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Education / Small rise in home education numbers but no link to Covid anxiety, Budge says

AN APPARENT national trend of more parents choosing to home education for their children during the pandemic does not appear to be reflected locally.

A freedom of information request shows that in 2020/21 a total of 16 children in Shetland received home education.

While this was an increase from 11 the year prior, in 2018/19 the number was 14 and in 2017/18 it was 19.

With such small numbers it is hard to draw any conclusions from the figures, as the decisions of just one or two families could skew the data.

Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services director Helen Budge feels there is no trend of parents choosing home education due to anxiety over Covid.

“It’s not hugely up, but we did have some families that took a peerie while to have the confidence for their bairns to come back, and I absolutely understand that,” she said.

“But I wouldn’t say we’ve had anybody particularly applying for home education because of Covid.”

Helen Budge.

Budge said the council worked “really hard” with families and children to make them feel safe in coming back to school following periods of remote learning at home when Covid restrictions peaked.

Under national guidance a number of Covid mitigations have been in place in schools, such as distancing, face coverings, extra cleaning and hand hygiene.

“I think that’s played out for us with the fact that we’ve not had big numbers of absence in schools,” Budge said.

“I think our schools have been safe for the bairns and staff alike.”

When it comes to home education, Budge said there will always be a number of reasons why parents choose not to put their children to school.

“That can be religious reasons, personal reasons, it can be about the child,” she said.

“We have a process that we have to apply, and our home schooling teacher goes about and has conversations with them.”

Budge added that with protective measures like masks and hand hygiene, other illnesses have not spread in schools as much as usual.

“We’ve not had the sickness and diarrhoea, or norovirus, or colds – anything like that that we sometimes see. And parents are generally been very happy to have their bairn in school.”

Staff and children, meanwhile, go back to the classroom in mid-August as they return from the summer holidays after what was a tough 2020/21 for schools.

Budge said when it comes to Covid protection measures the schools service is expecting a similar set-up to what was in place before the holidays, despite the Scottish Government planning to remove most restrictions from 9 August.

“I think to begin with we’re planning at the moment to gave the mitigations in place that we did before,” she said.

“Until we hear differently, that’s that we’ll plan to do at start of term and then we’ll hear from the first minister when the mitigations will be relaxed.”

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