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A Safe Return to School

school pupilsAcross Scotland’s 32 local authorities pupils, parents and carers are preparing for going back to school. For most pupils this will be a phased return as many will require extra support. Those who were in the shielding category, or whose household was, will have had a particularly long period of self isolation.

Some of the young people will be carers and for them this has been a very anxious time balancing the online lessons supplied by schools, their caring duties and not being able to meet socially with friends.

All schools have put in place safety measures to ensure going back to school limits the community spread of Covid19. Back to school will not be a return to what school was like before lockdown.

During lockdown teaching staff provided pupils with learning materials for home learning and many of them also worked at class based learning facilities for children of essential workers.  All staff  have worked hard to set up the school environment with pupil and staff safety foremost.

Guidance was provided by the Scottish Government, however, local councils are in charge of the management of education and even within one area, provision in individual schools will differ.

Education authorities should develop Local Delivery Phasing Plans that incorporate the principles and expectations set out in this framework and meet the needs of local communities. Thereafter, individual School Recovery Plans and risk assessments should be developed and implemented on an establishment-by-establishment basis. Coronavirus (COVID-19): reopening schools guidance

Return to school

Key to the guidance to local councils is the need to involve others (see above) and to have clear communications with parents/carers.

School will be a different experience with more ventilation, hand washing, staggered breaks and the use of PPE when needed.

Differences Across Local Council Areas

Aberdeen City is still under restrictions (as this was published) but is hoping to re-open schools.

Children and young people will visit school buildings for an orientation session on either Wednesday 12th, Thursday 13th or Friday 14th August.  At this point we anticipate all schools being open to all pupils from Monday 17th August.  Aberdeen City Council Statement

Once the schools in Aberdeen return they will not be supporting online learning. This is not the situation with all councils which have acknowledged that there may be individual cases when a parent/carer considers it is not safe for a child who has been shielding to return yet. For instance Inverclyde will for a short period of time provide online learning for those children as they did during lockdown.

Schools will not be holding large indoor gatherings so some may not have assemblies at all if they cannot leave enough space between classes and there will be more outdoor activities. Children will not be sitting face to face in groups but at desks facing forwards.

All schools will be focussing more on the mental health and wellbeing of pupils.

With the increase in hand washing there will also be provision in classes or at group stations of hand sanitisers by most councils. Orkney Islands Council expects all pupils above P5 to carry their own supply of hand sanitiser at all times.

The main differences come the older a pupil is. This is because there is felt to be a greater risk of Covid19 infection in older pupils/students. For the youngest, in nursery/early years classes there will still be lots of interaction with their class mates.

The Scottish Government guidance states:

The advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub Group on Education and Children’s Issues is that, subject to other risk mitigations being in place, there is no requirement for physical distancing between children and young people of any age in schools. Reopening Schools Guidance Summary Version

It will be up to local councils and some will have decided to have physical distancing for older pupils/students where that is possible. It also seems that on school transport that there won’t be physical distancing.

For staff they will have to keep a 2m distance and some may require to wear face coverings or something similar.

If a pupil/student or staff member becomes ill then schools have in place a system of measures including the wearing of PPE to prevent further transmission. This includes enhanced surveillance arrangements, test and protect and outbreak management. This also applies if someone in a pupil/student’s household becomes ill.

It really is complicated. Returning to school is incredibly important for the mental wellbeing of children and to enable learning to continue. Local councils have the overall management of the return but there will be differences not only across parts of Scotland but in individual schools. It is an anxious time for everyone and parents/carers need to contact their child’s school if they have any concerns at all.

Communication is key and school risk assessments should be easily available to all parents/carers who would like a copy if the school has not already provided them.

Worldwide Schooling

UNESCO data shows that nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries, 94% of the world’s student population, were affected by the closure of educational institutions at the peak of the Covid19 crisis, a figure that stands at 1 billion today.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned  that the pandemic has created the most severe disruption in the world’s education systems in history and is threatening a loss of learning that may stretch beyond one generation of students. And he urged that preventing the learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe must become a top priority for world leaders.

Across the world schools which reopened have had to close again due to localised outbreaks of Covid19 – France, South Africa, Hong Kong, Korea – just a few of the places where this has happened.

These closures may be temporary but learning will still have to go on and if it happens in parts of Scotland schools will have to introduce blended learning. There are no easy solutions to any of this  – extra staffing and cleaning requires additional funding. Collaboration and communication is essential at all levels. And for the general public we have to do our best too to limit the spread of this deadly virus by adhering to the public health guidance which will protect ourselves and others.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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