Schools in Orkney will reopen in full during August following the Scottish Government announcement last week.
Ministers have signed off on a plan which will see pupils back in the classroom by the middle of the month.
The move marks a significant milestone in the Government’s “route map” out of lockdown as Scotland continues to make good progress in suppressing Covid-19.
In line with Government advice, there will be no requirement for physical distancing between children in schools, however, the two metre rule will continue to be maintained between adults, and between adults and children and young people who are not from the same household wherever possible. Where this is not possible, and face-to-face interactions extend to 15 minutes or more, face coverings will be worn.
Parents will be asked not to enter school buildings unless invited or by prior arrangement and arrangements for parents/carers to drop off and collect children and young people will be managed by each school, to ensure that large gatherings of people can be avoided and physical distancing between adults and children of different groupings is maintained. Parents are encouraged to assist head teachers in this by seeking to maintain social distance from other parents and children at all times.
Parents are encouraged to reinforce these messages.
Additional measures to help schools combat the spread of the virus will include:
Each school will:
Parents of children P5 and above will be asked to ensure that their children carry their own supply of hand sanitiser at all times.
The Scottish Government advises that there will be no requirement for additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be worn by staff when schools reopen, and face coverings will only be required for a limited number of specific circumstances. Individuals are, however, welcome to wear a face covering at school if they wish.
Orkney Islands Council’s Director of Education, Leisure and Housing James Wylie said: “The Scottish Government considers that the balance of risk is now strongly in favour of children and young people returning to school full-time. This is a positive development that will help address the wider impacts of the virus on the health and wellbeing, educational progress and attainment of our children and young people.
“Despite this, we do not expect the return to school in August to be a complete return to normality. We must all remain vigilant and continue to manage the risks of Covid-19.
“There will be a short transitional period for introducing pupils back into our schools from Wednesday, August 12, and this will vary within each setting. This phased period will cover August 12-14 for the majority of pupils in primary 1 to secondary 6. Each pupil will attend at least one of these three days. Packages tailored to suit a smaller number of pupils requiring a longer transition period will be put in place, but we aim to have almost all pupils in a full time, face to face, in-school provision by August 17 in line with the Scottish Government guidelines.
“It is critical for the wellbeing of pupils and staff that we reintroduce all pupils back to school buildings in smaller groups to build confidence and to allow staff time to work with pupils to establish relevant future programmes of study.”
Unlike public transport, there will be no requirement for social distancing or face coverings among children and young people while travelling on dedicated school transport. But all passengers are asked to sanitise their hands prior to travelling.
Anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 should not attend school – 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 school 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 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, added: “As the bells signalled the dawn of 2020 no-one could have imagined what lay ahead for each and every one of us. With a forced new way of living, working and schooling, we have all had to adapt and adjust – easier for some than others.
“But there is light at the end of the tunnel and we are now counting down to the reopening of schools and nurseries – a major step forward in the return to a ‘new normal’. We recognise, however, that while there will be significant relief for many families, for others this could cause considerable anxiety and we will work with families on this where necessary.
“Orkney Islands Council’s Education Service and staff within all Orkney’s communities have been working tirelessly throughout lockdown and onwards to ensure the continued education of children and young people, while maintaining the safety of all. Everyone should be proud of their actions which has brought us to this point and another step in the right direction.”
Recognising the additional anxieties being felt at this time, Don Hawkins, Head Teacher at Kirkwall Grammar School, stressed that his priority remained the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone within his school.
“To help support our staff and young people, we will be reintroducing pupils back to school in a phased transition to help build their confidence and to allow teachers the time to work with pupils to rebuild their relationships and establish relevant programmes of study.
“We are also looking at our school day within the context of a staggered break, lunchtime and close to promote ‘distancing’ and to try and ensure an effective and safe return to school. Like all Head Teachers I am currently reviewing and updating our risk assessments to include appropriate control measures for the full opening. The parent council meetings, the two in-service days and the staggered pupil return will allow us to have meaningful conversations around anxiety, safety and the wellbeing of our school community.”
The Education Service has compiled a list of frequently asked questions setting out the essential facts for families and they can be viewed here www.orkney.gov.uk/CV-ED-FAQ
Every school is different, however, and each head teacher will understand best how this guidance can be applied in their settings and convey this in detail to parents and carers.
Further detail will be provided soon on the reopening of Orkney’s early learning facilities/nurseries and interim childcare arrangements.