Coronavirus: Education is top priority, says Lord McConnell

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Image caption The former first minister said action was needed before the summer

Education must be given the same priority as health and the economy after Covid, a former first minister has said.

Jack McConnell, now Lord McConnell, said schools are facing a major crisis.

The Labour politician and former teacher contrasted the speed of expansion in hospital provision with the pace of change in schools.

The Scottish government said it was already encouraging schools to target support where it was most needed.

Lord McConnell said hospitals had been set up from scratch "in a matter of days and weeks - using the army and the NHS".

'Lost generation'

A furlough scheme to protect jobs and another scheme to protect the self-employed were established in a similar timescale, he said.

"We should have been able to create an education service that, in particular, supports and services the most vulnerable children," he added.

"We should be able to do that right now before the end of June, to make sure these children don't miss out on another two months on top of the three months they've already missed."

Image caption Traditional schooling is not set up for social distancing

Jack McConnell said he fears a repeat of the situation he saw as a teacher in the 1980s, with a generation of lost young people following the collapse of traditional industries.

He said: "Their problems were passed on to the next generation, and the next generation, and their families.

"It had a massive impact on our society and on their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

"We must not allow this to happen again."

Blended learning

Lord McConnell added that education needed to be "absolutely central" with the Scottish government and councils mobilising "new people to help, new facilities to help, new equipment to help".

Staff at Scottish schools are preparing for the return of the majority of pupils at the start of the autumn term.

They will reopen from 11 August with a "blended model" in which pupils will spend part of the week in school, and part of the week studying at home.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said it recognised "the disruption and challenges caused by the pandemic" for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"We have been encouraging schools to target support where it is most needed, she said.

"We are providing local authorities and schools with flexibility to redirect resources aimed at closing the attainment gap.

"This includes the announcement of £250m for Pupil Equity Funding over the next two years."

The Scottish government is also funding a £9m programme for disadvantaged children to supply 25,000 laptops with internet connection. A total of £30m has been earmarked to "support digital inclusion".

She added: "Learning hubs for vulnerable children and key workers will stay open over the summer and meeting the learning needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to be a priority as we plan for the safe re-opening of schools."