Highland Council Chair reacts to Education Back To School Announcement
23rd June 2020
Councillor John Finlayson, Chair of the Highland Council's Education Committee responded to the announcement today by John Swinney, Deputy First Minister on the return of education.
"Today’s announcement by the Deputy First Minister that the planning assumption will now be for a full return to school for all pupils in August if it is safe to do so, is very welcome news for everyone and it reflects the aspirations that have been communicated to me over recent days by so many parents.
“The education of our young people is extremely important in terms of their educational, mental and social development, as well as their future opportunities and outcomes.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our school staff and our parents and pupils for their hard work and collaboration throughout the period of lockdown and especially over recent weeks when they have been developing plans to return pupils to school taking account of the rules that are currently in place. It has been a very difficult time in many ways for all.
“The safety of our children, our young people and all our staff has been paramount in all our preparations for return to school which include detailed planning and risk assessments. Safety will of course remain a top priority.
“We look forward to detailed guidance and information on new resources to enable us to take these preparations forward at pace, for a full return of pupils in August. We will work with the Scottish Government, trade unions, teaching staff, parents, and children and young people themselves to consider the implications and measures necessary.
“Whilst there will be a number of precautions and considerations, safety will remain the number one priority.
He added:“It should not be forgotten that a full return to education in August will only be possible with continued adherence to national guidance and scientific advice and everyone has played an important role in helping to suppress the virus in our community. We cannot become complacent."
Following the freezing of some charges and suspension of enforcement for others during the lockdown period, The Highland Council has been following a phased return to normal operations since the 26th of June. Further details are given below.
Many Highland Council tenants may be missing out on help towards their rent from Universal Credit because they have not notified the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of their annual rent increase which came into effect on the 30th March 2020. Those tenants who have not yet reported their rent increase could be facing a shortfall in the help they receive towards their rent, putting them at risk of rent arrears.
The Highland Council is updating parents and carers of its position on early learning and childcare (ELC). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Scottish Government removed the statutory requirement for Local Authorities to deliver 1140 hours of ELC from August.
Following on from the recent publication of Highland Council's Supporting Economic Recovery in Highland - A Guide for Businesses - the Council is announcing relaxation of some controls that will assist tourist accommodation providers have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In recognition of this where there are specific planning and licensing controls in relation to occupancy, for example: a restriction on the occupancy of any caravan for a continuous 12 month period; or where conditions restrict occupancy for specific periods of time, ...these will be relaxed by the Council up to and including April 2021.
The Caithness Committee met virtual today for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and it's agenda focused on the actions taken by the Council and the third sector to deal with the effects of Coronavirus in Caithness. The Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning, Paul Senior, gave members an update on the plans and preparations underway to prepare for the return of pupils and staff to Caithness schools in August.
Margaret Davidson, the Leader of the Highland Council has given her strong support to the efforts of the Scottish Government to obtain greater fiscal flexibility from the UK Government. The Scottish Government have sought flexibility to offset capital underspend against resource expenditure, more flexibility over resource borrowing and greater flexibility over the use of the reserve for capital.
The Highland Council is planning to re-open play areas across the region throughout summer. Advice was provided by the Scottish Government on 28 June as to the safety measures that should be applied.
The Highland Council was one of the first local authorities in Scotland recognised to develop a Schools Digital Learning Hub, which provides a resource for staff, parents and pupils to support home learning. Prior to Covid-19, we had an estate of 27,000 Chromebooks that were already a part of our ICT in Learning Strategy.
Earlier today (Wednesday 1 July 2020) members of The Highland Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee had the opportunity to discuss (by video conference) progress made with the Corran Ferry Project which is reviewing the options for securing a replacement ferry and considering the way forward for the future operation and management of the service. The Corran ferry service has reached a critical point and strategic decisions need to be made.
As Scotland prepares for the easing of lockdown and the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sector, The Highland Council's Environmental Health are advising holiday accommodation providers to make sure their private water supplies are safe to drink. A large number of self-catering and tourist accommodation in the Highlands are served by private water supplies and with these being closed during the lockdown period, the water supply system may not have been maintained and could create a risk to the quality and safety of the drinking water.