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John Swinney: Schools returning on February 1 is ‘tall order’

Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney.
Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney.

Scottish deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney has said the return of schools on February 1 is a ‘tall order’, though a final decision is yet to be made.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this month that the government was aiming to get all pupils back in schools by the start of February, though the stance would be reviewed ‘in mid-January’.

With that review imminent, Mr Swinney told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland show that keeping to that target would be difficult.

He said: “I think that’s a tall order, to be honest.

“The government will look at these questions at the cabinet on Tuesday, and the first minister will give an update to parliament on Tuesday.

“But the virus is still at a very high level in general in society, and we took the view that we had to have the level of community transmission suppressed to enable us to protect the National Health Service.”

He added: “It’s premature for me to give a definitive view on that, we’ll come to a conclusion on Tuesday and share it with parliament and the public.”

Remote learning hiccup

Mr Swinney was speaking at the end of the first week of online learning for most of Scotland’s school pupils.

The week began awkwardly, with a Microsoft Teams issue preventing many families from accessing the virtual resources they needed on Monday.

The fault, which also affected Teams systems across Europe and the rest of the United Kingdom, was soon repaired and no further widespread problems have been reported since the start of the week.

The education secretary said: “We’ve seen a very significant increase in the amount of usage of Microsoft Teams, which I think illustrates that the teaching profession has spent a great deal more time delivering live learning to young people, which is one of the aspects of remote learning.

“It’s not the be all and end all, but it’s part of remote learning and we’ve seen significant increases in the usage.

“I think generally, although I accept that remote learning is a real challenge for parents and particularly those who are working from home as well, I think it’s got off to a very good start.

“I thank parents, pupils, parents and families for the support that they’ve given to this process.”

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