Shetland Times Column 26th June

The week started with the long-awaited publication of the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Given its contents it is no surprise that the SNP Government did not want it released before the election.

It is welcome that the new Education Secretary has accepted all the 12 recommendations and moved quickly to announce that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be scrapped. It cannot simply be replaced, however, with a new structure and a new name with the same people at the top.

While the findings of OECD on Curriculum for Excellent (CfE) suggest it is appropriate for primary school, it found that the learning experience was not as positive for 15-18 year olds.

That cohort has been severely impacted with the exams chaos of last year, and this year too with the assessments, or “exams that aren’t exams”. Anxiety and stress that learners have experienced and the pressure on their teachers who have worked hard to deal with the changing situation continue to be voiced.

Before the pandemic, teachers reported that the pressure of their job directly led to them developing a mental health problem. I took the opportunity on Tuesday to ask if the Education Secretary would commit to a full review of teachers’ terms and conditions.

Recent meetings with parent and community councils flagged up problems about the lack of childcare. Families that choose not to live in Shetland’s central belt have difficulties, especially those who work shifts, in meeting their work commitments due to the lack of wraparound childcare.

We talk of encouraging people to stay in Shetland, or to come here to live, work and study here but there needs to be more support for working-age people, and those with young families, to do so.

Speaking to constituents, the inconsistent guidance and the restrictions we have been living under is causing continued frustration. We are told that adult day care services cannot fully resume because of social distancing rules, and the impact on families with those caring responsibilities should not be under-estimated. Contrast that with the excesses seen in London last weekend.

Weddings are another anomaly.  Celebrating a marriage with a small family gathering in the back garden isn’t possible but allowable in a licensed premises for 200 people.

The First Minister announced on Tuesday that Mainland Scotland is likely to move to Level 0 on 19th July, with the hope that the rest of the rules will be lifted by 9th August. It was all the more surprising then that with the possibility of life returning to near normal, the Scottish Government will ask parliament this week to extend the emergency legislation – even though it doesn’t expire until the very end of September.

The laws passed during the pandemic are ones that few would have agreed to in any other circumstance. As vaccinations take hold, we need to find the right way to safely roll back those restrictions.

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