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Highland Council's Education committee chairman councillor John Finlayson welcomes First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's announcement yesterday about phased return to in-school learning following the coronavirus lockdown

By Ian Duncan

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John Finlayson.
John Finlayson.

The chairman of Highland Council's Education Committee has welcomed yesterday's announcement by the First Minister about a phased return to schools.

Councillor John Finlayson was responding to news that the phased return to in-person learning and teaching could start from February 22 in recognition of the detrimental impact of school closures on the well being of children and young people.

He supports the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' (Cosla) statement that "council leaders have agreed that the return must happen in such a way that staff are confident that education can be delivered safely".

Cllr Finlayson said: “We are very fortunate that Highland was ahead of most local authorities as the pilot organisation for the Scottish Government’s early project to deliver a device for every child.

"However while we had already rolled out Chromebooks for every pupil before Covid-19, the impact on lockdown and delivering remote learning across the vast school estate of over 200 schools across an area the size of Belgium has been an immense task.

"I thank all our staff, parents and carers, pupils and partners in their continuing efforts to deliver education to our young people.

“Since lockdown our staff have achieved amazing advancements in online learning with our children and young people in very challenging circumstances. There is however no substitute for face-to-face learning and social interaction. For our rural and remote pupils the social benefits of attending school are perhaps also keenly felt.

“The mental and physical well being of all our young people is vitally important and for those among our disadvantaged communities a phased return to in-school learning will be of vital importance.

“I welcome Cosla’s endorsement of the Scottish Government’s decision to return to school, which centres on factors including the rate of community transmission, evidence about the new variant, and the impact of loss of access to in person provision on educational outcomes.

“School staff supported by other education officers will work to identify the senior phase pupils for whom in-school presence is required along with children in the early years of primary school and how provision for them all can be delivered safely for both staff and pupils.”

The council notes the Scottish Government’s intention that from the week beginning February 22 there will be:

• Firstly a full time return of early learning and childcare for all children below school age;

• Secondly, a full time return to school for pupils in primaries one to three;

• And thirdly, a part-time return, albeit on a limited basis, for senior phase pupils to allow in-school practical work that is necessary for the completion of national qualification courses – initially though, it is intended that there will be no more than around five to eight per cent of a secondary school roll physically present at any one time for these purposes.

And that the Scottish Government also intends to allow small increases in existing provision for children and young people with significant additional support needs where there is a clear and demonstrable necessity.

Related article: Highland pupils could return to school in three weeks as part of a phased return the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed although lockdown restrictions will continue into next month

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