Craighalbert Centre plans to open full-time in August

Chief executive Bob Fraser said school has model in place for being open full-time for all pupils by August 13.

The head of Scotland’s national school for children with motor impairments plans to open full-time to all pupils in August.

Craighalbert Centre chief executive officer Bob Fraser also believes some schools for complex needs pupils need not have closed during lockdown.

Scottish Government guidance detailed “in some circumstances and in order to meet the needs of those children and young people, that it may be preferable for them to continue to learn” in their school.

Mr Fraser said as it scaled back, rather than fully closing, the school now has a model in place for being open full-time for all pupils by around August 13.

Families said having the school in Cumbernauld open throughout the coronavirus crisis has helped prevent their children’s progress from backsliding, with one mother saying it was a “lifeline”.

To accommodate the social distancing needed – with classes having changed to one-to-one support – the school made adaptations, including extended use of outdoor classroom and therapy space and buying equipment to provide virtual story massage lessons through video-conferencing for shielding pupils and families.

Mr Fraser told the PA news agency: “For many schools, the challenge now is to reopen and what is their model for reopening?

“Our advantage was we never closed. We geared down, significantly, while we tried to learn and understand but because we had complex needs children there was never the requirement for us to stop providing services.”

Asked if other schools could learn from the actions taken, he said Craighalbert is in a “very different situation” from mainstream education, but added: “I think there’s more learning for other special schools. Perhaps more of them could have kept going in a limited way.”

The school is at a “huge advantage” in adapting as classes tend to have no more than six pupils to one staff member, he said, but the “biggest blockage” is staff childcare due to mainstream schools not planning to go back full-time when they return in August.

Mr Fraser said the plans in various council areas are “very fragmented” and to solve this, he will run a childcare hub for his staff.

Being able to remain open has made a “significant difference” in physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing for pupils, he believes.

If they had faced months unable to used specialised technology available at the centre such as the eye gaze machine – which allows pupils to communicate via a computer using eye movement – as well as the other therapy equipment, their “learning would have regressed”, he said.

“Being away from that [equipment] for months, children’s ability to engage would deteriorate. We’ve maintained that.

“We’ve maintained their physical health, not just in terms of their physiotherapy, their movement things and like that… the risk with many of our children because of their mobility is chest infections, so we were very conscious that we wanted to mitigate against our children going into hospital.”

He added: “Probably equally the biggest factor is their emotional and psychological wellbeing and the impact on families…some were shielding at home, not feeling safe to take their kids out and we’ve given them a safe environment to come to, which is fun and enjoyable.”

Kate McMaster, 50, brings her daughter Kim from their home in Glasgow to Craighalbert for therapy and education.

The six-year-old has the neurological condition Rett syndrome and is unable to walk and talk, but has no cognitive impairment.

Her mother said: “This has been an absolute lifeline for us.

“Instead of feeling really isolated we’ve really felt supported and cared for through the school.

“It’s critical for Kim to maintain the levels of therapy and teaching that she gets and if she hadn’t had it she would definitely have deteriorated. It’s just been such a relief.

“We were really quite terrified when coronavirus broke out and schools shut. All other services for her shut as well. We’re unbelievably grateful that Bob and the staff have gone above and beyond to support all these kids.

“Some families at other schools have really reached crisis point.”

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