Scottish Daily Mail
A ‘THREE WEEK XMAS HOLIDAY’
++ Warning of fresh disruption for families as leaked memo reveals ministers are considering longer school break ++
SCOTLAND’S schools could close for an extra week over Christmas under plans being considered by the SNP.
There are fears pupils could miss more time in the classroom after the proposed three-week shutdown was revealed in a leaked memo.
This would see schools close on December 18 – around five days earlier than currently planned in most areas – and not return until January 11.
Ministers yesterday confirmed the plan is under consideration but insisted that no final decision has been made. They also acknowledged the potential negative impact on pupils of missing teaching time.
The memo, written by council umbrella group Cosla, said: ‘The Scottish Government are exploring a national extension to Christmas holidays covering 18th December 2020 to 11th January 2021, either on the basis of schools remaining closed or the temporary introduction of remote
learning. The Scottish Government officials have indicated that the objectives of an extension would be to ensure that school staff are not involved in contact tracing into the Christmas period.
‘An extension would act as a “break” following the wider relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period.’
Council leaders debated the subject, proposed by Scottish Government ministers, at a Covid-19 Education Recovery Group meeting on Thursday.
The memo acknowledged that concerns had been raised about the potential impact a further loss of classroom time would have on pupils.
It asked for feedback from senior council officials on issues including how the wider five-day relaxation of rules over Christmas is likely to affect staff and pupils.
It goes on: ‘Evidence to date from the Scottish Government has indicated that schools are a low transmission risk.
‘This proposal may have implications for future considerations on schools remaining open, particularly considering the concerns of trade unions.
‘There would be no opportunity for emergency childcare as this was provided by school staff previously, and therefore there is an impact on key workers and vulnerable children and young people.’
It also states any decision to extend the holidays ‘may have implications for future considerations on schools remaining open, particularly considering the concerns of trade unions’.
The Scottish Government said there had been ‘mixed views’ on the issue within its Education Recovery Group.
Jo Bisset, of the UsForThem Scotland parents’ group, said: ‘The most vital thing is that children do not lose out on time in the classroom. If schools do close for an additional week over Christmas, then that time must be made up in the spring.
‘Parents understand that the festive period will be complicated for everyone, not just the schools system. And while t his will undoubtedly cause difficulty for many from a childcare perspective, that will be eased somewhat by a guarantee that their children won’t miss out overall.
‘Blended learning doesn’t cut it – that was made painfully clear during the first lockdown.
‘The solution to an extended winter break can only be additional days put back in the calendar before crucial end-of-term exams.’
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: ‘We want young people to grow up to have the best careers possible and any further watering-down of their class time must be properly catered for at home.
‘Every child should have access to proper IT equipment and learning materials to ensure they don’t fall behind with their studies.
‘We should not underestimate the enormous pressure that an extended Christmas break would put on countless working parents and every effort should be made to support them.
‘Reopening key worker hubs to share the burden of child support is a must if an extended break does get the go-ahead.’
At the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing yesterday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed that an extended school holiday is being considered but stressed no decision has been made on the issue.
She said: ‘They’re looking at the festive period and the school holidays, and how we return to school at the end of that period.
‘We’re very conscious that parents, teachers and kids at school want to know what is going to happen, and we will make sure that, based on the advice from the Expert Recovery Group, we reach a view as soon as we can so that people do have advanced notice.
‘We want to give people as much notice as possible if there is to be any change at all. But at this point that decision hasn’t be made.’
Asked whether or not she would be worried about the impact of an extended holiday on the education of pupils, Miss Freeman said that the Scottish Government was focused ‘absolutely on the importance of keeping our schools open’. She added: ‘We value very highly indeed the opportunity that gives our young people to pursue their education.
‘We know that closing schools, as we had to do at the time when that happened, did have an impact, notwithstanding the huge efforts teachers, and indeed parents and pupils themselves, put into maintaining their learning.
‘The best place for children and young people to pursue their learning is in the school environment. So we will take all the steps we need to take to ensure that is as protected as possible.
‘But until that Education Recovery Group reaches its conclusions and offers its advice, and the Deputy First Minister sets out the steps, if any, that need to be taken, we’re simply speculating on that.’
Figures yesterday showed a further 969 confirmed coronavirus cases in Scotland, including 315 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 201 in Lanarkshire and 12 in Lothian.
The number of people in hospital with the virus decreased by 26, to 1,099, and there were 37 deaths.
Miss Freeman refused to speculate on whether a major relaxation of restrictions for the 2.3million people in Level 4 areas – close to full lockdown – will go ahead as planned on December 11, saying more time is needed to see if efforts to suppress the virus in the 11 council areas had succeeded.
The council areas are Glasgow, East and South Ayrshire, East and
West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North and South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
Nicola Sturgeon previously described Level 4 as ‘short and sharp action’, which she said would be lifted on December 11.
But Boris Johnson has announced that all but two council areas south of the Border will be in the toughest tiers of his system when England’s national lockdown ends.
Miss Freeman said: ‘We set Level 4 areas for three weeks for a reason. We needed three weeks to try and suppress the virus in those areas as l ow as we possibly could, not because of Christmas but because we know winter also brings additional pressures onto the NHS.
‘We want the virus to be as low as possible to protect our NHS.’
She said reviews of the levels take place each week, and the decisions on Level 3 areas will only be set out at the end of the current threeweek period to December 11.
‘Blended learning doesn’t cut it’
NO pronouncement by any politician – here today and gone tomorrow – and no referendum on this or that issue of the day will have any effect on my understanding of myself and where I belong. It makes me feel better just to put those words down on the page.
The Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis said: ‘The world into which you are born does not exist, not in any absolute sense, rather it is a model of reality.’
I listen to those words and realise that Britain does not exist either. Neither does England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales nor any other country, not really.
There are physical landscapes on the face of the Earth – made of dry land set apart from the sea. But the lines drawn and countries named are figments of collective imagination and made all the more meaningful as a result.
They are what we say they are. The existence of our homelands is nothing more nor less than an act of will, and also of love.
Just as creatures that once walked, swam or flew are long gone now, so there is a long list of countries that once were here but are here no longer. Sumer, Chimor, Kush… the list goes on and on.
You might say that a country is a dream shared by its inhabitants. As long as enough of the inhabitants believe in the existence of Britain, or Scotland, or wherever, then the dream remains alive and the country in question is made real.
If too many people stop believing, or choose to believe in some place else, then the dream is over and the country ceases to exist as completely as a candle flame blown out by the wind.
I will always believe in Britain, come what may. That will never be taken from me.
The most familiar line of the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter to a 14th century Pope, concerned the necessity of 100 Scots remaining alive if Scotland were to prevail.
My dream of Britain requires just me myself alone – it will last as long as me – but as many as want to are welcome to join me.
The question of whether or not Britain should continue to exist has been haunting our lives for years now.
In 2014, a referendum asked the population of Scotland whether or not it was deemed a good idea to remain part of Britain, to maintain its existence. A majority said they did wish the Union to prevail – 55 per cent of voters in fact.
The 55/45 split is well known. Less familiar to most is the fact that of the 32 council areas in Scotland, 28 said they preferred to maintain the three-centuries-old Union.
MANY of those councils were small, with small populations dwarfed by those of conurbations elsewhere. But we are all told, are we not, that small voices must be listened to as well as large, and that small, determined, self-confident places might know their own minds?
In spite of that decision, that clean and clear ‘once in a generation’ decision – that decision that both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond swore, in writing, they would accept and uphold – the question has never gone away.
On the last page of his popular classic, Culloden, about the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, John Prebble elegantly expressed the nature of dreams, or at least their power over us even when all seems lost.
He wrote: ‘ A lost cause will always win a last victory in men’s imaginations.’
The Nationalist cause in Scotland is stubborn. I will admit t o understanding stubbornness, being sympathetic to the trait and also admiring of it. This is because I am stubborn too, as stubborn as any nationalist could ever hope to be.
My dream of Britain will always live in me. There is undoubtedly a requirement for relentless stubbornness and determination when it comes to the question of whether Britain – the dream of Britain, that is – should continue or be blown out. As far as I am concerned, it is necessary most of all to see that it is that dream that matters most. In the end it might be all that matters.
Like everyone else involved in deciding the future of Britain, I have read and listened to countless thousands of words on the subject.
When it comes to predicting the prospects of a Scotland alone I have driven myself half demented trying to decide who and what to believe.
The nature of the Border, the ownership of the oil, the currency, the sharing of the national debt, the Barnett formula, relations with the European Union, the Armed
Forces, the fishing grounds… on and on goes the litany of concerns, opinions, promises, accusations, t hreats and denials.
Both sides have at times declared victory – outright victory – in the economic debate. At the same time there have always been those on the separatist side evidently of the mind that the risk is worth it – come hell or high water it will be all right on the night. While others (with brains wired for the task, unlike my own) continue to fight that good fight, I have moved in a different direction.
I know what I have come to believe about all of the above, but I will leave that much aside. Why? Because long ago I realised that the economic argument was not what mattered to me. Dreamers of dreams and those who pursue causes, lost or otherwise, care not a jot for economics.
In my heart I respect this. A dream as grand as a country to believe in, to belong to, to stand up for, to speak for, to fight and to die for is a prize beyond gold or any other treasure. The economics matter – of course they do and for many people such is the be-all and end-all of the necessary discussion. I get that and respect
that. But I am well beyond making the socalled ‘economic argument’ myself. Just as I would not ask a mother to put a price on her child’s heart, so I will not seek to challenge, to tarnish and sully a dream, with talk of money. What is truly at stake here, at least for me, is the business of the heart.
History has been invoked – again and again and again until everyone is blue in the face (well, one side certainly).
BOTH sides – Unionist and separatist – reach backwards in time in pursuit of origin myths and superior claims of ownership of place and people, hearts and minds. This is among the oldest tricks in the book and has been tried more times than anyone might count. While trying to hammer the Scots into submission, King Edward I wrote to the Pope to assert the ancient nature of England’s claim on the whole island. Quoting historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, he said his countrymen were descended from a Roman named Brutus, that Brutus was the root of the very name Britain.
Since the English were in Britain first, went Edward’s logic, then the whole place must be his by right. The Scots replied by sending a party of churchmen led by one Baldred Bisset to talk to the Pope in person.
There in the Holy Father’s summer home in the hill town of Anagni, Bisset declared that the Scots were descended from Noah, that his descendants had fled Israel, all the way to Scythia on the Black Sea.
One of them had married a princess called Scota, who led them on an odyssey to the land subsequently named after her, bringing with her as an heirloom the Stone of Destiny upon which Scots kings were crowned ever after.
(Britain is certainly an old name – much older than England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. It seems likely that when the Romans first encountered these islands, splashing ashore somewhere on the south coast, they asked the locals what they called the place.
The reply would have been something like Prytain and the Romans’ attempt at pronouncing the word – called an ethnonym – became Britannia.)
But I ask you… Brutus, Scota – who really cares about the truth or otherwise of those ghosts now? Just as the economic argument is too shallow, so fairytales told to a Pope seven centuries ago are inadequate.
Neither ghosts nor f airy tales make foundations deep enough for persuading people of the best path to take now, into the future.
The Union is more than 300 years old. The coming together of Scotland and England, on May Day 1707, was hardly a happy one and no one denies it. The bride was poor and the groom knew he was being married only for his money. Unhappy or not, it was to prove the best thing that ever happened to either of them.
The Scotland and England that came together then no longer exist, however. This, as much as anything else, is worth remembering. Our parents, happy or not, are gone now and never coming back. It is we, the children of that union who must decide what is to be done with our shared inheritance.
More recently Scots, some Scots, have sought to distance themselves from the long years of Empire and Commonwealth.
What was once cause for common pride has been recast as national shame and some of those Scots have sought to pretend, to themselves most fervently of all, that imperial Britain was none of their doing.
Apparently a big boy – England – did it and ran away. This stance is so wide of the mark, the claim so utterly false, as to be nothing short of a bare-faced lie.
We Scots were talented and enthusiastic builders and administrators of empire – as wedded to the enterprise as anyone else and grown rich and fat on the profits in the process. If there is shame to be apportioned then it is ours as much as anyone’s.
While there might be little to be gained now from knowing whether Brutus or Scota made the earliest footprints on the homelands, it is surely vital we remember the truth of all our behaviours during the last three centuries of our coupling at least – the bad as well as the good.
So much for economics and history – both matter but not enough, either together or alone. What matters is who we are now, who we think we are, who we could or should be in the future.
In seeking to portray Britain and Britishness in a bad light – a corrupt and sinful enterprise best dismantled and discarded – the champions of Scottish separatism have somehow claimed the moral high ground in its entirety.
Not only were the sins of Empire committed behind our backs, without our knowing (don’t you know) apparently it is the Scots, the Scots alone, that are the egalitarian, caring defenders of freedom.
SOUTH of the Border, therefore, lies the embodiment of all that is corrupt, selfish and heartless – the Mordor that is Westminster. It is worth noting that since it has long been unfashionable for the SNP and its supporters to openly voice hatred for England and things English, ‘Westminster’ has become the handy proxy.
Something similar lurks furtively behind every disdainful reference to the ‘ London parties’, by which the SNP mean Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and anyone else that might speak up in favour of a United Kingdom. If not economics or history, then what? How to make the claim that we, the inhabitants of these islands, are one family? In the end I can only speak for myself and from my own heart. That much is all I truly know.
More by luck than good judgment, and mostly by means of the magic carpet provided by making television, I have seen a great deal of these islands.
I have circumnavigated the coastline multiple times. I have criss-crossed the interior. I have seen the landscape from the sky, from the cockpit of fighter jets, vintage biplanes and microlights. I have been on i t s encircling waters i n kayaks, battleships and just about anything in between that floats, and under its waters in scuba gear and a nuclear submarine.
I have had a thorough look around. Long before the end I realised it was all one place, that the national borders drawn across it had no meaning for me and were invisible anyway.
I have seen for myself how fisherfolk in Cornwall have more in common with others of their kind in Fife than either has with any inhabitants of the interior.
You might say the same common ground is there with fishermen in France or Spain, but there is no denying the added strength of bonds made by shared language, shared culture, shared history, shared centuries.
I have also found it unavoidable to see the connections between the character of folk in Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow on account of shared shipbuilding heritage.
My English father-in-law learned his trade as an engineer in the coalmines of Kent before coming north to make the family that