Look, as the politicians like to say, let’s be clear, as they always add, no one is saying it will be easy to get Scotland’s children back to school. It will be the opposite of easy but, look, let’s be clear, it has to be done.
If it means spending millions, building classrooms, hiring teachers, and working through the summer holidays [sic] to buy, steal or borrow the necessary space, staff and systems, it has to be done. It will be torturous but has to be done. It will demand resource, innovation, determination, hard work and leadership but, really, it has to be done.
Everyone involved will be tested, ministers and education directors, teachers and union leaders, but if any of them do not believe moving heaven and earth to protect the education of our children in this time of crisis is their most important job then they are in the wrong job.
Last week was not a good one for the Scottish Government. Education Secretary John Swinney’s notion of blended schooling, half at home, half in class, revealed a jaw-dropping paucity of ambition as did his relaxed willingness to consider cancelling next year’s exams before the school year even begins. Mr Swinney insists work on this masterplan started even before lockdown but if this half-baked nonsense was really the result of more than three months of discussion at the highest level of national and local government then things are worse than any of us thought. This was not a plan to resume the education of our young people, it was a plan to risk it.
Inevitably, inquiries to private schools and tutors are soaring as ministers’ promises to close the chasm in attainment between our wealthiest and poorest postcodes become increasingly risible.
This is a national public health emergency, it is a national economic emergency but, and possibly most importantly for our future, it is a national education emergency. A national emergency that will lead to thousands of personal tragedies if the required leadership and resource cannot be found. If a grip cannot be got, young lives will be needlessly circumscribed by a lack of schooling, marked by missed opportunity, lost potential and shattered dreams.
If a hospital can be built from scratch, then so can classrooms. If we can encourage retired health professionals to rejoin the frontline then we can encourage retired teachers back to class while hiring young graduates. If home schooling must be in the mix, then online attendance must be enforced and absence actioned.
Those in charge must raise the bar, redouble their efforts and make it happen.
Faced with sudden crisis, US Marines adapt, improvise and overcome, so, look, let’s be clear, if our children’s future does not inspire the same gung-ho spirit in our political leaders, what on earth will?