Following the First Minister’s statement yesterday, Orkney Islands Council will fulfil the Scottish Government’s directive to open schools this week for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children – largely in line with the timeline set out to local families and carers before Christmas.
With the Government now requiring that schools provide remote learning for other pupils until the end of January, the Council will continue to make the case for local schools and nurseries to fully re-open as soon as possible.
Council Leader James Stockan said: “I understand the Scottish Government’s position that a cautious approach is needed across the country. But I firmly believe that this is compatible with us opening our schools for face-to-face teaching - given that there have been no Covid-19 cases in Orkney for a long period of time.
“I welcome the Government’s decision to allow Orkney to remain in Level 3. It cushions us from the more severe restrictions in place on the Scottish mainland.
“While that is good for our economy, directing us to keep our schools closed for the majority of pupils until February at the earliest is disappointing and creates real difficulties for us and for our community.
“Many parents will require childcare if they are to continue working in the jobs our economy depends upon – and which are critically important to many local businesses and services.
“The Government has directed us to provide childcare in our schools for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children.
“Large numbers of Orkney’s children will require this in addition to those who received childcare at our ‘hubs’ during the lockdown last year – and we have received many applications already.
“This creates a huge logistical difficulty for teaching staff, who will need to provide classroom learning for those pupils – while simultaneously delivering remote education for the remaining children and young people who will be learning from home.”
Councillor Stockan added: “Given the additional difficulty posed by poor or no connectivity in many parts of Orkney – preventing online learning – it makes perfect sense to allow all of our pupils to return to school-based, face-to-face learning as soon as possible as long as our current Covid situation remains.
“We will continue to make the case for this to the Government – before and during the review of current arrangements Ministers have promised in mid-January. If circumstances change, we will do all we can to help minimise transmission of the virus in our community.”
Wednesday 6 January
All schools and nurseries will be closed to allow staff to plan and prepare for the unique arrangements they need to have in place over the weeks ahead.
Thursday 7 and Friday 8 January
Vulnerable children and the children of key workers will be offered childcare in their usual nursery or school – during the time they would normally be at nursery or school.
School transport and the School Meals Service will operate as normal from Thursday 7 January.
Monday 11 to early February
From the 11 January, the children of key workers and vulnerable children should attend school or nursery for face-to-face learning. All other children and young people will be provided with remote learning at home.
The Government says it hopes that nurseries and schools can open as usual for all children and young people in early February. If the Covid situation remains the same in Orkney, the Council will pursue an earlier back-to-normal date.
Papdale Halls of Residence
Papdale Halls of Residence will remain closed until the Scottish Government determines that all pupils can return to school and nursery. Halls residents eligible for childcare during the period 7 to 15 January should attend their island school.
In the case of children considered to be vulnerable, there will be no requirement for parents or carers to apply for a place at school or nursery from 7 January. Schools will contact families direct on 6 January to discuss arrangements. The Scottish Government has instructed local authorities to broaden the definition of vulnerability to ensure that children experiencing any significant disadvantage which may impact negatively on future attainment are included in this group.
In the case of key workers, if you successfully applied for, or your child was allocated, a childcare place in one of our Hubs in 2020, then a place has been reserved for you and you need not re-apply. We would ask however that you notify your child’s school by email of the days you require childcare.
If you are a key worker, as set out in the categories below, and did not previously apply for childcare but now require it because you have no other alternative, please complete the application form here https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/OIC-Childcare/ as soon as possible.
If you are unsure if you fit into these categories, you should still apply and provide information to help us with a decision on this.
Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting Covid-19 response, and associated staff; health and care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; energy suppliers; staff working in schools and nurseries.
Category 2 – All other health and care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (for example: fire, police, prisons, social workers), as well as those supporting our critical national infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.
Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland.
Please note that you should not expect to hear whether your child has a place until Wednesday 6 January.