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Back to school . . . sort of

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By Fiona Reid
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Back to school . . . sort of

PRELIMINARY school reopening plans will see the region’s pupils back at their desks for just two or three days a week from August.

Education officials have drawn up their preferred proposals but they have yet to be approved by councillors, nor has there been confirmation of Scottish Government funding to cover the extra costs. Despite this, parents at some schools were this week told which days their children will attend from August 12. Explaining the discrepancy in communication, a council spokesman said: “Only when a school has considered a wide range of issues will it be in a position to communicate to parents. Schools are doing their best to ensure that parents are provided with information as soon as possible.”

Education director Dr Gillian Brydson has also written to all families setting out the basic framework. It would see a two group rotation in secondary schools, whereby pupils attend two days one week and three the next, with home learning the rest of the time. Primary children would attend for two days, either Monday and Tuesday or Wednesday and Thursday, as well as home learning for two days, and on Fridays they would take part in flexible learning.

Dumfries and Galloway Council yesterday said the Friday sessions will take place either at homes or in community buildings and will be run by school staff or professionals from other council departments and will comprise activities or digital group work.

The ‘initial principles’ of reopening were discussed at a council meeting last Friday, where Dr Brydson said: “One thing DG schools are not short of is space: we operate at 60 per cent of our physical capacity. “We take our local solutions very seriously and allow a lot of flexibility but head teachers are seeking a consistent approach from August. They all want a similar approach to prevent the concept of a two tier system.”

Explaining the two group rotation, she said: “We will probably be able to fit most children in 50 per cent of the week. It is not an ideal solution to be in but we will work as hard as we can to bring the best fit in August, then scale up.”

Council chief executive Gavin Stevenson spoke of the ‘enormous challenge’ and warned: “The costs will be significant and there’s high risk it will not be funded. We have to prepare, our numbers will be high, multi millions will be the cost to us to do it.”

And another official joined the meeting to reveal the pricetag would be £8 million for four months if all spare classrooms were used and teaching staff found.

Meanwhile, South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth wants to see more done to get children into classrooms safely for more days, and more funding. He said: “The fact that the Scottish Government has not come up with a single extra penny to help our schools to properly restart safely is disgraceful. Education departments are now faced with the daunting task of providing extra cleaning and more pupil transport from their already squeezed budgets just to get children back in school two or three days a week.

“The government is seriously lacking in ambition when the reality is we need children back in school after the summer holidays for as much of the week as possible. “No child should be in school less than half of the week and even that should only be short term, with a return to as close to full time education within a matter of weeks.”

He called for other buildings to be used and retired and supply teachers, adding: “The government was quick to find funding for other areas during the pandemic so why not education, which is supposed to be their number one priority? “It is going to be impossible for parents to return to work when their children can’t go back to school. Home learning is good in theory but in practice we know it is no substitute for school.”

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