Oban headteacher’s plea after demand soars for pupil places

Oban Joint Campus
Rockfield Primary Campus

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An Oban school has come under pressure to accommodate more children during the winter lockdown.

Rockfield Primary School has reported that requests for places at its hub have jumped from 20 last summer to 80 this time around.

Headteacher Caroline Fothergill has now appealed for parents and carers to consider if their child really needs a place in school.

Vulnerable children and those children of ‘key workers’ are allowed to attend.

But public service union Unison Scotland has already called for greater clarity on the definition of key workers saying some employees are in the dark about the status.

Although no reason was given for the sudden increase at Rockfield Primary School, there have been national reports that some employers are telling staff they are ‘key workers’ – heaping pressure on parents to get their children back into the classroom.

In the post on the school’s Facebook page, Mrs Fothergill wrote: ‘We need to make you aware of the concerns we have regarding the number of families who have requested a place in school during the period of school closure.

‘We have a total of 80 children, who according to the information provided by parents/carers, require a place.

‘In the summer we had a maximum of 20 children attending and as you can see we have seen a massive increase in requests for places.’

She added: ‘Government guidance indicates that numbers in school should be kept to an absolute minimum and be limited to the children of parents/carers who are critical key workers and the very vulnerable.’

She said the emergence of the new variant of Covid-19 meant that reopening schools would not be safe.

‘Please consider very carefully if you have any other option available to you in terms of childcare. In addition, the authority’s position is that if there is an adult at home, then your child should not attend school,’ she wrote.

‘Under no circumstances should you bring your child to school if you are not on shift.
Please only use this facility if you really have no other option.

‘We need to ensure that places are limited to those who are in critical key worker roles and who have no other options, as well as those children we consider to be very vulnerable.’

The school is now carrying out a ‘scrutiny process’ to monitor numbers and attendance.

UNISON Scotland says some local authorities are reporting an increase of up to 60 per cent on the numbers of people applying for key worker status to send their children to school.

Oban councillor Kieron Green, policy lead for health and social care and the council’s depute policy lead for education, also supported the school’s call.

Councillor Green said: ‘It’s important that the hubs are available for those who really need them to ensure we can keep important services running locally.

‘If there are alternative childcare arrangements I would encourage people to consider those to keep that space free for those who might need it more and it will also reduce the chance of spreading the virus as well.’

Schools are expected to stay closed until February 1, although the Scottish Government will announce the findings of a review on January 18.

Argyll and Bute Council said in response that it had seen an increase in demand at schools across Argyll and Bute. One of the reasons may be due to the ‘expansion’ of key workers in the government’s category three definition.

‘Key worker definition’

The Scottish Government has defined key workers for childcare as follows:

Category 1 – health and care workers directly supporting Covid response, and associated staff. Health and care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category one staff.

Category 2 – All other health and care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (for example: fire, police, prisons, social workers, courts)

Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to Covid-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised).

Have you attempted to secure a place but been declined or are you required to work and have no childcare? Please get in touch with The Oban Times by emailing ebutcher@obantimes.co.uk