Proposals for post-lockdown catch-up classes are a “non-starter” and the focus should instead be on providing one-to-one or small group support to pupils, according to senior primary school staff.

Greg Dempster, general secretary at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), said the initial classroom priorities would be child welfare and wellbeing.

And he emphasised the central importance of additional teaching staff to ensuring sustained learning recovery.

His remarks come as primary schools prepare to host all pupils full-time from Monday, with P4-7 children joining those in P1-3 who returned last month.

It follows a period of closure – aimed at containing Covid-19 – that saw most youngsters receive lessons remotely.

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Westminster Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed recently that longer school days, shorter summer holidays and five-term years were all options being considered in a bid to help English children catch up.

But Mr Dempster said there was little enthusiasm for such an approach among members of the AHDS, which also represents those in the nursery and ASN sectors.

“I would say the talk about catch-up classes and restructuring the school day or term to make up for lost learning is a non-starter for the headteachers, school leaders and senior staff I work with,” he added.

“There has been a lot done through remote learning and the offer during second lockdown has been a lot better.

“It’s not like you’re talking about an individual pupil who has been absent and fallen behind their peers.

“I think that, when primary schools reopen full-time on Monday, the priority will be on settling children back in and the welfare side, and then, later, starting to examine things in terms of learning and possible next steps.”

HeraldScotland: AHDS General Secretary Greg Dempster.AHDS General Secretary Greg Dempster.

Mr Dempster’s comments add to a growing debate over how to support pupils after Scotland’s two national lockdowns.

Last month, the Commission on School Reform, an independent group of experts set up by think tank Reform Scotland, asked ministers to establish a “radical programme of catch-up to repair the damage caused to children”.

The group – whose members include Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University – called for eight extra hours of tuition per week for two years, or five hours per week over three years.

These would be completed during extended school opening in the late afternoons and overseen by around 19,000 extra staff.

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But Mr Dempster said: “Children have already missed out on out-ofschool activities, clubs, and so on, and if you start to think about extending the school day or term, that’s pushing those elements to the side.

“Also, anyone who’s had kids in primary school knows they’re knackered after a day in class.

“In terms of ‘catch-up’, that’s where additional staff are so important. The more one-to-one or small group support that can be given to teaching anything a child may have had difficulty with during remote learning, the better.

“Additional teaching staff will be crucial for these children during the post-lockdown period.”

He added: “The overwhelming feeling among our members is that they are delighted to be having the kids back in school. The infection rate has come down massively.

“But I think the thing that will cause some anxiety in the coming period is that they will be watching stats on in-school outbreaks. If those start to move in the wrong direction, that will cause worry.”

His views on education recovery were echoed by Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, who said: “Children need to be nurtured and allowed to reconnect with friends; then we can look at addressing the delayed progress in learning, but the way to do that is to create smaller classes and intensify support, not to formulaically extend hours and term times, as if the task was just to cram more knowledge into their brains.”

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He added: “These may be hard times but we should leave Mr Gradgrind’s approaches on the pages of Mr Dickens’ novel.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have committed over £375 million to education recovery, which includes £80 million leading to an additional 1,400 teachers and over 200 support staff being appointed so far.

“The investment also includes £45 million announced on January 13 to support the delivery of remote learning. This funding is sufficient to employ an additional 2,000 teachers during this financial year, and a further £25 million has been made available to local authorities to support this to the end of the school year. A further £60 million was announced on February 16 for 2021/22 to support the employment of more teachers, classroom support staff and facilities management.”