MOVES to reopen schools on 11 August subject to the evidence and progress in suppressing the Covid-19 pandemic have been widely welcomed.
In documents published on Thursday, the Scottish Government said it is “planning for children to return to school under a blended model of part-time in-school teaching and part-time in-home learning”.
Public health measures including physical distancing will be in place at all times.
In a route map the Scottish Government has also laid out how it intends to phase its easing of lockdown measures.
As part of the first phase, school staff will be able to return to schools during June.
There will also be an “increased number of children to access critical childcare provision including the re-opening of child minding services and fully outdoor nursery provision”.
The return to school on Tuesday 11 August, five months after they closed on 13 March in response to coronavirus, means an earlier start of the academic year for local pupils who were only due to return from their summer holidays on 19 August.
Chairman of the Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee George Smith described the route map as “a very useful document”.
“I welcome the route map. Clearly there will be questions around the detail of it, but in terms of how it sets out the phases and addresses the various aspects of life,” he said.
“Assuming things are moving in the right direction there will be an anticipation of staff being back in school during June for preparation of the next phase.
“There has been an encouragement from the Scottish Government of the need to involve people and to work in partnership, and that is welcome.”
First minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that changes “cannot be set in stone” as alterations will need to be based on the progress of epidemic.
The ‘blended’ approach to reopening schools mean children will have time in school with their teachers during the school week and also time at home, where they will continue to access remote online and offline learning.
It will reduce the number of pupils in schools as a whole at any one time to ensure the appropriate physical distancing and other safety measures are adhered to.
Director of children’s services Helen Budge said: “We have been provided with a clearer steer and direction for moving forward.
“We will now develop our planning, referring to the national framework and our own unique local circumstances. We will do all this in partnership with school managers, colleagues in transport planning, building services, health and safety and human resources, and in discussion with local unions.”
Smith added: “We are all aiming for the same thing which is getting back to school but only when it is safe to do so.
“And there will be anxieties amongst parents as to what that means, and I want to reassure them that we won’t do anything here in Shetland unless it is risk assessed and thought to be safe.
“Individual parents with anxieties can talk to head teachers and officers at Hayfield House [children’s services] if that is what they want to do, but ultimately folk will gain confidence in terms of being able to send their children back to school once the detail of how that is going to work come to fruition.”
But there will be significant logistical challenges ahead including public transport, social distancing at school, the number of teachers available and pressure on parents.
“We will need to have considerations about the physical distancing in relation how many pupils can go on a dedicated school bus; that in itself will then determine how many pupils can be at school,” Smith said. “We will then have to consider how to balance the continued learning at home with school time.
“Since closing the schools on 13 March the service has been turned upside down in terms of delivering education.”
The education chairman praised pupils, teacher and parents on how they all had risen to the challenge.
“I have been extremely impressed with the response of our teachers, support staff and children and young people. Teachers have adapted very well to new ways of working, upskilling themselves in the online platform Glow and Microsoft Teams to communicate with their pupils.
“Schools are delivering a range of learning activities suited to all the levels and needs of our learners.
“I am very confident that all our staff will rise to the challenge of delivering education in this blended way, ensuring all pupils receive the highest quality education possible.”
The provision of critical childcare and additional support needs hubs established from the outset of the pandemic will continue to support children of key workers, children with complex additional support needs and vulnerable children and families.
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