17 June 2020

Return to school arrangements taking shape

Aberdeenshire Council is continuing to work on detailed plans for the return to school in August, gaining feedback from colleagues both nationally and locally, and these details will be shared as soon as possible. The safety, wellbeing and education of children and young people is at the centre of these plans, which are being put together in line with the Scottish Government’s Re-opening schools guide.

Director of Education and Children’s Services Laurence Findlay explains: “We’re aware parents especially will want to know exactly what the arrangements are for August, however we’re working within a very fluid environment at the moment and discussions are ongoing.

“Ensuring physical distancing is made possible within schools is a key aspect of the national advice, and as part of that we will have to reduce the number of pupils attending at any one time. A series of operating models have been worked up to support head teachers, looking at options for a return to school where all, half or one third of their pupils are in school at any one time – depending on available space and staff.

“While we would all prefer not to be operating within the context of a pandemic, we recognise this is likely to pose significant challenges for some time to come and we want to strike the right balance between prioritising face-to-face learning and childcare where possible, following safety guidance and delivering a sustainable and affordable offering.

“It is vitally important to highlight that less class time does not necessarily mean less education. Our teams continue to engage with young people and their families on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and the quality of learning experiences pupils are enjoying is fantastic.”

Local authority bosses are also keen to be transparent in terms of the funding challenges ahead.

Head of Planning and Resources for the Education and Children’s Services team, Craig Clement commented: “We are continuing to explore a range of options that would support the education and childcare offerings we can deliver from August. It is important to understand, though, that even in terms of delivering what many may consider the basics – blended learning and key worker childcare – there are still resource implications. 
"Cover will be put in place for those colleagues who are shielding as well as those who may have to self-isolate, and the new measures being put in place within our buildings to encourage good hygiene practice come at a cost too. As well as the loss of income we have seen from the closure of leisure and culture facilities and school catering, over £1m has already been set aside to cover the cost of key worker childcare up to August, and this cost is likely to continue for as long as we are operating within the context of a pandemic.
"In Aberdeenshire we have also prioritised supporting hundreds of local suppliers since lockdown began, by continuing to pay for things such as funded early learning and childcare, and school transport. The cost of offering school transport with physical distancing measures in place also remains a significant challenge for us.
"While expanding the childcare we can deliver would be beneficial to many families, and we are continuing to actively look at things like using extra community spaces and manning these, we also have to ensure these options would be sustainable and affordable.
"We will continue to explore our funding options at both a local and national level, also recognising that goalposts may change significantly between now and August."

Agreement has been reached with local trade unions that the first school day for Aberdeenshire’s pupils will be Wednesday 12 August. August 10th and 11th will be in-service days to allow for additional preparation time for staff, and the in-service day previously scheduled for Thursday 19th November will be cancelled. The five days holiday missed by bringing this year’s school term forward will be taken next June, with effect from Monday 28th June 2021. This makes for a seven-week summer break next year.

Recognising the extra hours many colleagues are putting in working in changeable circumstances and adapting to new ways of working, elected members are keen to offer thanks.
Cllr Gillian Owen, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee said: “I would again like to thank head teachers, teachers and staff, as well as families, who have had to quickly adapt to the most challenging of circumstances. We know it’s unsettling when there is so much change ongoing, but you have all shown remarkable resilience and we will continue to work together positively to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and young people.”

Vice Chair Cllr Rosemary Bruce added: “The arrangements we put in place must be fair to staff as well as families, be guided by national as well as local advice, and be ambitious but also achievable. We understand everyone wants to know how this will affect each of us personally and we thank you for your patience as we make measured progress.”

Cllr Gillian Owen and Laurence Findlay will be leading a Facebook Live session from the local authority’s Facebook @AberdeenshireCouncil page on Monday 29 June from 2pm to field questions. Parents and carers are encouraged to submit their questions in advance, by emailing education@aberdeenshire.gov.uk 

Further details on return to school arrangements are available at: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/schools/schools-covid-19/