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Highland Council announces education and learning plans for pupils under the current national coronavirus lockdown

By Ian Duncan

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Highland Council headquarters in Glenurquhart Road in Inverness.
Highland Council headquarters in Glenurquhart Road in Inverness.

Parents have been sent a letter from Highland Council providing an update regarding the reopening of schools and early learning and childcare settings.

The move follows yesterday's announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the country is now in a national Covid-19 lockdown.

All Highland schools will remain open but the only pupils who should attend are those identified as vulnerable or the children of key workers when no other arrangements can be made.

Any children attending school will be supervised as they access the same online learning as those children and young people who are not in school.

Sufficient staff will be working in school to allow for supervision and all other staff will be working from home, in line with the national rules, focusing on preparation for delivering remote learning.

The letter explains that during the first three days of the new term, tomorrow to Friday, the focus will be on schools putting in place arrangements for the supervision of any children and young people who will be attending in person.

It also provides details of the revised Scottish Government criteria for key worker children eligible for a place at school.

As was planned before the festive break, a period of remote learning will start from Monday – rather than just lasting one week, this will now continue until at least the end of January.

During this period school transport will continue and vouchers will be provided for pupils eligible for means-tested free school meals to cover each school day until the end of this month.

Councillor John Finlayson, the chairman of the council’s education committee, said: "The announcement of new national guidance means that we must adjust our plans for the reopening of schools and early learning and childcare settings.

“The situation has changed since the previous lockdown in March. This time our school buildings will remain open but only to pupils who are children of key workers and children who are vulnerable should attend. They, along with all other pupils will be following a programme of remote learning from Monday until at least the end of January.

“The council is following the Scottish Government criteria for key workers. However, we want to stress that key workers are not required to send their children into school buildings for remote learning. It should only be an option if no other alternative arrangements can be put in place.

“These arrangements will remain in place until the Scottish government reviews the current national lockdown arrangements. As more information becomes available about when face-to-face learning can resume we will issue further updates to parents and our staff. Meanwhile if parents have any questions, they should not hesitate to contact their school.”

Schools in Highland have more than 30,000 Chromebooks to support remote learning and extensive work has taken place over the last few months focusing on delivering online learning.

Cllr Finlayson said: “I want to thank all of our staff who work in our schools supported by our central team of officers for their work last year to provide face-to-face learning safely across our schools and for adapting at short notice for this next phase of remote learning.

"I would also like to thank our partners in public health for their continued advice and guidance and our parents, carers, and pupils for their ongoing patience, resilience, and understanding during this challenging time.”

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “Despite the optimism created by the ongoing roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines, we are aware that the rise of cases of the virus in the Highlands, as well as nationally, may be causing some anxiety in our local communities.

"This lockdown is going to be more challenging than the original lockdown last March as the virus is at a different level. It is even more important than ever before that everyone complies with all the guidance to keep them safe.

"We cannot afford any complacency. The Scottish Government's message is clear – the safest place to be at the moment is at home and to stick to all the rules.”

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