Education chiefs in Fife say they are confident the region’s schools will reopen full-time with no physical distancing for pupils as planned in August – although contingency plans have been drawn up just in case.
Fife Council insists the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and pupils is at the forefront of preparations for the return to classrooms and, in an update to councillors, education and children’s services executive director Carrie Lindsay believes the local authority is firmly on track.
A staggered start from August 12 is on the cards for the region’s youngest children in nurseries, giving them time to settle in, while all primary aged and children attending special schools are due back from August 12.
And despite huge challenges in relation to transport, capacity, and staffing, secondary school pupils are also expected to return to school in a staggered intake from August 12 to 14, with a full return anticipated from Monday August 17.
With final guidance on schools from the Scottish Government due on July 30, Ms Lindsay confirmed pupils will not be expected to socially distance from each other, but staff should stay two metres away from other staff and pupils – unless they are the very youngest children or have special support needs.
“It will be a short turnaround but we’re confident that with the work we’ve been doing and the work we’re aware of, we will be able to open our schools if it’s safe to do so for our staff and pupils,” she said.
“There’s no doubt this will be quite a challenge, but the health and safety of our staff and pupils is driving how we’re preparing for a return to schools.
“There are a large number of staff who are absolutely desperate to go back into school. They’ve missed seeing their people develop and flourish and we’re certainly seeing a lot of people excited at coming back.
“But we recognise there is also anxiety, from a staff perspective, from a children and young people’s perspective and a parents’ perspective, so we’ve been working on messaging to reassure people we’re taking into account their wellbeing and safety when we’re opening up.”
Education authorities in England have threatened parents who do not send their children back to school with fines or legal action, but Ms Lindsay does not expect that will be the case north of the border.
“We will be saying to parents that pupils should be coming to school,” she said.
“We will be working with parents and families to build confidence if that doesn’t exist.”
Comprehensive contingency plans have been drawn up in the event of a downturn in the situation or a second Covid-19 wave which have been based around a three day/two model i.e. two cohorts of 50% of pupils rotating Wednesday attendance at school.
Work is also ongoing to explore potentially increasing the length of the in-school days on that basis to provide pupils with more contact time, and identifying schools which could accommodate more pupils if required.