THE LEADER of the EIS union has warned that teachers will need to assess the wellbeing of “young people who have been severely traumatised” by the lockdown when schools return in August – before they can even begin to judge children’s academic ability.

Schools in Scotland are set to return on August 11 with a “blended” learning programme, with part of the teaching taking place physically in schools with social distancing measures, while the rest will be delivered remotely through technology.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the EIS, warned MSPs that as well as many children not having access to the technology to benefit from online teaching, “there are still tens of thousands of pupils who don’t have a table to work at”.

Mr Flanagan was appearing remotely in front of Hoyrood’s Education Committee, where he also stressed that Scotland’s education system “can’t cope” without an increase in funding for more staff over the coming year.

The Herald revealed last week that thousands of former teachers will be asked to come back and support the blended learning model – with class sizes set to be cut to allow for social distancing.

READ MORE: Thousands of former teachers asked to help implement ‘blended’ schooling

Some £30 million has been pledged to deliver laptops and internet access to disadvantaged children across the country, a payment Mr Flanagan welcomed.

Mr Flanagan said: “We do have and we will have an increasing number of young people who have been severely traumatised throughout this lockdown process. When they come back into school, the school offers an opportunity to try and address some of that trauma.

“When we go back into schools, the assessment that we are interested in is not necessarily about educational progress, it’s assessing the wellbeing of the young people and making sure that we are nurturing them in the environment of the school, which for many is a strong, safe environment.”

He added: “Children attending school for under half of the normal week will have an impact on those children’s learning and, in particular, will have an impact on those who are most disadvantages already.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Next year's school exams may be scrapped due to Covid-19 pandemic

“Even if we take steps around addressing IT, inequities, there’s still a huge challenge around the ability of families to support young people in their remote learning. I think there’s a huge issue for us there to look at how we actually provide additional support to the most disadvantages because from our members survey, the biggest concerns our members have is that the disadvantages already suffer as a result of poverty, they’ve been more deeply entrenched by how we’re having to operate the moment.”

Mr Flanagan said his union was warning teachers to “not assume that children have certain things”, including access to technology and equipment.

He added: “Schools have started to develop a lot of online digital homework and we had to say, look you may actually be building in a barrier here for young people whose lives are blighted by poverty.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Scotland's schools to re-open on August 11 with 'blended' learning model

“I spoke at a housing association in Glasgow not that long ago and they had done a survey of their tenants and under half of the tenants had laptops.

“There are still tens of thousands of pupils who don’t have a table to work at in terms of doing homework. The digital aspect is simply one part of the poverty that they are suffering from. They don’t have isolated spaces to do homework, they are working in households with limited accommodation.”

Nicola Sturgeon said she will do "everything I can" to make sure young people "don't pay a long-term price" for living through the lockdown. 

She added: "I absolutely recognise the disproportionate impact on young people who are living in more difficult, vulnerable or deprived circumstances. 

READ MORE: Fears of 'lost generation' as pupil support in schools falls

"We will absolutely leave no stone unturned in trying to make sure that any impact you suffer is not great."

Mr Flanagan said local authority body Cosla is in discussions with the Scottish Government over funding for education but he claimed there is no need for a "wrangle" between the two.

He said: "We would like to see a very strong commitment to make sure that the funding is there to deliver whatever is necessary on behalf of our children and students.

“In a number of councils, agreement has been reached to make sure risk assessments have taken place, the deep cleans or enhanced cleans are taking place and all the public health mitigations are addressed in terms of how buildings operate.

“There are a number of councils where we are moving rapidly to a dispute situation because one local authority said they simply didn’t have the money to do an additional clean and therefore they wouldn’t be doing it but schools are still re-opening.”

He was asked by SNP MSP Gail Ross about face coverings potentially being worn when schools re-open.

Ms Ross said that “some teachers, especially in a primary school setting, are very reluctant about wearing a mask in the classroom in case it’s a bit intimidating”.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Sturgeon considering 'mandatory' face coverings

The First Minister has confirmed the Scottish Government is considering making the items mandatory on public transport and enclosed spaces such as supermarkets.

Mr Flanagan said he expected face coverings to be worn when schools re-opened but he does not see the need for them to be compulsory.

He said: “Members are asking if you have to wear a face covering in a supermarket or a train, why wouldn’t you wear it in a classroom where you are in a confined space with multiple number others. 

"The line we have taken so far is if you wish to wear a face mask or a face covering, then you should be allowed to. What you do is actually explain to the children why that’s happening.

“There may well be a number of young people whose parents send them to school with face coverings as a precaution. There does need to be some consistency of message from government. If face coverings are seen as being important in x,y and z venues, it’s difficult to see why they are not important in school environments.

“I do take the point that for some young people it may be off-putting – some teachers may not wish to wear them, I don’t think it should be compulsory. I actually think loads of young people would understand why somebody's wearing a face covering. 

"They are going to have to understand why they are two metres apart from one-another, so you’re only adding to the explanation a little bit.”