CAB - 7 Oct 2020 - 10 Oct 2020 - Advice

Council / Plaudits for staff as council works to get bairns back to school

Cunningsburgh Primary School.All of Shetland's schools - like Cunningsburgh Primary School, pictured here - are closed to pupils. Photo: SIC

THE LOGISTICAL challenges of getting children back in the isles’ schools have been spelled out – with Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison praising the “brilliant” work of staff through the process.

Schools are formally expected to reopen on 11 August in a mix of in-school teaching and home learning, but with social distancing measures needing to be implemented, how classrooms and timetables will look remains unclear.

Sandison said at the moment a plan is being developed for each school.

“Each school has different physical characteristics and school roll sizes, so we’re looking at each school and seeing how the layout enables a return to school,” she said.

“I suppose for some schools they are large enough and they have a small enough school roll that they will be able to bring the pupils back, such as some of the smaller remote schools, but clearly some of the larger schools (…) we are needing to plan for a more hybrid situation of a combination of remote teaching and teaching in school premises.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland NewsSIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

“The education team is working with the headteachers, working with the staff, working with parent councils, to try and look at a number of different things.”

With class sizes expected to reduce in some schools, space – and the availability of teachers – is proving a key component of the planning.

Other locations such as community halls are being considered, and to add to the complexity some childcare hubs providing care for children of keyworkers have been held in some school settings – but they will need to continue as well.

The planning around social distancing goes right down to corridor space and how school meals are provided.

“We’re certainly looking at the other spaces that might be available,” Sandison said.

“We’ve been running childcare hubs as well through the lockdown for key workers, and we’ll need to maintain childcare hubs as well as school facilities, so some of the hubs have to move out of school to enable the children to come back to school. So we’re needing to look at other facilities as well to do both.

“This is being worked out by the headteachers at the moment, in some of the larger schools we’re needing to look at things like whether children come in for blocks for a couple of days, and then we clean down and then we bring in another block of children to come in for other days. That is really trying to see how we can use the space the best that we can.

“If you can only get a certain of number of children in a classroom, then that takes up the teacher, and then if you haven’t got more teachers to come in to be able to take the rest of the class into another space…there is that combination really of the staff availability and the space availability – and the transport availability.

“And we have to look at things like corridors and the areas where children come into contract with each other too, and how we feed them lunch, and all the rest of it.”

Some pupils in the transitional phases – from nursery to primary and primary seven into secondary – will be offered the chance to attend optional sessions in schools from later this month.

This is about “helping them with that transition between schools”, Sandison said.

“We’re trying to bring them in to get them prepared for the new buildings and meeting teachers.”

The chief executive added that tying together all the different strands in planning for the reopening of schools has been “quite a logistical challenge”.

“Every school is different as well, so it is a lot of work going on,” Sandison added.

“The staff have been really brilliant at looking at different scenarios and looking at how they can make the most of space that they have in order to try to support children and families the best they can.”