Commitment sought for 50 per cent pupil attendance in schools’ back-up plan

Highland Council headquarters In Inverness. NO F19 council HQ
Highland Council education committee, which meets today virtually - will discuss the schools reopening plans.

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A Lochaber councillor will today (Thursday) seek a firm commitment at Highland Council’s education committee meeting that any back-up plan as part of measures to reopen schools in August after the coronavirus lockdown will involve at least 50 per cent of all pupils.

Councillor Ben Thompson (Caol and Mallaig) raised the issue of a 50 per cent minimum of pupils returning at Monday’s meeting of the local authority’s Lochaber Area Committee – held virtually due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions – but says he was only told it was an aim of the council at this stage.

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Thompson said there will be relief among Lochaber parents that when local schools reopen in August, it will be for all children, five days a week and without any social distancing.

However, these conditions are obviously subject to review and there are back-up plans in place for the introduction of social distancing and reduced numbers if the coronavirus situation deteriorates.

Last week, Councillor John Finlayson, chairman of Highland Council’s education committee welcomed the announcement by John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, of a full return to school for all pupils in August if it is safe to do so.

But it was Councillor Thompson who had sought assurances this week from the council’s lead officer for education, Paul Senior,  that back-up plans would include at least 50 per cent of all pupils still able to return to classes.

Councillor Ben Thompson

‘I think we’re all relieved to hear that all children will be returning on August 12 with no social distancing – and not least those parents who contacted me after receiving communications from their schools in the last couple of weeks which detailed plans for socially distanced schooling only one day a week – far short of the target 50 per cent attendance at two-metre social distancing,’ Councillor Thompson commented afterwards.

‘The council will have back-up plans in place for socially distanced learning – thanks to the sterling efforts of our teaching staff. So I challenged Paul Senior to commit to a minimum 50 per cent attendance rate in our back-up plans.

‘This will require the council to be creative about bringing other buildings into use – for example using council offices as classrooms. It will require creative use of staff. It was clear from Paul’s answer that many of our schools haven’t got 50 per cent back-up plans – yet.’

Councillor Thompson told the Lochaber Times that he intends raising the same issue today (Thursday) at the council’s education committee meeting.

‘The situation in places like Leicester where they have extended lockdown is a reminder that we can’t take the complete return to school for granted. Highland Council needs to be fully prepared,’ he said.

Councillor Thompson added: ‘My point is parents know that the back-up plans they’ve seen before are way below 50 per cent -as low as 20 per cent possibly. The council needs to commit to a genuine 50 per cent. Otherwise a Leicester situation here will shut schools completely.’