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Education / Covid protection measures in schools helping to minimise outbreaks, meeting hears

But committee chairman says the demand on staff is ‘constant’

ENHANCED Covid mitigations have resulted in “very few outbreaks” in Shetland’s schools, a meeting heard on Monday – but cases and contact tracing is continuing to affect the education service.

Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services director Helen Budge said she felt the situation has been managed by the department in a “really supportive way”.

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She said there are currently a few situations with Covid in or around schools, adding that supply cover for self-isolating staff “has been tight”.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith said officials and headteachers are constantly being updated regarding Covid situations in schools.

He said in some cases they are taking nightly calls, putting great pressure on the workload of staff.

“Let’s be under no illusions – it’s constant,” Smith said.

At times the council has sourced central staff to work in schools if needed to cover Covid related absences.

It comes after some staff from nursery and school settings were told to self-isolate in the last few weeks, leading to some brief closures.

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In line with Scottish Government guidance there are a number of measures in place in schools in an effort to protect children and staff.

This includes risk assessments, two-metre physical distancing for all staff, the use of face coverings for staff in primaries and for adults and children in secondary schools.

Hand sanitiser is encouraged, there is enhanced daily cleaning and one-way systems are in force.

At Monday’s meeting Budge praised staff and children’s compliance with the protection measures, saying it has helped to minimise the impact Covid has had.

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The national guidance on Covid mitigations in schools is reviewed regularly. Budge also confirmed that for the first time in her directorship an out of hours rota has been drawn up for staff to allow them to take calls from public health officials when a new Covid-related situation arises.

“It’s really surprising how often the phone rings either in the evening or particularly at weekends,” she told councillors.

Budge also said the council was looking closely at a slight drop in attendance rates among pupils in previous months, which she said was largely due to self isolation requirements.

Lerwick member Amanda Hawick questioned the usefulness of spending time collating detailed absence information for the needs of the Scottish Government when the Covid context is out of the council’s hands.

The work of staff during the pandemic was praised during Monday’s meeting, with Shetland West councillor Catherine Hughson saying they should get a “huge pat on the back”.

A total of 18 new Covid cases were reported in Shetland over the weekend.

It means that since the start of the pandemic last year more than 850 people have tested positive for Covid-19.

The latest figures show that 66 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds in Shetland have now had a Covid vaccine, which represents more than 700 young folk.

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