Pre-school and nursery settings in Orkney will reopen in full on August 17 following the recent Scottish Government announcement.
The move is in tandem with schools and marks a significant milestone in the Government’s “route map” out of lockdown as Scotland continues to make good progress in suppressing Covid-19.
Orkney Islands Council’s Executive Director of Education, Leisure and Housing James Wylie said the focus is very much “getting it right for every child” in returning to these services after a challenging period of many months.
“The decision to close Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings has had an impact on the lives of children and families throughout Orkney. There was little time to prepare, or scope to explain, the changes to our youngest children. Their relationships and friendships were abruptly interrupted as well as their learning.
“Our focus must be on supporting children when they are in settings, to form a secure and emotionally resilient attachment base which will stand them in good stead as they grow and develop. Nurturing and attached relationships are essential to creating the conditions for children to flourish in early learning and childcare.
“All children have a right to play, to learn and to access experiences that meet their physical, social, emotional and cultural needs, and they have a right to associate with their peers. The health and wellbeing of children and adults is vital and these important rights and considerations have all been factored into the development of a framework for reopening and delivering ELC services.
“We now know that young children are less likely to be affected by or transmit the virus. This means we are able to reduce some of the restrictions on ELC delivery laid out in previous guidance. However, we cannot yet return to normal ELC practice – we all need to ensure that we continue to manage services and mitigate risks.”
Mr Wylie pointed out that every child will have different levels of required support.
“Some children have additional support needs and it will be important as part of the risk assessments carried out to consider the individual needs of a child. Where there is a need to work in close proximity with adults and children the appropriate safety measures should be put in place based on that risk assessment.”
There will be a short transitional period for introducing our youngest children back into their learning and childcare services this week and this will vary within each setting. The aim is to have all children, where possible, back into their settings by August 17.
In line with Government advice, there will be no requirement for physical distancing between children in nurseries. In nurseries two metre distancing will not apply between adults and children as, this does not meet young children’s social and emotional needs. However, adults will need to stay two metres apart wherever possible.
We are hoping to use outside spaces as much as possible for drop off and pick up times. Each nursery will communicate specific arrangements relevant to their setting directly to parents to ensure avoidance of large gatherings. Parents arriving at the nursery will be asked not to enter the building unless invited. Parents who do enter the building are asked to wear a face covering. If you need to speak to your child’s keyworker or want to discuss transition/separation approaches, please get in touch with the nursery manager or keyworker.
Similarly, no PPE is required when undertaking routine educational activities. However, staff will continue to follow existing guidance on PPE if it is required.
A number of safety practices within the settings will include:
Anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 should not attend the setting – the most common signs are a new continuous cough, fever/high temperature and a loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste. If someone becomes ill with symptoms during the day then a member of staff/responsible person should be informed and thereafter national guidance followed, including testing and self-isolation. The effective application of Test and Protect in the school and nursery environment will be an important means of preventing any spread of the virus.
OIC’s chair of the Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, Councillor Gwenda Shearer, said: “We have a great responsibility in getting this right for our youngest members of society and attention to the detail is paramount in ensuring the safety of all, whether the youngsters themselves, the staff around them, and onward for their parents/carers and wider communities.
“Children will require additional time to reintegrate into the changed service. It is important that children are sensitively supported into their new arrangements. As settings re-open staff will be aware that the pandemic will have had a unique impact on each child and their family, as well as themselves and their colleagues at work. It is important that the child is at the centre of their practice to ensure quality, whilst balancing safety and risk.
“A huge amount of work has gone into developing what we believe will be the safest possible way forward as we reopen our nurseries and early learning centres. For example, additional cleaning regimes will be introduced; it’s recommended that children access toys and equipment that are easy to clean and resources such as sand, water and playdough be replaced on a daily/sessional basis when groups change. It is these simple, but effective, practices which will help to keep us all as safe as possible.”
A list of FAQs has been compiled to assist all as settings reopen their doors – they can be found here www.orkney.gov.uk/CV-EL-FAQ