Education Bulletin for Parents - 6 August 2020

Returning to School Buildings

Returning to Schools

Following receipt of  final  confirmation from  Scottish Government that schools nationally can begin to return in August, the Comhairle has been working to finalise arrangements for Western Isles Schools and nurseries to re-open.  Whilst the re-opening of schools will feel like a return to routines, we do need to prepare for the fact that the experience of being in school will be different, with a number of measures and procedures in place that will feel unusual for some, as we implement measures to keep all our pupils and staff safe. The safety, health and wellbeing of everyone using our school buildings is our foremost priority.

We also recognise that many children and young people will be starting at a new school for the first time as we return from lockdown and many of those have not had the regular opportunities for transition and preparation for these new settings. Schools will be focusing closely on their new starts and will be doing all that they can to support them and ensure a smooth transition to their new school.

Due to restrictions on building access, parents will not be permitted to enter school buildings. When dropping off younger children, schools will make arrangements for them to be met and received outside. In doing so, we ask  that  parents remain  distant from  each other  in playgrounds and do not congregate around doors.

Opening Dates

Schools in the Western Isles will begin to return from Wednesday 12th August. Please note that this date is different to the one initially shared earlier this year in the Scheme of School Attendance for 20-21.

For most learners, their first day in school will be 12th August but, in the following cases, there will be a degree of  phased return. This is to allow time for focused transition for P1 or S1 and to ensure the full readiness of secondary schools for a large pupil return.

Nicolson Institute

12th August - S1 and Prefects only

13th August - S4-S6 only

14th August - S2, S3, and Prefects only

17th August onwards - All pupils

Lionacleit School

12th August - S1 and S4-S6 pupils only

13th August onwards - All pupils

In the following schools, all pupils will return on Wednesday 12th August but the new P1 intake will have a staggered arrival during the morning and these schools will issue arrival times directly to P1 parents. P2-P7 pupils should attend as normal.

  • Back School
  • Laxdale School
  • Stornoway Primary
  • Tong School

All other schools not mentioned above will have a full return of pupils on Wednesday 12th August at their normal start time.

Talking to Children about returning to School

We would encourage parents to discuss with children what it will be like to go back to school in August. We understand that some of them may be anxious or have questions about what to expect. There may also need to be  reassurance  provided  in  relation  to  safety  and hygiene procedures that will be in place when schools re-open.  The information provided in this bulletin will help to answer many questions and allow parents to explain to children what to expect.  It will be particularly important to reinforce that all staff will be required to keep physically distant from pupils and may be wearing face coverings at times.

If you have specific concerns about your child adjusting back to school, please make contact with their class teacher or guidance teacher.

Attendance & Registration

When schools re-open, attendance registration will commence again in full. This will be important for us in tracking pupil attendance and reasons for absence as we increase our surveillance of virus symptoms.  If your child is expected to be in school but is not attending on a given day, we ask that you promptly inform the school office, providing a reason for absence and expected duration of the absence.

We would ask that parents ensure that they have provided any updates to mobile numbers or e-mails to the school office so that you continue to receive the latest electronic information from the Council and the school.

Early Learning & Childcare

All nurseries will be open from Wednesday 12th August. Nurseries will be contacting parents directly to confirm placement days and times and it is likely that these will meet the original requests from parents.  Physical distancing between children and their key workers in nurseries is not required, however adults must continue to distance from each other. Facemasks will not be worn by staff. Children and staff will be kept in their playroom groups and contact between playroom groups will be limited.  Nurseries will be spending as much time as possible outdoors and parents should provide suitable outdoor clothes and shoes for their children. Enhanced hygiene and cleaning practices will remain in place.

Physical Distancing in Education and Childcare Settings

The Scottish Government has confirmed in its national announcement that  there  will  be  no  requirement to implement physical distancing between pupils in any schools.  For secondary pupils, however, physical distancing is still encouraged, where possible, and some classrooms may be set up differently to allow this. Schools are not permitted to introduce any distancing measures that could result in a reduction in attendance capacity.

School staff will be required to maintain physical distancing from each other and from pupils, where that is possible. In some circumstances, staff may wear protective face coverings if distancing cannot be maintained.  It would be helpful to discuss this with your children to prepare them for the fact that some staff will be wearing face coverings or protective visors in school.

Where children and young people have additional support needs, further support may be needed to help them to understand and prepare for the fact that staff will not be able to maintain physical distancing and will be wearing face coverings.

Face Coverings & PPE

For pupils, the guidance in relation to face coverings varies depending on circumstances.

  • Face coverings must always be worn at all times on all forms of school transport. An initial supply of masks will be provided with bus passes when they are issued and more will then be issued in school.
  • It is  not a requirement for pupils to  wear face coverings in school unless they clinically need to do so.
  • Any pupils  wishing to  wear  a  face  covering in school is welcome to do so and will be supported in wearing it.

There will be no requirements for pupils to wear any other forms of PPE.

Restrictions on Education Buildings

As part of our safety control measures when schools re- open, there will be a number of restrictions on access to buildings.

  • Visitors to school buildings will not be permitted, including parents.
  • Access for contractors will be limited to emergency and critical maintenance work only
  • There will be no public access to shared facilities such as libraries, sports halls and swimming pools during the school day.
  • After-school  clubs  and  school  lets  will  not  be permitted when schools initially re-open. The only exception to this is that the After School Club at Stornoway Primary will continue to operate as usual.

Safety & Hygiene Arrangements

The safety of pupils and staff in our schools is our upmost priority and a numbers of measures will be in place to ensure that we do all that we can to maintain safety and wellbeing in school buildings. They include:

  • Full building risk assessments
  • Hand   washing/sanitisation  on   every   entry   to buildings
  • Frequent hand washing during the day, including before eating or handling food
  • Good nasal hygiene (Catch sneezes etc.)
  • One way systems in some schools
  • More use of outdoor spaces for learning
  • Adaptations to lunch service
  • Increased ventilation in classes – open windows
  • Regular cleaning during the day
  • Robust cleaning after the school day
  • Restriction on all visitors
  • Minimise pupil movement and mixing
  • No assemblies or other pupil gatherings
  • Adaptations some curriculum subjects such as PE
  • Increased health/symptom surveillance
  • Access to Test & Protect (Test, Trace and Isolate)

Test & Protect: Rapid Response

A critical part of our preparations has been working with public health colleagues to ensure that we have access to Test and Protect procedures and rapid response to reports of symptomatic pupils or staff. This will be linked to increased virus surveillance, both locally and nationally.

Coronavirus : Key Symptoms

Coronavirus: Key Symptoms

  • Fever and tiredness
  • Continuous cough
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Breathing difficulties

Personal Health Concerns & Risk Assessments

In most cases, pupils that have been directly shielding will be advised by their doctor that they can return to school. If medical assessment indicates that a pupil should continue to stay at home, the school will support learning to continue at home.  Where shielded pupils or those with particular additional support needs (ASN) are to return, the school will work with parents to agree an individual risk assessment that will address how their particular needs can be met for a safe return to school.

A Focus on Health & Wellbeing

As pupils begin to return to school next week, the focus of staff will significantly be on the health and wellbeingof pupils.  The period of lockdown has brought many varied challenges to children and young people and time will be  taken to  ensure that  they manage the transition back to school  attendance. In addition to general pastoral and curricular support, schools will be able to call upon the support of Educational Psychology and counselling services, as required.

School Meal Provision

Due to restrictions on pupils being gathered together or mixing across classes, in many schools there will be changes to how the service at lunch-time is organised. Depending on the size and set-up of your school, this may include menu changes, cold meal options only, staggered lunch service, pre-order requirements or meals being taken in classrooms. Your own school will communicate before Wednesday 12th August what the lunch arrangements in that school will be.

School canteens that operate tills will be restricted on what they sell and will not be offering additional items. This affects the canteens at Lionel, Shawbost, Sgoil nan Loch, Balivanich, Daliburgh and Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath.

No matter what the meal arrangements are, there will be continuous provision for Free School Meals.

School Meal Payment Procedures

It has been necessary to make changes to arrangements for payment of meals, as detailed below.

Cashless Catering Schools

In  schools  with  Cashless  Catering  arrangements in place, parents can continue to pay for meals as normal using ParentPay. There will, however, be a restriction on the use of any biometrics involving touch, such as the finger scanners. Staff will instead be using manual pupil look-up and this may slow down some services.

Schools with Cash Payment for Meals

School offices will not be permitted to handle or use cash when they first re-open and school meals will not be  able  to  be  paid  for  in  cash as  had  been done previously.  Parents are also not permitted to visit school buildings.

The Comhairle has set up a temporary Online Payment (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) system to allow parents to pay for school meals via our website. Select Miscellaneous Payments and then School Catering.

In no circumstances will schools be able to receive cash payments at school offices. If you have any difficulty in processing canteen payments, please contact

School Transport

Scottish Government guidance states that the safest way to transport children to and from school is to walk, cycle or to be taken by car. Where this is not possible and pupils are eligible to access it, school bus transport will operate.  A significant number of parents have already responded to the School Transport Application process indicating their willingness to provide direct transport themselves for at least the first term. We are grateful for this positive response and it will greatly ease the demand on school buses and allow us to prioritise services for those who most need it. The additional vehicle traffic that this will bring to schools has been considered and, in some circumstances, at busier locations, schools may decide to stagger start and finish times to ease this pressure.

It will be compulsory for school bus passengers to wear face coverings.  Hand sanitisation will be required on school-only transport. Buses will be thoroughly cleaned between services. Physical distancing on buses will be encouraged between non-family groups, where possible, but will not be a requirement.

Full compliance with these measures is essential and pupils failing to comply will not be permitted to continue accessing school transport with immediate effect.

Hubs for Key Workers and Vulnerable Pupils

The critical care hubs for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers will close on Friday 7th August after 20 weeks of full and continuous operation.  When schools re-open on Wednesday 12th August, services will  be universal and there will be no additional prioritisation or classification for key workers or vulnerable pupils.

We would like to thank all the staff who worked in the hubs across the 20 weeks of operation, providing this critical service to the community.

Contingency Plans

Although the decision has now been confirmed that schools will fully re-open from 12th  August, the Comhairle continues to hold in reserve our contingency plans for partial or restricted opening and access to blended/flipped learning. If there are any reasons in the future  where  either  individual schools  or  our  whole school estate is required to close or move to restricted opening, parents can be assured that we have plans in place, ready to be enacted in these circumstances.

Any Questions or Concerns?

If parents have further questions or concerns not answered in this bulletin, we would be happy to respond to them.

There will be a livestream Q&A online on Friday 7th August at 12.00pm with the Director and senior officers and parents can submit questions to this via the Comhairle’s social media pages or telephone us on 01851 822 737.

Parents can also contact their own school office for further information or to answer questions specific to that school.