The use of blended and digital learning will have a permanent role to play in schools after lockdown, Glasgow Council’s education director has signalled.

Maureen McKenna said platforms such as the West Online School - which features hundreds of recorded lessons - offered a potential means of teaching pupils who may struggle in a conventional classroom.

She pointed in particular to Glasgow Caledonian University’s Advanced Higher Hub, describing it as one service that could be “extended” to include regular digital sessions on a continuing basis.

But she told The Herald that remote arrangements were not, “by any stretch of the imagination”, as good as face-to-face teaching and highlighted the crucial contribution of schools to pupil wellbeing and safety.

She was speaking after campuses last week completed their staggered reopening following a second period of pandemic-related closures in which the e-learning offer was viewed by many as better than what was available during first lockdown.

Acknowledging that school “doesn’t work for everybody”, she said there were aspects of digital teaching “that we do need to take forward and build in”.

“The Advanced Higher Hub at Glasgow Caledonian… I think we could extend the reach of that by having some of their lessons online so they would be able to have more in a class,” she added.

HeraldScotland: Most Scottish pupils have spent significant periods of time learning remotely over the past year.Most Scottish pupils have spent significant periods of time learning remotely over the past year.

“So, for example, I want to do Advanced Higher Physics but there’s only me in my school who wants to do Advanced Higher Physics, so there’s no chance of the school being able to afford to put on a class just for me. I could go to the school down the road, but they’re not doing it either.

“So a few years ago we set up [the Hub] and they come from all over the city... They’ll go there from three until six [but] it’s been online this year. That I could see changing and becoming, you’re only in twice a week and, once a week, it’s an online lesson.”

But Ms McKenna also stressed that there were limits to the use of remote or blended learning, and said getting children back into school had been a “critical” priority.

“Twenty-nine thousand of our children live in the ten per cent most deprived postcodes,” she told The Herald.

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“Are we seriously thinking that remote learning worked for them? Or even those living in the ten per cent least deprived postcodes where both your parents are working and you’re in a house where your parents are constantly on Teams meetings? Do we seriously think those children got a great deal too?”

She added: “We did have instances of children during the first lockdown where locked down became locked in, and an abusive adult in the house didn’t allow them out and wouldn’t allow them to come to school. And I think we learnt a lot, so in this second lockdown we were a lot sharper off the mark with those children.

“Quite often, children won’t share things going on in their house because they’re frightened of what might happen to a parent, even if a parent is being abusive. They need to be with that trusted adult in a safe and secure environment so they just might share.

"Or that mum, if she’d been coming up to school every day, she might have taken the opportunity to make eye contact with a teacher or support staff, and she might have said, ‘do you know what’s happening in my house?’ But she never had that chance. 

“So, in my conversations with politicians in that first lockdown it was, ‘you need to find a way out of this’. We looked after 600 children a day on average out of 70,000 during first lockdown. It’s not enough.”

HeraldScotland: Glasgow Caledonian University hosts an Advanced Higher Hub that gives pupils a taste of campus life.Glasgow Caledonian University hosts an Advanced Higher Hub that gives pupils a taste of campus life.

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Eleanor Wilson MBE, Head of Outreach at GCU, said: "The Advanced Higher Hub implemented blended learning pedagogy as a mitigation against Covid-19 to provide stability to S6 pupils from our partner Glasgow secondary schools.

"The early implementation of blended learning from March 2020 into academic year 20-21 provided a backdrop of educational stability for our Hub pupils. The Hub’s approach to blended learning facilitated continued course coverage of National Qualifications during local and national restrictions, and dual live-streaming of synchronous teaching provided a platform for students during personal periods of isolation, whilst maintaining the high educational standard and subject expertise of the Advanced Higher Hub.

"We have found this year that the exposure to, and experience of, a university virtual learning environment has provided our 20-21 Hub cohort with the opportunity to develop the necessary digital skills for independent learning and to build familiarity with the demands of degree-level study, ready for entry to Higher Education.

"We intend to continue our blended learning approach moving forward in 21-22, and beyond, as a means of expanding the added value that the Hub gives to pupils during their sixth-year studies."​