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Coronavirus / Local schools prepare for phased return later this month

Wishart insists ‘local context must be properly reflected’

Some senior secondary pupils will be allowed back to school as of 23 February. Photo: Shetland News

THE CHAIRMAN of the council’s education and families committee has welcomed Tuesday’s announcement by first minister Nicola Sturgeon to start a phased return to school from the last week of February.

Councillor George Smith said he wanted to reassure staff, parents and carers, and pupils, that health and safety was absolutely paramount as Shetland continues to be in tier three of the national Covid-19 restrictions.

The phased return will involve children in early learning and childcare settings and all primary one to primary three children returning full-time after the February long weekend from Tuesday 23 February.

There will also be a part-time return, on a very limited basis, for secondary four to secondary six pupils to allow completion of essential practical work for national qualification courses.

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith.
Councillor George Smith.

The Scottish Government said on Tuesday it was committed to expanding testing at schools.

The phased return is dependent upon the ongoing suppression of coronavirus and will be confirmed by government in two weeks time.

The council said parents, carers, staff and pupils would receive further information over the coming days.

“I welcome the commitment to a return for our youngest children later in February, and I would like to reassure staff, parents and carers, and pupils, that health and safety will continue to be absolutely paramount to all of our planning for the phased return later this month,” councillor Smith said on Wednesday morning.

“We have arrangements in place for the period up to Wednesday 17 February to support remote learning for children at home, as well as for children of key workers, and for children requiring additional support, to access their remote learning in their schools and early learning and childcare settings.

“I thank all our school and early learning and childcare staff for all that they are continuing to do, supporting our children and young people and facilitating remote learning.

“It has been a huge effort in such challenging and unprecedented times.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

Meanwhile, local MSP Beatrice Wishart received assurances from education secretary John Swinney this morning that he would not rule out taking distinctive decisions in individual communities, such as Shetland, as transmission levels across Scotland go down.

Wishart had ask him whether the decision about Shetland’s schools returning would be dependent on the virus prevalence on the mainland.

She added: “It is clear that remote learning is a struggle for many, and based on feedback from constituents people seem to be finding it harder this time round. The Level 3 restrictions in the islands also mean more parents are expected in work, which has a knock on effect for remote learning arrangements.

“Strains on mental and physical health are building, and despite the clear best efforts from everyone involved remote learning can’t compare to a classroom experience. That’s why it’s important to allow for a return as soon as it is safely possible.

“As those plans take shape, the local context must be properly reflected. The education secretary should give full consideration to a local approach, so that young people in the Northern Isles get the best safe learning experience possible.”