It was 18 weeks ago that the closure of schools was announced and school pupils across Edinburgh and the Lothians have been home-schooled since then, up until July.
The initial need to close schools to slow the spread of Covid-19 was never in question, but we are now in a position where the virus is suppressed and it is essential all pupils go back to full-time education from 11 August.
Pupils need to get back to school not just for the good of their education, but also many parents will be getting back to full-time employment which would be incredibly difficult to do whilst also looking after and home-schooling their children.
In Edinburgh and the Lothians, waiting times for young people’s mental health services have grown extremely long and many young people aren’t able to access the support.
Covid-19 and lockdown uncertainties will have caused many young people increased levels of anxiety, which the return to school and some kind of normality should hopefully help to alleviate.
SNP U-turn on blended learning
The announcement at the end of last week, that pupils would not need to follow physical distancing rules, was welcome and makes the return of all pupils to full-time education much more feasible.
SNP ministers faced severe criticism for their plans for “blended learning” which would have seen youngsters in some areas attending school just once a week – a dissatisfactory solution which would have also hampered Scotland’s economic recovery, with many parents unable to return to work if their child isn’t regularly attending school.
An outcry from parents and pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, with the ‘Open our Schools’ campaign, forced the SNP Government to U-turn and scrap plans for blended learning and part-time schooling.
The safe reopening of schools is a critical juncture in Scotland moving out of lockdown and it is critical that it is done right. Clear and effective communication with parents and teachers will be crucial for reopening schools safely and providing parents with confidence that their children are safe to go back to school.
Measures must be straightforward to follow, enforced properly and allow for pupils to continue learning with minimal disruptions.
Low number of tests a concern
I agree with the ‘Safe reopening of schools’ report that states teachers must be given full guidance on hygiene and contact management.
Other measures such as not having large gatherings, such as school assemblies, are sensible for limiting the risk of Covid-19 spreading.
Making schools as safe as possible for pupils returning and taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus will be especially important for continuity of education.
Test-trace-and-isolate is central to the strategy of getting back to normal and I am apprehensive about the low number of tests that have been carried out in Edinburgh and the Lothians so far.
If Edinburgh and the Lothians has an increase in Covid-19 cases, comprehensive testing across the region is the best way to locate who has had the virus and prevent the spread.
Parents, teachers and pupils have been given mixed messages about the reopening of schools and they require a consistent message, so that schools can reopen safely and successfully.
Schools reopening safely is important for getting back to normal, the revival of Scotland economy, but most importantly for the future of our young people.
Miles Briggs is the Conservative MSP for Lothian
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