Coronavirus: Pupils in Scotland begin returning to school

Pupils at Kelso High return to the classroom Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Pupils at Kelso High School are among the first in the UK to begin the new 2020/21 academic year

Scotland’s pupils have returned to classes for the first time since lockdown began nearly five months ago.

Borders and Shetland schools are the first to reopen with most others following on Wednesday.

Physical distancing among students will not generally be required but hygiene and safety measures such as one-way systems have been put in place.

Except for children of key workers, most of the country’s 700,000 pupils have not been in class since 20 March.

While councils have been given some flexibility over the back to school timetable, the Scottish government wants all schools fully open by 18 August.

All age groups returned in the Scottish Borders on Tuesday – a week earlier than the normal start of term – but most councils have opted for a phased approach, for instance by having youngest pupils return first.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited West Calder High School on Monday to see for herself the preparations

While there is no requirement for physical distancing between pupils, teachers should remain 2m apart from students or other adults.

Older secondary pupils are also being encouraged to maintain distancing where possible if this does not hinder the return to full-time learning.

There is no general requirement to wear face coverings although staff and pupils can do so voluntarily.

School buses are treated as part of the school building, so normal distancing or face covering rules do not apply to pupils, but they will have to sanitise their hands prior to boarding.

At her coronavirus briefing on Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that some teachers, parents and pupils would feel anxious, but said the guidance was carefully worked through and informed by scientific advice.

“The importance of getting young people back into education can’t be overstated,” she said

“Schools have worked really hard to support pupils through lockdown but we know the impact on education, on wellbeing, on happiness has been negative for young people so to get them back into full-time education has to be a priority.”

How have schools prepared for pupils’ return?

Image caption Kelso High head teacher Jill Lothian says it’s the new procedures that represent the biggest change

Kelso High School in the Scottish Borders is one of the first in the country to welcome pupils back to full-time learning.

Head teacher Jill Lothian says for young people, it’s the procedures rather than the building itself that have changed most.

“How they enter the building – we’re using different entry and exit points for them,” she explained.

“I’m also mindful of our new first years coming in. That’s going to be a whole different ball game for them.

“Then they’re going to go for their registration classes, their home rooms and they’ll stay there for two periods to allow us to make sure they know all the plans and procedures in place.”

Every classroom is equipped with sanitiser and a cleaning station for pupils to use as they enter, and they begin by wiping down their desks and chairs.

One-way systems are in place and they will be encouraged to spend break times outdoors, with controls to ensure they don’t all leave the building at the same time.

Shona Haslam, leader of Scottish Borders Council, believes the council has done everything it can to make the return to school as safe as possible

“Additional cleaning, additional ventilation, children not walking around the school quite so much, one-way systems in place, school transport being an extension of the school estate – we’ve done all of those measures that are in the Scottish government guidance and we are as confident as we can be,” she said.

Image caption Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam says it has implemented the Scottish government’s guidance in full

At Inverclyde Academy in Greenock, the school’s fresh cohort of S1 pupils will be the first to encounter the new normal of schooling when they arrive on Wednesday, with other year groups returning in the following days.

There will be no sharing of equipment such as stationery or headphones. They can bring equipment from home but there is no need as individual stationery packs and calculators will be issued.

Desks and seating have been arranged so that pupils are facing the front of the classroom and not each other. They can sit in pairs with a “shoulder partner” but there is a strict seating plan to keep students in “bubbles”, limiting the number of close contacts.

Head teacher Denise Crawford said: “At interval times and lunch time there will be designated areas outside for outside play, there will be designated areas in the cafeteria so the year group will remain with its own year group and the class will remain with its own class throughout the school day.”

The teacher’s workstation is a measured 2m distance from the desks. A teacher is allowed to approach a child to give them individual help, but such contact must be kept to a minimum and for a maximum of 15 minutes.

Hopes and fears

Image caption Inverclyde pupils Layla, Eddy, Rachel, Andrew and Emily spoke of their hopes and concerns over the return to school

New Inverclyde Academy first year Emily,12, said she can’t wait to see her friends again when she starts back at on Wednesday.

“We’ve not seen each other for so long, we’ll be so happy to see each other and we’ll just talk for hours on end – and it will just be great.”

Layla, 11, is also excited but thinks there will be some catching up to do.

“I’m quite good at English and things and I don’t think I’ve missed too much on that because I’m quite confident but definitely maths, I’ll need to revise some things.”

S5 pupil Eddy has found it difficult to motivate himself during lockdown but has some concerns about the return to school.

“Going back is definitely a step in the right direction but I don’t know about all these spikes happening everywhere. There’s just going to be another case in Inverclyde, one kid’s going have it and give it to the rest of the school,” he said.

“That’s what I’m quite worried about because I’ve got my gran who is in shielding. I need to keep her safe. That’s what I’m worried about.”

Rachel, 15, has concerns she won’t be fully prepared for her higher exams next year.

“I think because we haven’t sat the exams in fourth year, that going into fifth year and then sitting highers will be a bit of a shock. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with it because it’s obviously a lot harder than doing your Nat 5s.

For 12-year-old Andrew starting his secondary school years is a chance for some much missed social interaction.

“There hasn’t been much to talk about – during lockdown we were communicating but eventually there was just nothing to talk about because nothing was happening,” he said.

“I hope we’ll be able to talk about something other than Covid once we get back into school”

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