Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that this week’s switch in policy on Scottish schools return in August is not a U-turn, but characteristic of the flexibility that dealing with an unpredictable virus demands.
Earlier this week, education secretary John Swinney announced the move to a full-time return with no distancing from planning for blended in-school and at-home education, to allow for social distancing in schools, which had prompted a fierce backlash from parents worried about indefinite home-schooling.
Asked about comments from Swinney this morning that he might not be able to confirm that full-time return until July 30, Sturgeon said:
None of us have a crystal ball … I can’t say for certain what the level of virus transmission will be come 11 August so we must continue to plan carefully.
She gave her “commitment and assurance to parents that full-time return to education is what we are planning for,” but underlined that “when dealing with a virus we have to be prepared to assess things much nearer to the time”.
Larry Flanagan, the head of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, yesterday described the move to planning for full-time return as “political” and warned that there were still concerns about the safety of pupils and teachers not distancing. Sturgeon said: “If the science tells us any particular measure isn’t safe we wouldn’t do that, especially with children involved. But all governments have to plan.”
She said that it was not practical to present a fixed and settled plan nearly two months in advance of school return “because we are not dealing with a situation that is fixed and unchangeable, whether that is in schools or hospitals or care homes. If we all take our eye off the ball and the virus gets out of control again [this could all change]. That flexibility we need in our planning is just a fact of life right now.”
No 10 backs Robert Jenrick, saying PM now ‘considers matter closed’
Jenrick could face further questioning from Commons housing committee over planning row, chair says
Correspondence between the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, and the Conservative donor Richard Desmond will lead to further scrutiny by MPs, the head of the housing select committee said this morning.
Clive Betts, the chair of the housing communities and local government committee, said Jenrick had given parliament the impression that his contact with the property developer ended after meeting him at a fundraising dinner in November.
However, documents released on last night showed they had “extensive” contact afterwards and raises further questions about the minister’s propriety, Betts said. He told the Guardian:
The committee may well ask the minister to come to talk to us again and write and ask him for more information. The thing that surprised me was the continued connection and exchange of texts [with Desmond] after the dinner. The impression that he gave yesterday [to parliament] was he saw him at the dinner, saw a bit of video and that was it. That was clearly not what happened.
Betts said that he was shocked to see that Jenrick had apparently entertained the possibility of going to visit the site.
The arrangements to go on site would have not been appropriate and he seems to have realised that. There does appear to have been an error of judgment over his involvement.
Betts said the committee could launch an inquiry into when ministers should withdraw from planning decisions. “We should look at when ministers should withdraw from involvement once they have been lobbied, to ensure that there is not even an appearance of being susceptible to lobbying. In planning matters, appearances are important,” he said.
Asked about the minister Nadhim Zahawi’s comments this morning claiming voters could consider attending Conservative fundraising events if they want to raise planning issues with MPs (see 8.42am), Betts said:
It ought to be made clear that there is no connection between donation and planning permissions.
Test and trace figures show performance falling back on three key indicators