This should have been back-to-school week for pupils in Orkney. However, the extension by at least three weeks of the near lockdown situation due to the Coronavirus pandemic – and the clear message that there will be no relaxation of this without evidence that it would be safe to do so – means school bells are unlikely to be ringing anytime soon.
As John Swinney, as Cabinet Secretary for Education, said on Monday, we cannot predict when schools in Scotland will reopen. However, our focus is that while they are closed, learning continues, and we all have a role to play.
To that end, new guidance for teachers, parents and families has been issued on learning and teaching at home for children and young people during Term 4, between the spring and summer breaks. This can be found at www.gov.scot/news/guidance-for-home-learning/ and aims to build on the significant amount of positive work that has already been undertaken by teachers and education professionals across Scotland to support learning at home, as well as the advice and resources that are already available.
I also want to stress that Orkney children attending emergency childcare hubs shouldn’t miss out on getting outside as much as possible, using the private outdoor spaces attached to their settings. As Minister for Children and Young People, I’m keen to promote outdoor learning, and this shouldn’t stop during the present situation. Spending time outside, engaged in active play, is good for the mental and physical health of all children. This exercise and time outdoors is especially important to maintain during the Covid-19 restrictions, which we know may cause high levels of stress and anxiety to children.
Although it appears that positive tests for Covid-19 in Orkney remain low – six as I write on Monday night, but sadly with two deaths – it remains absolutely vital that we stick to our isolating and distancing measures to slow down the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives. However, folk also need to know that Scotland’s health service is still there for them; it is open and, if you need it, it is important that you seek help and advice through your GP practice as you would have done before Covid-19.
There is evidence that the difficult sacrifices we are all making are working. However, if the restrictions were lifted now, the progress of the past few weeks could be lost. That is why Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, has extended the current lockdown restrictions. Over the next week or so, the Scottish Government will begin to set out the principles that will underpin the work to plot a way forward beyond the current lockdown.
There has been talk about the need to get the economy going and that there is a balance to be struck between that and saving lives. I would argue that this is a false choice, and that the health of our people is crucial to the health of our economy.
Stay safe folks.
This is a regular column by Maree Todd, SNP, MSP. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal viewpoints.