When the lockdown was first announced, the staff at Robert Gordon’s College knew that the way they delivered lessons to pupils would change.
While many began virtual learning at home, for some pupils with parents working on the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19 that wasn’t an option, so the school launched its Critical Worker Service.
Simon Mills, the Head of College, explained a day in the Critical Worker Service.
He said: “The day begins as the school nursing and staff team arrive with temperature testing and handwashing for all, with the pupils arriving at 8am.
“Pupils and staff observe social distancing and follow a normal school day where they are working in small numbers in classrooms following their education online, like their friends out of school.
“The day finishes at 3.30pm when parents pick up their children.”
Throughout the day, areas of the school and individual items are regularly cleaned to maintain hygiene standards. And the numbers on campus are kept as low as possible to ensure a safe working environment.
Simon added: “The feedback has been enormously positive and the school is pleased to support Category 1 NHS key workers in their front line work in combating the Covid-19 crisis.”
One family which has been making use of the service is the Rearys.
Dr Stuart Reary and his wife Elaine Slattery are both healthcare workers.
Stuart said: “I am a GP partner at Stonehaven Medical Centre and Aberdeenshire Deputy Clinical Lead – however for the duration of the Covid-19 response I was asked to go full time in the clinical lead role for Aberdeenshire and was kindly allowed to do that by my practice.
“One of my early roles was to help set up and support the Covid-19 triage hub in Aberdeen and this is still my base on a daily basis.
“My main role now is advisory to Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Senior Managers and also to the Aberdeenshire practices on operational and strategic responses to the pandemic.”
He continued: “My wife Elaine Slattery is a full time Nurse Manager in the hospital currently working in the Nursing Workforce Cell at ARI.
“This role involves movement and redeployment of nursing staff in relation to evolving pressures throughout the duration of this major incident, basically ensuring the clinical areas that have increased demand such as Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Department have the right number of appropriately skilled staff.”
With both parents urgently needed by the NHS, children Jules and Archie needed a way to continue their schooling, so they were enrolled in the Critical Worker Service, which Stuart says has been a massive benefit to the family.
“My parents live locally, and in more normal times are our main source of childcare. However they are both now over 70 so it would not be sensible to ask them to look after the children due to the increased risk of causing infection in a vulnerable age group.
“If we had not had the option of the children going to Robert Gordon’s we would have had to alternate one of us working at home and this would have been very hard to make work.”
He added: “We appreciate how lucky we are in having a school that has supported us and also not having had the challenge that so many parents are having of trying to juggle work and home schooling. It has certainly given us the much-needed headspace to focus on our roles.”
For Jules and Archie, their school day has changed quite substantially. P5 pupil Archie sees up to a dozen classmates at school, with Jules seeing similar numbers of S1/2 pupils.
Secondary pupils are working with their teachers to follow their timetable, but instead of moving from class to class, they are using Google meetings.
Archie’s class are still doing the same subjects (other than swimming) using the Google software and are catching up with friends learning from home too.
But the changes have had positive aspects.
Archie said: “My favourite thing would probably be playing outside. I think I’ve made a few new friends while I’ve been playing.”
Jules added: “My favourite thing about the new care set up is having a small class because it’s nice and quiet during the day and you get your work done quicker.”
But it’s not just the pupils adapting to the changes. The nursing team has been ensuring that things run as smoothly as possible and that everyone is taken care of.
Nurse Tor Khan said: “As school nurses it is important to give the children an opportunity to share their worries or concerns with a familiar face. We realise that they may feel sad and confused.
“This seems to be mainly centred around the loss of the daily interactions with the school community in the playground or the classroom and getting used to the new ways of working with their teachers and keeping in touch with friends.
“We want parents to feel that their child is safe, supported and well cared for so they can concentrate on fulfilling their frontline roles during this unprecedented time.”
Tor added: “By attending the Critical Worker Service the pupils have developed new friendships, learned new ways of working and readily adapted to the new way of school life.
“The pupils have really amazed us with their resilience and we are proud of the standard of service that the College has been able to offer.”
Find out more about Robert Gordon’s College at the school’s website.