Schools may feel like a “strange place” to pupils when they return next month due to safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, a leading psychiatrist has warned.
Many children will be looking forward to being reunited with their friends and returning to formal learning next month for the first time since March, but classes will not be the same as they were before lockdown.
The Scottish Government’s scientific advisers have said pupils can return in August without physical distancing if coronavirus continues to be suppressed, but teachers should remain two metres apart where possible.
Teachers would need to wear a mask if they are face-to-face with pupils for more than 15 minutes and cannot be two metres away from them, the advisers say.
Dr Justin Williams, vice-chair of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said going to school could therefore feel very different.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s not just about going back to a routine, it’s about going back to a routine with a lot of extra rules that are likely to be necessary to minimise risk and that’s going to be challenging for a lot of young people.”
He also said many children find masks upsetting as it can make it hard to read people’s facial expressions.
The Scottish Government aims to have children back in school full-time from August 11 and hopes to make a final decision by July 30, with blended in-class and at-home learning remaining a contingency plan if Covid-19 is not sufficiently suppressed.
Dr Williams said children will have mixed emotions about returning to class.
He said: “Some will be looking forward to going back and seeing their friends, and some are really not looking forward to going back and have loved being away from school, while some hated being away from school – so there is a huge range of views.
“For some children, such as those going into P1 or S1, they are starting at a new school and will have anxiety about that along with worry about Covid.”
He said being able to spend time with other children without social distancing – as is now allowed for under-12s – has helped restore some sense of normality ahead of the return to school.
He said parents should be given as much information as possible to help prepare their children for what to expect when they go back to the classroom.
He also suggested parents could create some sort of structure to the day in the last couple of weeks of the holiday to prepare children for the routine of being at school.