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Coronavirus / Mixed feelings as schools reopen

Secondary four to six pupils returning to the Anderson High School in mid-August. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

WITH SCHOOLS in Shetland and the Borders the first in Scotland to be opening again this morning (Tuesday), just under 500 secondary four, five and six pupils at Lerwick’s Anderson High School are attending classes for the first time in almost five months.

Shetland Islands Council, like other local authorities, has chosen a soft approach to school opening with only five of the small local primary schools welcoming back all pupils on Tuesday.

By Monday all local pupils should be back at school full-time, and for many it will be the first time that they have been part of a larger group.

Anderson High head teacher Valerie Nicolson said she is confident that sufficient Covid-19 safeguard measures are in place to safely restart pupils’ education.

Anderson High head teacher Valerie Nicolson: ‘Optimism is the overriding emotion’.

“We are following the Scottish Government and local authorities guidance,” she said.

“We have one way systems around our galleries and around the ground floor, there are hand sanitising units at every corner, you hand sanitise as you come in to the building, we are staggering interval times and lunchtimes and we’ve got a reduced selection on offer at lunchtimes so that pupils can move quickly through the queues.

“In partnership with SRT [Shetland Recreational Trust] we are using some of their spaces at lunchtimes so that we have overspill space for spreading out the pupils a bit if it is a wet day.

“I think it is fair to say that there is an air of optimism this morning. It has been five months since the pupils have been in, and particular for classes four to six this is their qualification year. Our staff has been keen to see these senior pupils back at school as quickly as possible.

“Optimism is the overriding emotion but without a doubt everybody will have their own mixed feelings about the start.”

Her optimism was shared by pupils as they returned to school for the first time since the middle of March.

Six year student Shay Regan it feel “pretty good” to go back: “It’s been a while and it will be good seeing everybody again.

“I play football and it has been back training for a couple of weeks. We don’t have to social distance there, but we will probably now. I really doesn’t make that difference to me.”

Joshua Painter, a secondary five pupil, said he was “pretty excited” about going back to school.

“It will be interesting to see how they work it, but it also will be very stressful this year with exams and not knowing what exactly is going to happen,” he said.

Pupils have to hand sanitise on entering the building.

Painter said the last few months have been “pretty boring” and there was a lot of catching up to do.

Meanwhile teachers nationally have raised concern about the safety measures.

Nearly 60 per cent of almost 30,000 teachers from across Scotland who participated in a survey held by the teaching union EIS expressed support for the decision to reopen schools but two thirds of those surveyed also showed anxiety and a lack in confidence that sufficient mitigations are in place.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “There is significant concern amongst all teachers on issues such as the large number of pupils in each class, inability to maintain social distancing, and the need for the wearing of face coverings to ensure safety in some circumstances.

“These concerns grow more acute based on the age of pupils being taught, with secondary teachers expressing a particularly high level of concern over the potential risks of teaching young adults for long periods of time in an enclosed classroom environment.”

Letters, meanwhile, have been sent to all parents and pupils in Shetland explaining the details of the soft start.

With Shetland experiencing a peak of Covid-19 cases in early March, before lockdown was declared on 23 March, schools in the isles had already closed its doors a week earlier.