Pupils should get a “personal comeback plan” with a mental health assessment when they return to school following lockdown, Anas Sarwar has said.
The Scottish Labour leader has called for all schoolchildren’s progress and mental welfare to be assessed as part of the coronavirus recovery.
In his first major speech since he was elected leader, Mr Sarwar stressed that recovering from the impact of the coronavirus should be Scotland’s priority, rather than another independence referendum.
He said Scottish Labour’s manifesto going into the Holyrood elections in May will be a “national recovery plan”, focusing on the health service, education, jobs, communities and the environment.
Addressing the impact of lockdown on pupils’ education, Mr Sarwar said the country has a “moral imperative to ensure that our next generation do not carry the weight of the pandemic”.
Outlining proposals for guaranteed exam re-sits, free college places and activities for children during the summer, he said: “This is a plan that delivers hope for our young people, restores Scottish education, supports teachers, and makes sure that every child has the right to a decent start in life.
“It includes a tutoring programme which must be led nationally and resourced by the Scottish Government.
“We believe there should be a personal comeback plan for every pupil, based on a needs-based assessment, and combined with a mental health assessment.
“For those young people who have missed out on examinations this year, we believe there should be a resit guarantee with a free place at college to take national qualifications should this be the chosen path of any pupil from the affected cohort.”
Mr Sarwar acknowledged the plan had not yet been costed, but argued that it could be funded with the non-recurring funding received from the UK Government during the pandemic.
“We should be using that money, hundreds of millions of pounds, to actually invest in our young people – that should be a national priority,” he said after the speech.
Asked about the prospect of another referendum, as the SNP and Greens have demanded if there is a pro-independence majority following the Holyrood election, Mr Sarwar said: “This is a pandemic election.
“Lives and livelihoods are still at risk, and will still be at risk in the next eight weeks that follow, and beyond.
“I honestly believe what people right now at home care about – beyond the Twittersphere, and the Facebook groups – what people care about in their homes right now is keeping themselves safe, when they’re going to get a vaccine, their child’s education and mental health, the failure to get a cancer diagnosis, or a missed or cancelled operation.
“And they care about the planet we’re going to leave our children and our grandchildren, and fundamentally they care about, if and when they’re gonna have a job to go back to.”
He added: “What I’m saying to people is if you vote Labour, you’re going to have a party that is focused on what unites, not what divides us.
“I don’t support independence. I don’t support a referendum. Instead, I want us to focus on what unites us so vote for what you’re for, not just what you’re against.
“I think that is a message that can resonate with people across Scotland because they want the national recovery, they want our politicians to grow up and move on.
“They want our politicians to recognize that this is a pandemic election where we’ve lost thousands of our fellow citizens, and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their jobs.”