THE climate and health emergencies are already with us. The economic and education versions are just around the corner. As in all emergencies, some will suffer much more than others. As far as education is concerned, youngsters from more affluent backgrounds will be better placed to ride out the storm. In Aberdeen, one private school took full page advertisements to describe how it “continues education on line”. And very impressive it is too. The current hiatus will have minimal impact on its pupils’ attainment and future prospects.

In the state sector, many teachers have worked hard to offer a similar sense of continuity and achievement. Children from well-off homes are better placed to take advantage. They are more likely to have space, peace to study, adult support and internet access. Others aren’t so lucky. Teachers tell of youngsters struggling to access learning materials on mobile phones, competing with siblings for the internet and sharing rooms with others playing loud music at all hours. Language difficulties prevent some children from ethnic minorities fully accessing online learning. Some vulnerable pupils have vanished off the radar altogether. The disengaged and disadvantaged are becoming the disappeared.

It’s encouraging that the Scottish Government and teachers' unions have grasped the likely impact of the shutdown on the learning and life chances of those already on the wrong side of the attainment gap. Additional funding for hardware and internet access is welcome. There is probably no alternative to the planned blend of home and school learning, possibly lasting until Christmas. Before Covid struck however, there were few signs that the attainment gap was being bridged effectively. The blended strategy is a sticking plaster and, in itself, unlikely to prevent the disadvantaged slipping even further behind.

More positively, blended learning could be a sign that the Government and unions are in agreement that a return to the pre-Covid status quo is not an option. Scottish education is not noted for its flexibility or speed of response to change in the wider world. Reform over the last 30 years has moved at glacial speed. That will not do in the post-Covid world. A generation will be further disadvantaged if the response to the crisis is not rapid, innovative and flexible. Outcomes must be aspirational and transformational. A post-Covid task group is required to lead an urgent, far-reaching review of the why, what, where and when of learning in our schools and beyond. It’s not over-egging the mixture to call this a national emergency, especially for youngsters from economically challenged backgrounds. You never know, if tackled successfully, we might see a weekly clap for the Education Secretary and the EIS.

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