SCHOOLS are not adequately prepared for the challenge of delivering remote learning from next week and are being deprived of vital additional teaching capacity, according to a union.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has warned that staff will struggle to follow normal class timetables while juggling in-person teaching, online lesson delivery and the needs of their own children.

Highlighting reports that supply contracts in some areas have been axed, it also accused education leaders of “sharp practice”.

The criticisms come after plans for the new term were revised amid concern over the emergence of a more transmissible Covid strain.

Schools re-opened on Tuesday for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers, while remote learning for all other pupils is due to begin on Monday and last until at least January 29.

Arrangements are to be reviewed on January 18, taking into account evidence about the Covid-19 variant and progress in reducing community transmission levels.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary, said: “There will have to be a realisation of what can and cannot be achieved by schools as we go along but I don’t think this has been realised.

"Things have not been worked out properly. In the guidance it’s written that pupils should follow normal timetables but that’s not an easy give.”

Mr Searson added: “There will be a lot of teachers at home with their own children... and this will have an impact on the remote learning they can deliver to pupils next week and in the weeks to come.

“Or there will be teachers who will have a group of vulnerable and key worker pupils in front of them but will also have to teach the rest of the pupils at home.”

He said the pressure teachers are likely to face could necessitate radical steps.

“It might be that timetables have to be squashed so that, for example, pupils could get two contact sessions online with their teacher in a week instead of four, and pupils would have to cover more material during those sessions,” Mr Searson explained.

“But then it becomes absolutely crucial that parents are there to support those children and ensure they’re doing the work.”

He also stressed there was concern about supply teachers.

“Additional capacity from supply and specialist teachers will be absolutely vital to support staff and struggling pupils, but we’ve had reports that some councils have axed supply teacher contracts,” said Mr Searson.

“We got reports of this from some individuals before Christmas. It seems it was decided in some places, ‘ah schools are closed, we don’t need to spend that money anymore’, even though John Swinney has put additional money in to aid education recovery.

“That’s what I would call sharp practice.”

There have also been reports of schools asking all teachers to come in to look after key worker and vulnerable children, even though Scottish Government guidance specifies that attendance should be restricted to staff necessary for the implementation of revised reopening arrangements.

Mr Searson said: “We’ve had schools in some local authorities – even up to [Tuesday] night – telling all of their staff to come in because they hadn’t established exactly how many key worker and vulnerable children they would have to look after.

“We expect most schools to know how many children would fall into the key worker or vulnerable category.”

He added: “Hopefully common sense is beginning to prevail on this issue. The problem is that the guidance has been woolly and ministers have been saying it’s up to local authorities.”

Mr Searson also warned that consideration would have to be given to overhauling arrangements for additional support needs (ASN) pupils in special schools.

“Staff and children in these schools need all the protection that can possibly be provided,” he said.

“That may mean that, in those schools, we only have one teacher working with a particular group of children, that they create their own bubble.

“Maybe we have to move to the point where it’s accepted that not all ASN pupils can be in school all of the time.”

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have provided guidance for early learning and childcare settings, schools and local authorities on communicating with and reporting to parents during Covid-19 and supporting parents and pupils with learning at home during Covid-19.

“We have invested £25 million to address digital exclusion and so far more than 50,000 devices have been distributed, and the programme in total is expected to deliver around 70,000 devices for disadvantaged children and young people.

“The definition of vulnerable children includes those with additional support needs. It is for education authorities to determine the arrangements. We have provided £75 million to councils who have now recruited more than 1,400 additional qualified teachers.”