Councils across the north-east have vowed to do all they can to ensure “no child is left behind” after the first minister confirmed schools will be shut to the majority of pupils until February.
As families across the country prepare to return to remote learning at home, education chiefs are all working hard on plans to aid young people in their studies.
Douglas Lumsden, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said he “wasn’t surprised” by yesterday’s announcements.
He said Aberdeen City Council will endeavour to support pupils, families and teachers while schools are shut to most youngsters and learning is carried out at home.
“A lot of pupils will be fine with this, but there could be pupils from more deprived areas who could end up not be doing any learning at all because of this,” he said.
“I’m concerned about the impact on the attainment gap this measure may have, but I understand why it has been taken.
“We just have to make sure we do as much as we can to make sure no child is left behind while we’re in this state of learning.
“We’ve made sure we’ve got plenty of Chromebooks and wifi dongles out to children that need it and we’ve already had an extra day off for teachers to get ready for more distance learning.
“We will give our teaching staff any support they need to ensure education is delivered to the best of our ability at this time.”
And Aberdeenshire Council has said schools will simply extend their remote learning plans through until February.
Schools will only be open to classroom learning for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Ellon and District councillor Gillian Owen, who chairs the local authority’s education and children services committee, said support is in place for parents.
Councillor Owen said: “The decision announced will obviously concern many parents, but throughout the course of this week our teachers and other staff will be rolling out plans for home learning to be effective from Monday, January 11.
“We had contingency plans in place for August and these will be updated and used to support home learning. Some staff will also be in schools to work with the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children and young people.
“If parents have concerns about their own children over the weeks ahead, they should inform their own headteacher who will do all they can to support as they always do.
“We have very committed head teachers and staff across our schools in Aberdeenshire who will do all they can to provide resources and supports to help parents and young people.
“In terms of the vaccinations, I think making teachers and childcare staff a priority would be most welcome.”
First minister Nicola Sturgeon said home learning would drive down virus transmission rates.
She also said the scientific community was not clear on the impact of the new variant of Covid-19 on young people.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The evidence to date makes clear that thanks to the hard work of school staff and pupils, schools in Scotland have been low-risk environments for Covid. We will work with our partners to ensure that remains the case.
“That will include ongoing work on testing in schools and discussions about when, in the context of the overall programme, it will be possible to vaccinate school staff.
“And I want to be clear that it remains our priority to get school buildings open again for all pupils as quickly as possible and then keep them open.”
Ron Constable, secretary of Aberdeen EIS, said the government’s consideration of the vaccine to teachers shows their members are being listened to.
He said: “If it is a case of making sure schools are able to open, suggesting staff be inoculated as part of the programme would be a recognition that staff have been in danger of being infected.
“For that reason, we welcome the suggestion our members will be offered vaccinations. It’s something we are very glad about.
“It comes off the back of them talking about what they see as the importance of keeping schools open. Hopefully, it shows the concerns of teachers are being listened to.”
Mr Constable said it was also “sensible” that the resumption of in-school teaching following the festive was being delayed until next month.
He also previously remote learning to be extended beyond the original return to classes of January 18.
Mr Constable said: “It is eminently sensible to push the return back as a precaution, because schools are part of the communities they serve.
“They have a high R number, and thousands of pupils are moving through communities every day.
“It felt inevitable the date would have to be delayed.
“The EIS was advocating this some time ago and called for additional days of remote learning at the start and end of the Christmas holidays. We have always felt it would be a good idea.
“To be fair to the Government, they have taken pretty quick action because they are analysing the data as it comes in.”
Aberdeen councillor Martin Greig had called for remote learning to be extended and is backing the measures announced by the first minister.
The Hazlehead, Queen’s Cross and Countesswells councillor also supports a vaccination programme dedicated to teachers.
Councillor Greig said: “Unfortunately, the evidence supports this strict lockdown. The Government’s response today has been appropriate but there is much more focused action that has to be done to keep everyone safe. Their leadership has to be consistent and robust to reduce physical contacts now but also to look after the longterm wellbeing of young people.
“The virus is inflicting real hardship on families. For most people, it is very difficult to balance school and work needs in lockdown.
“School closures could cause young people to lose vital educational opportunities. Online learning has to be developed and improved so that there is less chance of pupils missing out just because they are based in the home.
“We need to be kept up to date with the scientific information about the spread of the virus. There will be a gradual return to work so the government should already be planning for parents to get more childcare at the point it is needed.
“It is likely that children at the earliest stages will eventually return to school first. As much help as possible should be given so that nurseries and primary schools are ready.
“It has been a priority to keep schools functioning. Therefore, teachers and school-based staff should always have been a priority. All those working in the educational context should be amongst the first to be protected with the vaccine.”
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