Scots pupils could be taught in mothballed theatres and geodomes

Scots pupils could be taught in "alternative venues" such as mothballed theatres, leisure centres, council offices and libraries when schooling returns, according to official guidance.

Social distancing measures mean that schools won't be able to accommodate all pupils at the same time when they go back in August and a Scottish Government blueprint published yesterday suggests that education bosses should look elsewhere to stage classes.

Education secretary John Swinney said it was for councils and schools to work out the best solutions that will work locally.

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“The health and wellbeing of children and young people is our priority, which is why in implementing this guidance, we will adopt a cautious approach and monitor progress to inform decisions on further changes to restrictions," Mr Swinney said.

Schools may look to alternative venues as capacity is restricted

“It is important to stress that there will be regional variation in the approach to implementation. It is for councils to work with teachers and put in place the best solutions locally. I am certain they will rise to the challenge.”

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Teachers and other school staff will be able to return next month to prepare for a new model of learning from August. The plans are contingent on scientific and medical advice that it is safe to proceed and public health measures being in place.

The guidance set out today indicates that teaching may take place outwith schools.

"The use of alternative public, private or third sector facilities should be explored to maintain such provision wherever possible," it states.

This could include mobile classrooms and geodomes. Temporary shelters should also be looked at such poly-tunnels, usually used for growing vegetables and canopies.

"There are many instances where these types of spaces have been used very positively across the learning estate and could be utilised as case studies to helpinform local solutions," he said.

The guidance also suggests that "innovative use of the public, private or third sector estate" should be looked at to increase the number of pupils who can attend school.

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"There could be opportunities to use council office space, libraries, leisure centres or cultural venues to increase the effective size of the school," it adds.

But the use of any of these alternative classroom spaces must allow for social distancing and cleaning to be put in place, as well as having toilet facilities, and handwashing and hygiene provision.

Some local authorities, such as Glasgow City Council, have considered a part-time learning approach.

In discussions with trade unions and head teachers, the authority has said a two-day school week could be one solution to allow social distancing in schools. Children would be split into two groups under the plans.

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: "No plans for the return to the school day have been confirmed as we are still in discussions with head teachers and the unions.

"A number of models and plans are being looked at and we are speaking to staff, parents and pupils to help shape what the new school day might look like and in line with Scottish Government timescales and guidance."

Aberdeen City Council said it was looking at similar models, including the blended use of classroom teaching and learning from home.

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The guidance also states that local plans should be drawn up with education authorities and schooling draw on the national guidance to work in partnership with trades unions, staff, parents and children to develop these.

Physical distancing of 2m for staff and pupils will be implemented, with some limited exceptions, the guidance said. This will be kept under review as the public health position evolves.

Schools are also being urged to work with council transport teams on their local planning, particularly in respect of options to minimise and, where possible, stagger the use of public transport.

Active travel, walking and cycling by parents, carers, staff and pupils will also be encouraged.

Teachers said this week that clarity over how the next academic year will work is the most important factor when reopening schools,

Teaching union the EIS conducted a survey of more than 26,000 of its members, to gauge their views on the coronavirus outbreak's effect on education.

When asked what needs to be done to instil confidence in the next academic year, 93 per cent of respondents said more clarity is needed over how teaching will be delivered to pupils.

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According to the results of the survey, 76.8 per cent of teachers also said there would need to be adequate time given to ensure the part-time, blended model of teaching could be created, while 63.2 per cent said it was critical to receive support from their individual school or local authority.

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