The Leader of Orkney Islands Council is warning that Scottish Government objectives for the reopening of schools will be ‘undeliverable’ in the county.
Councillor James Stockan is asking Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP to consider a different approach for Orkney – with the aim of getting back to near-normal education for the islands’ children and young people as soon as possible after schools open in August.
“I share the Government’s ambition for pupils to return to the classroom full-time as quickly as it is safe to do so," he said.
“We believe this could be achieved sooner in Orkney than in many other areas of Scotland because we have been fortunate in having relatively few cases of Covid-19.
“With effective test and protect measures in place, we all hope this will continue over the weeks and months ahead. In these circumstances, I am asking the Government to adopt a regional approach to the reopening of schools. We want to see a return to full in-school teaching as early as possible in areas like Orkney.”
The Government has asked councils to prepare for a ‘blended’ approach involving face-to-face teaching and at-home learning – with pupils spending 50% of the school week in the classroom.
Councillor Stockan said: “We face major challenges in delivering this, while maintaining two-metre social distancing.
“It would require many more teachers and school buses than we have available to us. There is insufficient suitable space in other buildings to provide safe and effective schooling. With the staffing we have, we would be unable to provide both school-based education and childcare for the children of key workers.
“In addition, teachers would have little or no time to prepare online resources for at-home learning – especially as there would need to be paper-based alternatives, given that many areas of Orkney have low or no digital connectivity.
“Quite simply this is undeliverable and impossible for us to put into practice. With the resources available to us, we calculate that the majority of our children and young people would be at school for two days a week at best.
“This would have a massive impact on our local economy, with one or more parents having to remain at home for much of the week, and on the wellbeing of our young folk.
“The alternative would be to spend vast amounts of money on the extra resources required to meet the Government’s aims – again with potentially devastating consequences for our community.”
Councillor Stockan added: “I’ve asked to discuss the challenges we face with Mr Swinney – so we can jointly explore an acceptable way to move more quickly to remove current restrictions in Orkney – to help us deliver an earlier return to a near-normal education for our children and young people.
“I would stress, however, that the safety of all involved will always be the most important consideration for us as we seek to take this forward.”