Supporting schools to prepare for a 'new normal'

Following the First Minister’s launch of ‘A Strategic Framework for the re-opening of schools and early learning and childcare provision in Scotland’, Aberdeenshire Council is keen to reassure families and the wider community about what this means at a local level.

The local authority’s Strategic Leadership Team has mobilised a team including head teachers and senior management as well as specialists in transport, staffing and catering to deliver a strategy for tackling changes to school buildings, routines and teaching approaches.

A number of officers have been working over the past few weeks to consider possible scenarios and now that the national guidance is in place, this group is being expanded to help inform the next steps and offer guidance and support to all head teachers.

Director of Education and Children’s Services, Laurence Findlay explained: “It is clear that we will all have to continue to be flexible about learning arrangements for the foreseeable future. Safety must come first and we are doing everything we can to ensure children and young people can enjoy the best possible experience when they return to our schools in August.”

Laurence is currently leading virtual weekly update meetings with all head teachers which will continue as they develop local plans in the coming weeks, supported by the overarching strategy team.

He added: “In Aberdeenshire we’re fortunate enough to benefit from a having a dedicated learning estates team, recognised at a national level for their excellent work. They have fed into national discussion around how best to operate within our ‘new normal’ and the many and varied considerations around this. There are many issues we need to resolve over the weeks ahead, including school cleaning, hygiene, catering, staffing and transport, and our in-house expertise in learning estates planning has already given us a head start.

“We will also draw from lessons learned in our key worker childcare hubs, rolling out the cleaning regimes practiced in these, for example.”

Aberdeenshire’s learning estates team has already carried out modelling to enable them to advise school leaders on the number of people who will be able to operate safely within each classroom space in Aberdeenshire. They have a database of all room sizes in each school and this will be matched with head teachers’ understanding of their local context and building layout. 

Introducing a number of new ways of working at the same time as considering school timetabling is a hugely complex task. Parents and carers are being advised that head teachers will keep families updated about specific arrangements for each child as soon as they possibly can, on the understanding that it will take some weeks for the plans to emerge locally for each school.

Cllr Gillian Owen, Chair of the Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee said: “From August, young people will have a mix of class-based learning at school and home learning and arrangements may vary depending on the school. This is because we have over 170 schools, with varying numbers of children and young people attending and a variety of different building designs, and we want to enable head teachers to deliver the best possible solutions for their local communities.

“Staffing and social distancing requirements will impact schools in different ways as we work to ensure the health and safety of all children, young people and staff. It is important that we take the time to put detailed plans in place for each setting.”

Vice Chair Cllr Rosemary Bruce added: “We’re very pleased with how well schools have adapted to providing home and online learning, and we’re sure they will make a success of delivering this phased return too. We’d also like to take the opportunity to thank teaching staff, support staff, parents and carers as well as young people for all your hard work so far. This hasn’t been easy for anyone and it’s lovely to see so many examples of communities coming together and making the best of a challenging time.”

It is appreciated parents and carers as well as staff and employers will have many questions about the months ahead, not all of which can be answered yet. Here are some of the facts so far about our ‘new normal’:

For more information about local arrangements, please discuss concerns with your school in the first instance, allowing staff time to put the plans in place which will enable them to offer details of arrangements for each child.