Plans for Highland children to return to the classroom full time in August have been welcomed.
John Swinney, deputy first minister, yesterday changed his previous guidance which had previously proposed a phased return, with children continuing to learn at home for around half the school week.
Mr Swinney said the full-time return would be “conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to control the virus, public health and testing systems being in place and protective measures and risk assessments being carried out in schools”.
For weeks teachers and other education staff have been preparing plans and helping to kit out classrooms to ready themselves for re-opening in August.
They had done so in the expectation that school capacity would be limited, with two metre social distancing rules remaining in place.
Many parents has expressed concerns about the impact of the continued lack of classroom time would have on their children.
In Skye parents were told last week that due to the guidelines and school transport constraints many Portree High pupils would only be able to attend for one day a week.
Councillor John Finlayson, Chair of the Highland Council’s Education Committee welcomed Mr Swinney’s announcement, but said more detailed guidance and information on new resources would be required.
He said: “The announcement by the Deputy First Minister that the planning assumption will now be for a full return to school for all pupils in August if it is safe to do so, is very welcome news for everyone and it reflects the aspirations that have been communicated to me over recent days by so many parents.
“The education of our young people is extremely important in terms of their educational, mental and social development, as well as their future opportunities and outcomes.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our school staff and our parents and pupils for their hard work and collaboration throughout the period of lockdown and especially over recent weeks when they have been developing plans to return pupils to school taking account of the rules that are currently in place.
“It has been a very difficult time in many ways for all.
He added: “It should not be forgotten that a full return to education in August will only be possible with continued adherence to national guidance and scientific advice and everyone has played an important role in helping to suppress the virus in our community.
“We cannot become complacent.”
The Scottish teaching union called for “appropriate mitigations” to protect staff and pupils.
EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan said: “This means looking at measures already being used elsewhere such as mandatory face coverings, protective perspex shields, proactive testing of teachers and an appropriate level of physical distancing between pupils and most certainly between pupils and staff, alongside continued protections for vulnerable groups.”
Mr Swinney revealed that an additional £100 million will be invested over the next two years to tackle the impact of lockdown on schools and pupils, including ensuring every current probationer teacher who meets the standard for full registration having a teaching post for the year ahead.
Education Scotland has also agreed to work with E-Sgoil, the digital training platform pioneered in the Western Isles, to develop a national e-learning provision for all senior phase pupils to access lessons online from qualified teachers.
Mr Swinney said: “Since May, because of the efforts of ordinary people to stay at home, we have seen Scotland make significant progress.
“There are now only around 2000 infectious people in Scotland – a reduction of around 90 per cent since May.
“There has been a sustained downward trend in Covid-19 deaths since the end of 20-26th April, and intensive care cases now stand at a fraction of what they were.
“If we stay on track, if we all continue to do what is right, and if we can further suppress this terrible virus, then the government believes that we should prepare for children to be able to return to school full time from August.”