Some children in East Lothian have been unable to return to school due to anxiety caused by the Covid pandemic, a new report has revealed.
Education chiefs say that while the majority of pupils in the county successfully returned to classrooms following closures, lockdowns had a detrimental impact on some with a “small cohort” still unable to return.
And despite warning that schools would be living with the impact of the pandemic for years to come, education chiefs said they have set a goal of returning to pre-pandemic attainment levels by the end of the current school year.
A report to East Lothian Council’s education committee on the Covid recovery by schools revealed there were still ongoing issues.
Committee members raised concerns about ongoing ventilation issues in classrooms as pupils face another chilly winter with windows remaining open regardless of the weather.
And it was revealed the local authority was having to pull cleaning staff from other public services to cover a “severe” shortfall in cleaners to ensure schools remain open.
Despite this Nicola McDowell, head of education, told the committee that staff were hopeful pupils would be ready to take exams next year with prelim plans already in place, as teachers were praised for their hard work.
In her report to the committee she said her department’s aspiration was that “by the end of this session, attainment returns to pre-pandemic levels”.
Scottish Government funding of £1.04m has been allocated to the local authority to support recovery and will be used to tackle “lost learning”.
The committee was told some children had fallen behind while others were still not in class.
The report said: “While most children and young people have managed to return to in-school learning, there is still a small cohort whose anxiety has caused a barrier to their return.
“School staff, and staff from our Inclusion and Wellbeing Service continue to work proactively with them and their families to ensure they are supported and continue to learn.”
The number of children struggling with anxiety was not available although it is understood it involves pupils across primary and secondary schools in the county.
Dr Lynne Binnie, educational psychologist, told the committee that a team was in place to offer support to those who were struggling.
She said: “Our early intervention team which sits between education and child services has been operating for a few weeks and we are working to ensure we can use every bit of potential funding we can get to support our young people.”
The committee was told that it had been decided to continue with restrictions such as face masks for secondary pupils and staff and restricting visitors to schools after the October holiday and that guidance had been confirmed by Scottish Government this week.
Education bosses have also decided to have no residential trips in this school year.
Concern over the continued policy of opening windows and doors in classrooms to ventilate them in winter were raised.
Councillor John WIlliamson asked what provisions the schools had to support a child whose parent either could not provide warm clothing or forgot.
He said: “Some parents are not able to provide warm clothing, unfortunately it still happens, or they may be rushing out the door and forget.”
However, Sarah Morgan, Pencaitland Primary School headteacher, told the committee: “At our school we have a range of pre-loved uniforms available at any time which we can use to support any child who needs it and I am sure all schools have these pre-loved uniform banks as well.”
The report concluded that schools and pupils would be living with the impact of the pandemic “for years to come”.
However, it concluded: “Schools and the wider education service will do everything we can to mitigate this impact, learn the lessons of what has worked and what we need to improve and ensure that we continue to improve outcomes for all.”
By local democracy reporter Marie Sharp