IN July 2021 researchers from the London School of Economics examined the loss of learning caused by school closures during lockdown.

Their paper, Learning Loss Since Lockdown: Variation Across the Home Nations, found that between March 2020 and April 2021, school pupils in Scotland lost a maximum of 119 classroom days. This figure represents a worse situation than pupils in England who lost 110 days.

In terms of average learning losses, Scotland’s pupils again fared worse than their counterparts in England (64 and 61 days respectively). This lesson, that pupils lose out when schools are closed, should have been learned. And, having learned this lesson, one would have thought that the entire focus of the education system in Scotland would have been on ensuring that pupils missed no more learning time.

This week Scottish teachers are again going on strike. When they are not at work I hope teachers reflect on Reform Scotland’s recent report, Absence and Attendance in Schools. In 2018/19 (the last year before lockdown) almost 140,000 children were absent from school in Scotland, at least one day per fortnight, with more than 45,000 absent one day per week. Each council area has different figures for different year groups and some perform better than others.

In my own area of East Ayrshire in 2018/19, a cumulative figure of over 45% of all S1-S3 pupils were absent either for one day per fortnight or for one day per week. As if that weren't bad enough, the figures for S4-6 are even worse, with a cumulative figure of over 50% of pupils absent for one day per fortnight or for one day per week.

The cumulative figures for Glasgow are similar; but with a far larger cohort of pupils the report reveals that for the city alone more than 6,000 pupils were missing one day per week. It is the same in nearly every area of the country. There can be little wonder that the country’s education system continues to tumble down international rankings: the pupils are hardly ever at school.

These figures are scandalous. But what is perhaps more scandalous is that striking teachers are now deliberately adding to this loss of learning. Of course there is nothing wrong with unions fighting for more pay and better conditions for their members. But the price paid by striking teachers is not paid by management.

Instead it is paid by school children who lose out on their education. It is a very great price, and one that some of them will pay for the rest of their lives. It is for this reason alone that the teachers' strike is unjust and indefensible. For pupils, attendance at school is supposed to be compulsory: the same stricture should now also apply to teachers.

That is why the Prime Minister is right to bring in anti-strike laws. The unions should now call off their strikes. It’s time to get Scotland’s schoolchildren, and their teachers, back into the classroom.
Graeme Arnott, Stewarton

Royals just another soap

I HAVE never been a “soap” fan. Not since, many years ago, being made by my mother to watch Ena Sharples on Coronation Street in black and white. The growth of these types of soaps, from EastEnders and Neighbours to River City and the like that purport to mirror real life is amazing. How viewers can be taken in by these “real life” topics, written by one person, exaggerated by the small screen is worrying.

The royal family is no different. It is a soap played out in public and at the public’s expense. Those old enough might remember the drastic “It's a royal knock-out” where royalty bombed on TV and have never really recovered. Their many self-awarded titles, senior officer uniforms and pageantry are quite horrendous and, of course, the honours system leans towards the “luvvies” with gongs, knighthoods and damehoods thereby perpetuating the soap opera.

Now we have a multi-millionaire couple griping about the unfairness of their life of luxury and raking it in by interviews and books ("Prince Harry denies he and Duchess made racism claims against royal family", The Herald, January 9). It’s a sham.

If I were in charge of television and cancelled all soaps it would not make one bit of difference to life, but millions of people enjoy the drama so who am I to say they cannot have it. Similarly, you could abolish the royal family and it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to your life, but again, if you want to have them, go ahead.

Just remember, it’s not real.
Ken Mackay, Glasgow

10 tips for writing a column

"SO just how do you write a column?" asks Catriona Stewart (The Herald, January 7).

Aeons ago, before medicine swallowed me up, I read English at Glasgow and sat at the feet of Philip Hobsbaum, who would throw an essay back in my face and say, "Well, Maclaren, that was the most purple piece of Gilmorehill Baroque I've ever read in my life! Were you drunk? It's all assertion and no back-up!" He was a very intimidating man, but I learned a lot from him. Ergo, since you ask, here are my top 10 tips for writing a column.

1. Have something to say, and say it, once. Avoid hesitation, deviation or repetition. Scorn the advice of the toastmaster, "First you tell 'em what you're going to say, then you tell 'em, then you tell 'em what you just said."

2. Be clear. Make your meaning "available" (Hobsbaum's word).

3. Be informative, and well researched. Fact-check meticulously. Don't believe anything you encounter on social media.

4. Be ruthless with the blue pencil. Murder your darlings.

5. Avoid cliché, humbug, obfuscation, and mixed metaphors – signs of shoddy thinking.

6. Don't be trendy. Adults who adopt teenage modes of speech are as cringe-worthy as the father of the bride who insists on impersonating Elvis with the band at a wedding reception. The kids just want to disappear through a crack in the floorboards and die.

7. Never write in anger. The piece will come out as a rant rather than an argument.

8. Eschew arguments ad hominem. Never refer to opponents as "people of that ilk", and never advise people to "hang their heads in shame".

9. Remember the words of Oliver Cromwell, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

10. Once you've stated your case, stop.
Dr Hamish Maclaren, Stirling

Dear, dear

DAVID Miller’s review of customary correspondence valedictions (Letters, January 9), reminds me that it’s more years than I care to remember since I saw or used “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern”, and I’ve yet to come across the gender-neutral Mx.

I still await the opportunity to employ “Your Majesty’s most humble and obedient servant”.
R Russell Smith, Largs


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