The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has said the Kirk is “ready” to lend its buildings to schools to help children back into classroom during the coronavirus crisis.
Politicians welcomed Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair’s offer saying the option should be explored in case education secretary John Swinney’s new plan to fully reopen schools on August 11 has to be abandoned in the event of the virus spreading.
Dr Fair of St Andrews Parish Church, Arbroath, revealed the Kirk had been in contact with officials about using churches and church halls to create more classrooms to enable social distancing.
“There are some discussions ongoing between the church hierarchy and local government officials about that possibility,” the Moderator said.
“I have certainly spoken to various parish ministers who are only too ready to go down that route. One thing we have got is community space right across the country. Given that classroom sizes are going to be affected, we will be ready, I am sure, where it is appropriate to open our buildings more widely and not least for schools’ use if that proves to be possible.”
Dr Fair was speaking ahead of Mr Swinney’s U-turn in which the Education Secretary set aside controversial plans for “blended learning” in favour of aiming for the re-opening of all schools without social distancing.
Parents and education experts had warned children would suffer as a result of blended learning, a mixture of being taught remotely at home and more conventional classroom lessons.
But Mr Swinney stressed his change of plan depended on the continued suppression of Covid-19 and “stringent” safety measures for pupils and staff.
The education secretary also warned blended learning may still have to be implemented if infection rates rise again.
This is a generous offer and one that local authorities and headteachers should explore.”
Lib Dem education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart
Lib Dem education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart MSP said: “If classroom teaching is not able to proceed in August, it will be imperative that schools make the most of what other resources are available so that the most disadvantaged pupils do not fall further behind. This is a generous offer and one that local authorities and headteachers should explore.”
A welcome gesture
Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “This is a very welcome gesture from the Church of Scotland and exactly the kind of practical idea that the SNP government should have come up
“Their humiliating U-turn on reopening education raises more questions than answers.
“We still don’t know if there will be any form of social distancing in schools, or if all learning will take now place in schools – in which case this welcome offer may well be needed.”
Seamus Searson, General Secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), said: “Anything to get as many children back to school as possible is very welcome. But the difficulty may be that there would not be enough staff to attend these buildings.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the Deputy First Minister made clear today, our plan is for schools to return full-time in August. Blended learning remains a necessary contingency plan. If that becomes necessary, the school estate may be expanded to maximise face-to-face learning and we welcome the Church of Scotland’s offer to help with this.”
Dr Fair made his offer in an interview, which is to be published shortly. In it, he describes how the Church is coping with Covid-19 and explains why he is making 1,000 phone calls during lockdown.