Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that schools will return with a “blended” model of education has been cautiously welcomed by north education bosses.
Councils will have to change the planned dates of the school holidays as in many areas, such as Aberdeen and the Highlands, schools were due to go back later than August 11.
Director of children’s services at Shetland Council, Helen Budge, said she was glad the government had provided a “clearer steer” and “direction for moving forward”.
In Aberdeenshire, Ms Budge’s counterpart Laurence Findlay explained that the “new normal” would be at the forefront of virtual meetings this week.
He said: “Safety must come first and we are doing everything we can to ensure children and young people can enjoy the best possible experience when they return to our schools.
“There are many issues we need to resolve over the weeks ahead, including school cleaning, hygiene, catering, staffing and transport, and our in-house expertise in learning estates planning has already given us a head start.
“We will also draw from lessons learned in our key worker childcare hubs, rolling out the cleaning regimes practised in these, for example.”
.@JohnSwinney confirms pupils can go back to school on 11 August subject to scientific advice that it is safe.
Our priority is the safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff so learning will be split between school and home for most pupils.
— ScotGov Education (@ScotGovEdu) May 21, 2020
Moray Council also confirmed that plans for a new “blended approach” to learning were already being formed.
Highland Council is “assessing and planning for all the implications” of the First Minister’s announcement.
Alasdair Christie, chairman of the Highland Council’s Recovery Board, said: “The Recovery Board has already begun developing our own Highland Council route map which is focusing on how we prepare for a safe return to work, return to school and restarting key services, such as reopening recycling centres at the start of June.
“Today’s announcement will I am sure be welcomed by communities here in Highland, who have been adhering to the lockdown measures and ensuring they help protect the NHS and save lives.
“However, we are also acutely aware of the impact the lockdown has had on our economy and on every aspect of people’s lives and mental health.
“We are working hard to map out the best way forward for Highland, so that we can start to get people back to work and school, but to ensure this is done safely and in line with science and the Scottish Government’s guidance.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said the authority was “not in the position to discuss the earlier start date with staff or the ‘blended’ model of teaching” until in possession of all the details”.
Meanwhile the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, welcomed the announcement but said “significant challenges” remained in managing the return to classrooms safely.
Teachers warned of some of the hurdles associated with home learning, particularly for those pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As well as schools, universities across the country are also preparing for the new way of working.
A spokesman for Aberdeen University said: “In the event that face-to-face teaching on campus is not possible in September we are preparing for blended learning so that we can enable all students to commence their studies online and transition to on-campus study when circumstances allow.
“It is our priority to keep everyone safe and well, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to our campuses as soon as possible.”