There has been a lot of ‘negativity’ in the corporate media in Scotland and from opposition politicians in Holyrood concerning schooling during the coronavirus epidemic and the re-opening of schools in August. This is an attempt to redress the balance – to talk-up (and why not?) the resilience and the commitment of Scotland’s school staff and of parents and carers during these difficult times.
Fortunately, the re-balancing doesn’t need to rely on the personal opinion of this blogger nor on Scottish Government pronouncements. It can be based directly on public statements made by leaders of the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS). It can also be based on recent survey evidence gathered by the EIS and by Connect (aka the Scottish Parent Teacher Council).
Both the EIS and Connect are in their own way advocacy organisations. As such they are adept at gaining and exploiting access to the media to amplify their ‘position’ on issues. It’s always, as the TuSC knows only too well, important to check out the nature of the research evidence on which advocacy bodies claim to rely when making public pronouncements. In Part 2, aspects of their survey evidence will be explored.
Framing the public discourse – a tale of two advocacy bodies
Here we examine the nature of recent statements from the two bodies and the wider context in which they have been made. From this we get a sense of their ‘positioning’.
On 15 June, the General Secretary of the EIS, Larry Flanagan stated: “To date, there has been constructive dialogue from all parties through the Education Recovery Group, including both national and local government.”
On 3 June, in response to newly issued guidance on “Covid-19 Education Recovery” from the Scottish Government, Mr Flanagan wrote: “This is helpful guidance from the Scottish Government, indicating a practical approach in light of the substantial pressures being placed on schools during the COVID-19 crisis.” And also: “Today’s guidance is an important and helpful recognition of the important roles that teachers are performing across Scotland.”
On 21 May, on the announcement of an August re-opening, Mr Flanagan stated: “Our members will welcome the clarity provided by the First Minister’s announcement today, and the clear statement that schools will not re-open until after the summer and only if health conditions allow.”
OK, no-one expects a trade union to be without adverse criticisms and ‘asks’ of government, any government – and the EIS is no different at this time (see its legitimate concerns expressed here: https://www.eis.org.uk/Latest-News/Moreteachers). However, there is a strong overall sense in the framing of EIS’ public statements of welcomed, constructive engagement with the Scottish Government.
The other organisation, Connect provides information on its website on the launch (15 June, 2020) of its ‘Back to School Campaign: Parents, Speak Up!’. It is urging parents to write to their local councillors and MSPs to tell them what impact part-time schooling will have on their family. It states: “We know parents feel strongly about this because we have now had 5500 responses to our survey on plans to return to school.” As indicated, we’ll take a closer look at survey findings in Part 2.
The Executive Director of Connect (Ms Eileen Prior) has chosen to frame the campaign message in a particular manner: “We strongly believe that parents, children and families in general are being taken for granted, are already paying a very heavy price during this pandemic and the plans currently being published are going to put more families into crisis.”
Readers will form their own judgement as to the“being taken for granted” claim. I’ve formed mine!
It’s worthwhile noting a few more things for context. Firstly, the Scottish Government’s Education Recovery Group which had its first meeting on 24 April gets a little name recognition in the media but almost nothing is given on its membership. The extent of representation is rarely if ever mentioned. Here are the bodies involved:
(1) Scottish Government – ministers and education department officials; (2) Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSL); (3) Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES); (4) Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA); (5) Education Scotland (including the Chief Inspector of Education); (6) Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS); (7) Early Years Scotland; (8) School Leaders Scotland (SLS); (9) National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS); (10) Perth & Kinross Council; (11) General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS); (12) Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS); and (13) UNISON.
There are 20 individuals in the Group in total. The minutes are published online.
Scope of engagement
To give more sense of the breadth of representation, Early Years Scotland clams to be: “… the leading national third sector organisation for children pre-birth to 5.” Its membership covers: “.. Early Learning and Childcare settings, including nurseries, playgroups and Parent and Toddler Groups.”
The National Parent Forum of Scotland describes itself in the following terms: “… a national body led by and for parents. Since its inception in 2009, it has undergone rapid development and is now an influential national and independent body, working on behalf of parents across Scotland to help every pre-school and school pupil maximise their potential.”
On its web site it also states: “We represent ALL parents and carers and we appreciate that there are a wide range of views and opinions regarding the introduction of a blended learning approach to schooling which is proposed to commence in August when our children return to school.
It is the view of the NPFS that the safety and wellbeing of our children is of paramount importance and we simply cannot take any risks with our children’s health. Of course we want our children back in the classroom with their teachers and we know the teaching staff feel the same, however we must adhere to Scottish Government guidance.”
It adds: “The NPFS has sat on the Education Recovery Group at the invitation of the Scottish Government and we have ensured that the mainstream views of parents and carers from all corners of Scotland have informed the consultation process.”
The Connect organisation referred to earlier does not appear among the members of the Education Recovery Group.
And did you know …?
Did you know that the NPFS hosted a live Q&A webinar with John Swinney on 16 June? It focused on the impact of COVID-19 and the issues related to the ‘blended’ learning approach for schools re-opening in August. Registrations by parents and carers for the event reached c.4,900, and 3,000 ‘attended’ on the night. The NPFS invited parents to post questions in advance and received over 1,600 emails with multiple questions. Feedback to NPFS on the event is described as ‘very positive’.
A recording of the webinar is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzOYSr8KsuY
A final thought. Taking all the foregoing into account – and there is much more going on besides – is this what being ‘taken for granted’ looks like?