The Education and Lifelong Learning team has been striving to find a solution for a full-time return to school following the Deputy First Minister’s announcement on 23 June, when he called for schools to re-open full time for the new academic year.
It is understood that details of a full-time return will be made available by the end of this month, with Scottish Government guidance on matters including hygiene, health and safety, and transport due on 30 July or before.
Kelly McIntosh, Director of Education and Lifelong Learning said: “We recognise that there is a huge level of uncertainty regarding the return to school in August, and that this makes planning and preparation for families extremely difficult. I hope that families will understand that we will share definite information as soon as possible.
“However, I would like to reassure people that we are totally focused on keeping our children, young people and staff safe, while delivering the best educational experience that we can. If Scottish Government advise that schools can return full-time in August, we will use the first week of term to test out new routines and help our children, young people, parents and staff adjust. We envisage that all children and young people in Angus will return to school full-time on Monday 17 August. However, schools will contact parents/carers directly with arrangements for 12, 13 and 14 August."
The council has accepted grant of up to £517,523 to buy digital equipment, including laptops, to ensure that no pupils are excluded and can continue to connect with schools, teachers and learning, especially if not all children can return full time in August.
Free School Meals Provision
A Scottish Government grant of £227,000 will ensure that free school meals will be provided during the summer holiday to the children of families that receive a school clothing allowance, in line with Scottish Government expectations.
The Special Arrangements Committee authorised additional funding of £926,000 from the council’s contingency fund to recruit 40 temporary teachers and 21 school support staff (full-time equivalent) from August to December. Thirty-two newly qualified teachers have already accepted temporary contracts.
The council agreed at its meeting on 16 July to build upon that decision by extending those temporary contracts for the entire school year. The cost of year-long recruitment is £2.3 million. It is anticipated the Angus Council allocation of £100 million of Scottish Government funding will fund the £1.374 million difference. However, it is currently unclear what proportion of the Scottish Government funding will be allocated to Angus Council at this time.
Support for Children and Young People
Evidence in other countries indicates there may be an upturn in referrals to children’s social work services as a result of their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, the responses taken to the outbreak and the eventual return of children and young people to school.
As such, there is a need for increased collaboration between key school staff and social work colleagues so that children, young people and their families can be supported. Elected members have approved the £200,000 funding of four social worker posts – providing dedicated resource within each double cluster of schools.
There are four double clusters in Angus:
Transport to and from school is another area where there is a lack of clarity. However, it is vital that transport arrangements for the return to school are not unduly delayed allowing for route planning, procurement and communication with families who use this service.
While the Deputy First Minister has indicated there will be no social distancing between children and young people when they return to school due to the fall in incidents of COVID-19, the same has not been stated of transport, where a physical distance of two metres between people is currently advised.
If the physical distancing required on transport is reduced to one metre the council may not have capacity to transport every pupil that is entitled to free home-to-school transport as there simply are not enough buses available across Angus.
In this instance, buses will make extra trips and best use will be made of any additional capacity that buses operators can provide. This may mean children arriving at school at different times.
If transport is not available to families usually in receipt of free school transport, the council will seek to offer a mileage allowance to parents and carers who can take their children to school.
Operating school transport within a one metre physical distancing requirement is estimated to require additional expenditure of up to £870 000 up until October.
We anticipate an update on physical distancing on school transport this week.
Additional Cleaning and PPE
Whatever the terms of a return to school, there will be a need to increase safety and hygiene measures due to coronavirus. Additional costs for enhanced cleaning services in line with Health Protection Scotland guidance are not yet available, due to the number of variables still unconfirmed, but these will be significantly increased against current budgets.
The additional costs of hand sanitisers, signage and personal protective equipment to enable a safe return to school in August is estimated at around £70,000. This cost will increase as we begin to understand the amount of resource used on a daily basis.
Should Scottish Government confirm that a full-time return in August is appropriate, the council’s previous plans for a part-time return are being retained as a contingency against any change in restrictions, either locally or nationally. These plans were submitted to Scottish Government as required on 24 June 2020.