A wave of additional staff is in the pipeline for Highland schools to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
Recruitment will shortly begin for an extra 41 teachers and 11 support staff in a £2.2m Scottish Government funding package spread over two years.
The 52 new staff will be deployed to compensate children for any loss of learning suffered during lockdown.
The extra staff include six teachers dedicated to online work across primary and secondary with pupils who may be self-isolating or facing local lockdowns.
Some of the funding will also support supply costs linked to Covid-19 as these are expected to be ‘significant’ and beyond the schools’ own devolved budgets.
A report by Highland Council education boss Nicky Grant points out that only six weeks into the return to school, the Highlands has experienced significant impact in schools in Inverness, Kingussie, Kinlochleven and Gairloch owing to local outbreaks of Covid-19.
She said: “Additional capacity and resource in the teaching workforce has been required in particular when significant numbers of pupils or staff are required to self-isolate.
“We cannot be sure what the future path of the virus will be.
“Additional capacity in the teaching workforce will be required should we need to switch to a blended model of learning at any stage.”
Education committee chairman John Finlayson said the distribution of the funds would be decided at local level.
“It’s important that any funding we get needs to be targeted and directed to support young people across Highland.
“The best way to do that is to speak to people on the ground, so we’re engaging with our head teachers, school groups and area managers to see the best way of distributing this funding and making sure there’s equity across the piece.”
Mr Finlayson said the money may not be enough depending on how winter progresses.
“We’re grateful for what we’ve got at this time, but who knows what it’s going to be like in November.
“I’m sure the Scottish Government will be looking at additional funding depending on what develops over the next few months.
“The government also needs to realise that rural areas in Highland have unique and different challenges and when it comes to funding of any kind that needs to be taken into account, and should be rurality-enhanced.”
Meanwhile Highland Council yesterday issued reassurance to parents that it can support and deliver education to any pupils asked to self-isolate by the Health Protection Team.
The council uses a suite of Google tools to deliver online learning, as well as the Highland Digital Schools Hub, a vast bank of resources for digital and face-to-face learning.
Ms Grant said: “We understand that being asked to self-isolate can cause anxiety in our young people and their family’s routine especially having returned to full time education.
“Therefore it is important that our schools are able to react with ease and set up and deliver quality continued learning and teaching experiences through our established online learning platforms.
“Our aim is that young people can re-connect smoothly with their school community, both teaching staff and friends, and have access to resources to support them during this challenging time.”