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Education / Reopening of schools mapped out as soft start to cover first week back

Children’s services director Helen Budge says she wants parents and pupils to feel confident as schools reopen

MORE details have been confirmed about how Shetland’s schools will reopen next week, with five smaller schools set to welcome back all pupils on Tuesday and the others staggering their return.

Shetland Islands Council’s children services director Helen Budge said by Monday 17 August all pupils will be back full-time at their schools.

She said the council wants a “safe return to school, and we want the parents and young folk and staff to feel confident that we’ve done everything we can to make sure that it’s as safe as possible”.

Months of planning and poring over government guidance – as well some twists and turns, such as a blended learning model being shelved – will culminate in schools reopening from Tuesday in what has been described a “soft start”.

Budge said that Cullivoe, Fair Isle, Fetlar, North Roe and Foula will see all pupils return on Tuesday.

All other schools – the larger ones – will have children return in phases from Tuesday, with the Anderson High School for example initially starting with secondary four, five and six.

By the end of next week most schools will have half of the pupils in on Thursday and the other half on Friday, before everyone is in place on Monday 17 August.

For some children it will be the first time in months they will be in a large group – and with online learning taking place last term a return to the classroom might also be a shock to the system.

“It’s about giving the pupils enough chance to get used to the classrooms, because it will be slightly changed in some of them,” Budge said.

“There will have to be two metres distances from the teacher’s desk, or where the teacher is sitting. There will be some changes around the entrance to the school, some changes maybe around break times or lunch times.

“It’s just giving folk that peerie bit of opportunity to take time and get into the swing of things.”

Helen Budge.

Letters have been sent to parents and staff detailing the soft start, and pupils will be written to as well.

The council will be following government guidance, and as such there will no social distancing required between pupils, although it will be in place for teachers.

Budge said that face masks are not a requirement for children through the day, although PPE will be available to staff where needed.

Physical education, meanwhile, will take place outside where conditions allow, although it was decided already that no swimming would not happen this term.

When asked about catering in larger schools, Budge said that hot meals are off the menu for the time being, with packed lunches initially being given to children to avoid gatherings.

She also paid tribute to staff who have worked hard to get everything in place for next week.

“Everybody has done so much to ensure that schools are clean, that the catering is ready – that it is ready to go as far as possible,” Budge said.

NHS Shetland’s public health director Susan Webb, meanwhile, said in a message to parents this week that the latest evidence suggests children may be less likely to acquire Covid-19 than adults, and if they do, they appear to be impacted less.

She advised parents to talk to their children about coronavirus if their child is anxious or worried about returning to school.

Webb said it is important for children to understand the rules, as well as to recognise the importance of hand hygiene.

She also advised parents to make sure their child only takes with them what they need for the school day.

“If they travel to school by public transport, they will need to have a face covering and think about how they take it off, dispose or store it during the day,” Webb said.

“Wipes and hand sanitiser are also a must if they are out and about.”

Webb added that children are recommended to avoid crowds.

She said that a “zero tolerance” approach should be taken with children who are feeling poorly.

“If your child is feeling unwell, keep them at home,” Webb said.

North Roe Primary School. Photo: SICNorth Roe is one school which will have all pupils back on Tuesday. Photo: SIC

“Anyone with a high temperature, new continuous cough, loss of (or change in) sense of smell or taste, or who has had contact with a family/community member with symptoms should not attend school and should be tested as soon as possible.

“They should remain at home and everyone in the household should self-isolate until you receive your results. If the test is negative, everyone can stop isolating (and return to school).

“If the test is positive, the person who is positive must isolate for 10 days and those in their household for 14 days. NHS Shetland public health team will work closely with the school to identify anyone who may be identified as a contact and ensure all necessary action is taken to prevent spread and keep everyone safe.”

The council, meanwhile, is reminding users of the public bus service that routes linking in with schools may see an increase in passenger numbers from Tuesday.

All services which are used as part of the journey to school have been risk-assessed and measures put in place to mitigate the impact of these increases, the SIC said.

Where it is not possible to provide suitable mitigation, additional school transport has been arranged.

School pupil zones will be established and clearly marked at the back of the vehicles, with a one row exclusion zone between that and the space for public passengers, which will remain spaced out at a 1m social distance to comply with Scottish Government guidance.

All passengers on public bus services are reminded that face coverings are mandatory and this also extends to school pupils using these services.

Details of the new public bus service timetables are due to be released by local transport partnership ZetTrans later this week.