one that more young people need. We want Scottish Government to make sure young people who would have had exams this year can meaningfully engage with teachers and the SQA, so that appeals procedures are transparent and fair and so no child ends up discriminated against. 

Young people aren’t involved in decisions around their futures 

Right now, decisions are being made around what education will look like in Scotland when schools reopen in August. It will look very different to what children and young people are used to, and they need to be involved in the plans that are being made. 

Returning to such a different kind of education will be a challenge for all children and young people, and that will come on top of what has already been an extremely scary and challenging year. Even the most resilient children may find it hard to adjust. So it’s important that schools understand that this is a time of transition for all children and young people, and how important it is that they’re provided with the support they need. 

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