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Parents’ relief at phased return to school while unions warn of risk to staff

Schools including Craigie High School, in Dundee, will start welcoming back more pupils after the mid-term break this month.

Parents have voiced relief at news that children will start going to back to school later this month.

From February 22, nursery children and P1-P3 pupils will go back full-time and senior pupils part-time for practical coursework.

The move – on the proviso of a sufficient reduction in infection rates – was described as a step in the right direction by Mary O’Connor, Dundee representative of the National Parent Forum of Scotland.

She said: “It’s good news that some of the kids are going back.

“Senior phase pupils particularly need to get back so that teachers can gather evidence for the SQA.”

Remote learning

The mum-of-four, whose youngest child in P2 will be among the first to return to class, said that although the remote learning provision had improved this time round it was still difficult for children and families to work at home.

She said: “Teachers have had more time to prepare this time, we have found it a lot more structured, but it isn’t easy when you have both parents trying to work at home as well.

“It’s been a tough time for everyone but we are all in the same boat.”

Dundee education leader

The city’s education spokesman said it was “extremely good news” to hear some children would be back in school after the February mid-term break, and urged everyone to keep sticking to the rules to ensure this could happen.

Dundee City Council children and families convener Councillor Stewart Hunter said: “I know this has been an extremely difficult time for families across the city and I would like to thank them for their efforts.

Councillor Stewart Hunter

“Our nurseries and schools will now be preparing for the initial return of certain children and young people, which is subject to confirmation in two weeks’ time.”

Further information would be provided by nurseries, schools and the council in due course, he said, and added: “In the meantime, I would ask everyone to continue to engage with the imaginative range of remote learning that is available, and to keep playing their part to drive the number of coronavirus cases down.”

Teaching union

However, teachers’ union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, said there remained unnecessary risk to staff and students and that blended learning – where pupils go to school part-time and learn at home – would have allowed physical distancing.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said a phased return was a “more cautious approach” and welcomed regular testing for staff and senior pupils.

But he voiced surprise there was no mention of physical distancing for P1-P3 pupils, given the greater transmissibility of the new Covid-19 variant.

He said: “The EIS believes that a blended learning model, i.e. implementing physical distancing, would be a safer strategy to deploy and we would need to see strong scientific evidence to justify the government’s approach.

“Frankly, in the absence of such evidence this model creates unnecessary risk for staff and pupils.”

Support staff

The GMB union said the Scottish Government had “yet again” failed to acknowledge school support staff, the “forgotten key workers”.

Drew Duffy, Scotland senior organiser for public services, said, “This morning over 1,000 of our members in support staff jobs, including cleaners, caterers and pupil support staff, wrote to the First Minister asking her to strengthen school safety guidelines and the implementation of them across our 32 councils.

“This afternoon’s statement said little these workers, despite the fact support staff are most at risk against the backdrop of more virulent strains of Covid-19 because many continue to work in our schools throughout this lockdown.”