GLASGOW’S head of education has defended a decision to keep all of the city’s schools open saying vulnerable pupils had been put at risk during the last lockdown because teachers “didn’t see enough children”.

Maureen McKenna said decisions about classroom numbers would be left to the discretion of schools “who know their families” and said the council was adopting a “less rigid” approach than other local authorities.

The Scottish government had previously announced that pupils would go back to school from January 18, following a week of online learning but remote learning has now been extended until the end of the month due to the sharp rise in Covid cases.

The vast majority of children won’t be back in the classrooms until February 1 unless parents or guardians are key workers or they are categorised as ‘vulnerable.’

READ MORE: Coronavirus Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon may have to toughen up lockdown rules 

Ms McKenna, who is Executive Director of Education for the council, said that shutting the city’s primary and secondary schools last year had led to safeguarding issues because “many parents don’t identify as vulnerable.” Primary schools and nurseries have been asked to contact the families of children who may be at risk.

HeraldScotland:

The council said it does not have figures yet for the number of pupils likely to attend schoolfrom Monday but stressed that those who can support their child at home should do so. Teaching union, the EIS said it would be monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of teachers.

Ms McKenna said it was likely that schools would be likely to see more pupils face-to-face this time because more parents were continuing to work. Asked if teachers might feel anxious because schools in a city with higher levels of deprivation might be more likely to see more pupils she said: “You don’t come to Glasgow for an easy shift.

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“Their job is to do face-to-face and online teaching and we want to be supportive. These are challenging times for everybody.

“In the last lockdown we didn’t see enough children and there was safeguarding issues because parents don’t identify as being vulnerable so the schools make contact.

“We didn’t put an application process out like other local authorities and they have been very rigid in applying that to key workers. We are leaving it to the discretion of the schools.

“We want to be sympathetic to our parents because there are a lot of parents who are struggling and experiencing hardship and trying to hold onto a job.

“If it’s primary or nursery we ask the schools to contact nurseries to clarify the key workers and children who they feel would benefit. For secondary, we asked them to contact us, simply because of the scale.

“I don’t like the term ‘vulnerable ‘ because they (the teachers)  know their families.”

She said that if numbers in one school are small, pupils may be sent to another that is close by which would also mean less staff such as cleaners and janitors being put at risk.

“We have to see what the demand is," she said.

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“There are more people working, construction sites are open and they weren’t open before.

“What I didn’t want was schools saying, well you are at a higher priority... or because I am a consultant, I’m at a higher priority than a gas man. 

“I didn’t want the schools to get into a fankle of categorising and saying we have only got ten places.  It’s for the schools to manage and of course it is a challenge because they are trying to manage the children in school while supporting remote learning as well.”

She said that while during the last lockdown, teachers had more or less been tasked with the ‘childcare’ of key workers with “little bits of learning” schools were in a very different position this time around.

“This  time the direction we have got from government is very clear that from Monday, it’s about learning. 

“I think there will be more children but I can’t say definitely. I know  one school that would normally have 600 in has got 50 in at the moment and he’s anticipating a bit more.

“There are also parents who want to keep their children at home and there are parents who say, I know I’m at home but I want my child in school.

She added: ”I am really concerned about our senior pupils and the damage this is doing, in terms of motivation and aspiration and that’s not related to deprivation, it’s across the whole gambit. I’m very distressed about those senior pupils.”

Ms McKenna said that requests from parents for face-to-face teaching would be judged on a case-by-case basis and said schools in the west end of the city had experienced more “push back” from parents.

“I’ve had, let’s say Professor Plum and his partner who are teaching online and they don’t want their children there and I’m saying, well that’s unfortunate.

“I’ve also got teachers who have been declined spaces in other local authorities and I’ve gone back to them - because we have an agreement across the west partnership - to say that if they are in school then I’ll negotiate and we will get their childcare sorted.

“But not if they are doing remote teaching. They will have to face the same struggles as other people.

“It’s a very hard situation. I think you have to look at the context.  This has been a really difficult time for everyone so lets be supportive. 

“I had issues where there were safeguarding issues with families where mums were locked in not locked down and there was domestic abuse going on and because we didn’t see the children.

"To safeguard, you have to provide opportunities for children to disclose and you can only do that if you see them and make eye contact with them.

“I’ve got someone who wrote today who has children with additional support needs and he wants full-time provision. I know  he is in the house so we will offer him some time but it might not be full-time.”

HeraldScotland:

Susan Quinn, EIS Glasgow Local Secretary, said the union will be working with the council to ensure no teachers are in school for longer than is “absolutely necessary.”

She said: “As I understand head teachers are working to ensure there are as few pupils in schools as is practical.

"Yes, there is a situation that Glasgow has a much higher of young people who might fall into the vulnerable category and because of the larger hospitals there is likely to be a higher number of key workers.

“We are seeing an increase in the numbers of parents who are looking for their children to be in school but we don’t have the figures yet and we will be meeting with them at the beginning of the week to discuss that.”