‘Nervous’ or ‘happy’, Scottish children on Tuesday started back to school for the first time in five months, kicking off a tricky start to school in the UK in the midst of a resurgence of the novel coronavirus epidemic.
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Confined as a single block in March, the nations of the United Kingdom, the most bereaved country in Europe with more than 46,000 dead, are managing the return to school in dispersed order.
In England some classes had resumed in confusion in June but in Scotland, the authorities chose to wait until August 11 to gradually bring in their schoolchildren, starting Tuesday with the Borders region.
“I’m a little nervous,” 16-year-old Isla Findlay told British agency PA on her return to high school in Kelso (south-eastern Scotland). “I’m glad to see my friends again, but how are they going to deal with all of this? It’s a little scary ”.
His friend Alex Bisset, 17, is “happy that things are slowly returning to normal” but thinks that “it will not last”: “I have the impression that in a short time there will be another epidemic and that we will all be sent home ”.
The students, who should all be back in class in a week, will not be forced to wear masks or respect physical distances between them, causing concern among the faculty.
According to a survey by the Scottish teachers’ union EIS, only 18% of the 24,000 teachers surveyed were convinced that it was safe to go back to school.
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Monday “understandable” a certain “anxiety on the part of children, parents and teachers”, but assured that the reopening of schools was “essential” for the education and “well-being” of students.
Scotland has recorded nearly 19,000 positive cases and 2,500 deaths. Last Wednesday, the appearance of an outbreak of contamination in Aberdeen resulted in the closure of pubs and restaurants and the return of restrictions on travel. Despite everything, schoolchildren in this city must resume classes this week.
In neighboring England, where Boris Johnson’s government has direct jurisdiction in education, the number of infections is also on the rise and restrictions have been reimposed in certain areas of the North.
Concern is therefore rising as the start of the school year approaches, on September 1, after having divided before the summer holidays. The government had reversed its desire to reopen all classes in the face of opposition from unions and disapproval of parents.
To keep the epidemic under control, some experts are wondering whether reopening schools does not require closing other places of gathering, such as pubs.
Boris Johnson promised that schools would be “the last” to close in the event of local re-containment, after indicating Sunday in a forum to make the return to school in September a “national priority”.
This decision is prompted by a study conducted by the English health authorities (PHE), according to which there is “very little evidence that the virus is transmitted at school”. It shows, according to the president of the Royal College of Pediatrics Russell Viner, that children are “minor players in the transmission of the virus.”
But the Times said on Tuesday that this yet to be published study also shows that adolescents transmit the virus just as much as adults. In the article, the researchers working on it explain their “dissatisfaction” with “the way ministers have used the results, which have not yet been fully analyzed.”
Faced with uncertainty, the union of school heads proposes to alternate the presence of students every other week, in order to limit contact. Another education union (NEU) has provided its members with a list of 200 health measures to effectively protect themselves from Covid-19.
By urging teachers to step up if they were not implemented, NEU has drawn the wrath of Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who accused the unions of wanting to sabotage the return to school.