Back to School

We go back to school tomorrow –  20 long weeks that we sometimes wondered if we would see.  Preparations are in place for a smooth phased return to education but it will not be the way it was offered before. Whilst numeracy and literacy are of course important, they can be caught up on; the immediate concern is the social and emotional development of children, some of whom will not have been to a shop, seen friends or been in a larger group than their household for nearly half a year.   The primary focus will be on fun and friendships, laughter and listening whilst ensuring no  cross contamination between the children. Outside learning will be more frequent as will outdoor games but gone will be the grouped seating plans that the children are accustomed to with a return to the individual seats facing the front of old. Starts and lunches will be staggered to minimise mixing of bubbles and for every change, whilst there are negative aspects and you can see why these teaching ideas were abandoned, for some children there will be benefits from less peer pressure and smaller groupings and you promise to reap the benefits of these while you can.

As the older children return to secondary school, many will be in a happier place after the good news that their exam results will be based on their teachers’ gradings rather than the downgraded marks awarded to them by the SQA.  Already penalised by not being able to prove their worth by a formal exam  withdrawn without notice, they had no opportunity to further revise or submit work.  The incidences of downgrading looked disproportionate and the reason given that the schools could not have improved by so much did not seem to take into account the investment from the Pupil Equity Fund and the Attainment Fund which has invested heavily in targeted education within these schools for the last few years; surely, this is indeed when we should have seen improvements and if there had not been then questions would have been  getting asked why not?  It was heartening to see how quickly the  Scottish Government listened to what was being said, acknowledged that circumstances were not ideal and provided a solution; it’s not something that you expect from politicians and proves once again that Scotland has a progressive people centred governance.

Another big change that had been previously stated as not possible was the announcement of remote voting in the parliament.  For those of us on the outside, it seemed a strange rebuttal – in these days of technology, how could it not be possible?  Although it obviously is though, it comes too late for our MSP Gail as she steps down after requesting this very solution many times and that  would have made such a huge positive impact in her career and personal life, and I hope that lessons are learnt from  this and going forward, remote voting becomes the normal where needed; geographically, Scotland is diverse and the one size fits all, central belt policies are as infuriating to the north as London-centric policies are to those in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Over the years, I have decried the popularity of the so called NC500 often; a heavily marketed concept without the basic infrastructure to support it, previously famous for the amount of people who attempted to do it in the shortest possible time.  This year however, the problem is simply sheer numbers of visitors.  As travel abroad has been curtailed, everybody seems to have misunderstood the word staycation to mean holiday and have headed north to do the same as everybody else.  Although campsites are on the most part closed or only open for self contained units, that hasn’t  deterred people from coming anyway with a limited understanding of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the entrenched view of right to roam – anywhere.  

In our years of camping, if I could not book ahead, we did not go – I could not contemplate just turning up and camping with the family with no toilets yet this now seems to pass as normal.  We are escaping most of it on the (very wrongly labelled) “boring” East Coast ( which is a blessing in disguise) but on the west coast, you can now mistake bog paper for bog cotton, it is that plentiful on the moors.  The protected machair is being driven over and parked upon if someone sees a pretty view and decides that this is where they want to sleep, and there appears to be safety in numbers as if one tent or motorhome  is parked up then many more will join them.

It appears that the holidays have been planned last minute with no research done about where they are travelling to, which is understandable if it wasn’t for how many there were each doing the same.  Whoever coined the oft misquoted phrase ‘take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints’ really should have added on ‘and especially not fire pits’ as people are quick to post photos bragging about what a beautiful state they left their pitch in only for there to be a ring of rocks right where there never was before.  I don’t have an issue like some with the bags of rubbish being left beside overflowing bins as as it shows some degree of responsibility but I do object to trees being cut down or fences pulled up for when they run low on firewood and for the disgusting way that buildings are being left in as folk use them as a toilet.  The path in front of my house is used as a makeshift camping spot; they’re doing no harm, they only stay one night each but where are they doing the toilet?  We walk there, the kids play there, we live here.

The suggestion is offered back to us – provide more facilities; open Aires; we are coming anyway, it is you that is at fault for not providing for us and whilst this is an understandable justification, who is to pay for this?  Why should we pay more council tax to an already struggling council with the biggest deficit in Scotland when it is not us needing the facilities.  A tourist tax has been called for – a great idea but where is it paid?  It is not the hotel guests who are looking for the facilities. Some areas have been forward thinking and provided basic facilities with an honesty box and suggested token donations only for people to refuse to pay. An overriding sense of entitlement is what is causing the most damage which is then irritating those who live there and, in this case, do know better.  It is by no means only visitors – I have had many a wry smile when looking at social media posts from locals travelling themselves for a day out or night away  and bemoaning the amount of traffic on the roads.  I honestly don’t know what the solution is – the freedom of being able to travel where we want is what we are famous for but with it comes responsibility and I think that more needs to be done to educate visitors about this as I don’t think some parts of our countryside will recover from much more damage from those who came to enjoy it.