GREATER autonomy has allowed private schools to return the majority of secondary pupils to the classroom safely, according to a sector leader.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said that in “most cases” independent schools had been able to get older pupils back without compromising Covid-19 infection control.

He said this was not due to schools “rolling in cash” but rather that they had more flexibility to use public spaces or rent additional facilities.

However, he acknowledged that having a high teacher to pupil ratio had helped accelerate the process.

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Some Scottish pupils are said to be receiving as little as one hour a week classroom time, while Glasgow Gaelic School has delayed the return of S1 pupils.

All primary pupils are now back in schools and the Education Secretary has said those in secondary will return after the Easter Break.

Mr Edward said he was not aware of any instances where secondary pupils were receiving as little as an hour in the classroom.

He said: “In some cases pupils are still coming in for part of the week but, in most cases, schools have managed to get everyone back.

“Their autonomy makes the difference, which is at the heart of being independent.

“They are run in a different way so they can adapt their circumstances in a way that suits their local needs.

“A local authority will have to take a decision based on an entire local authority, that’s the nature of the way they system is set up.

HeraldScotland:

“This has been the result of long preparation in schools, building on the return to school in August last year.

“They have been spending the best of the year working out how to use facilities, in some cases renting new facilities.

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“The public health demands are exactly the same – there is no laxity in independent schools when it comes to infection control. .

“The schools are not particularly rolling in cash. They are all not-for-profit organisations. Their bottom line is fees in, salaries out.

“They won’t have discretionary money to throw at this but they will be re-purposing facilities. So some music and sports facilities will be being used differently while there is still a suspension on their use for Covid reasons. 

He said come schools have come to arrangements with churches and other businesses nearby to use spaces that are not being used in lockdown.

He added:“There’s a higher teacher-pupil ratio in the independent sector so there may be some sort of knock-on effect on that in terms of being able to be more flexible.”

Mr Edward said the standard of remote learning in the sector had been such that schools could “rely on that without worrying that the children are falling behind”.

At Hutchesons' Grammar School in Glasgow S1 pupils are in the classroom every second day, while The Glasgow Academy is rotating secondary pupils on a weekly basis.

As of Monday, the percentage of secondary pupils attending state schools was 27.1 per cent in the morning and 24.7% in the afternoon. In Special Needs schools, this was 71.3%.

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Parents of younger secondary pupils say they feel as if the needs of their children have been “forgotten”.

One mother, who is also an educational psychologist, said: “It does seem so unfair. My son’s motivation is now nil. At the start of lockdown he was pretty engaged, even although the offer from the school was still quite basic.

“This lockdown, despite a much improved offer from the school, his engagement is superficial at best. He’s missing the competitive and social engagement of the classroom, and the input and relationships with his teachers. 

“The government says schools would be last to close and first to open, but I’ll be able to get my hair done before my children are back at school full-time. 

“I just think we’ve forgotten the secondary pupils, despite them needing independence and peer contact more than younger children.”