Orkney Islands Council is meeting today to discuss the latest situation and possible additional measures that may need to be taken. OIC has received representations from various local business organisations regarding the support announced so far by the UK and Scottish Governments and where gaps remain to be filled. I will circulate more information in due course when this becomes available.
Serious concerns were being raised last week at growing numbers of people travelling to the islands and remoter parts of the Highlands in order to ‘self isolate’. Clearly, this posed risks of potential serious extra pressure being put on already stretched essential services.
Overnight, the Scottish Government has taken action, advising ferry companies, who have already suspended bookings, to no longer take non-essential travellers.
Those who do not normally live on the islands and have travelled there in the last few days will be able to leave to reduce pressure, but from now on ferries will only take islanders who have an essential need to travel and for essential supplies or business - nothing else.
Northlink passenger and freight services are continuing, but on an adapted basis. More information can be found here: https://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/ Pentland Ferries have also updated information for customers here: https://www.pentlandferries.co.uk/
Orkney Ferries are restricting travel to the isles to residents and essential travel only with immediate effect. Inbound travel to the Orkney Mainland will be permitted to facilitate non-residents to return home. Outbound travellers may be asked to provide proof of residence and essential travel will need to be substantiated. More information can be found via their website: http://www.orkneyferries.co.uk/
In terms of air travel, there is no change at this stage to the policy adopted by Loganair, which has already significantly cut back on the timetable it is operating. The airline has confirmed that if Ministers advise further restrictions on who can travel, Loganair will fully comply.
Schools and Nurseries
Correct as of 22nd March 2020.
The First Minister announced that all schools would close from Friday 20th March. This is until further notice - the First Minister said it could be until the summer holidays.
Alternative childcare provision will be set up for children of key workers, and for children who are identified as vulnerable. This will be in place as soon as possible.
In Orkney, parents are being asked to fill out the form that is available via the related downloads button here: https://www.orkney.gov.uk/Council/C/coronavirus.htm
It will then be for OIC to determine whether, how and when their child can receive care. Officials have stressed that this is only to be used as a last resort if alternative childcare arrangements cannot be made.
Schools have been closed for a health reason. It was confirmed on 22nd March that no pupil should be attending school to finish coursework.
A statement was given by John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, on the 19th of March. https://www.gov.scot/publications/statement-covid19-managing-impacts-scottish-education/
There is a presumption that if parents can make their own childcare arrangements within the community, they should do so. However, provisions will be made for childcare of key workers if it is needed.
A key worker will vary depending on the community, but this refers to the roles required to maintain critical community functions. Emergency workers and NHS workers have been confirmed, but there are only so many places to go around because otherwise the health benefits of schools being closed are undermined.
As a broad guide, the definition will include:
Category 1: Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life-threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers; staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 parents/carers.
Category 2: All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services, as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure.
Category 3: All workers without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running would not be severely compromised).
NB: This definition may be updated to take account of developing circumstances.
If one parent is a key worker and the other is not, the non-key worker should normally be expected to provide childcare. If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
Companies should think about how people work and where they work and to ruthlessly prioritise those providing absolutely essential basic services to the public. The First Minister has appealed to employers to not see key worker status as the solution, but to instead adopt new shift patterns, working from home and dropping non-essential tasks.
Teachers providing key worker cover
You should check with your local authority what the arrangements are in your area.
To be identified by local authorities. You should check with your local authority what the arrangements are in your area.
Arrangements will be made at a local authority level to ensure children who qualify for school meals can continue to be able to access healthy nutritious food. You should check with your local authority what the arrangements are in your area.
All other children
Children who do not fall into the above special groups should remain at home with appropriate care.
The default position for the majority of children and young people is that learning and teaching should continue remotely. This may be done by provision of learning packs at the point of school closure, and on a regular basis as appropriate using technological solutions and other forms of communication. Details of this will be confirmed by your local authority or school.
BBC Scotland has confirmed that a raft of dedicated educational content for pupils in Scotland will be provided from Monday 23rd March on the BBC Scotland channel, iPlayer and online to help plug any learning gap caused by the enforced schools closure.
All exams have been cancelled this year. An alternative but credible certification model is being developed by the SQA so that those who were due to receive grades this year will get the credit they are due.
Pupils in S4-S6 with coursework for national qualifications to complete will be informed by their schools how to complete this remotely where possible. However, it must not involve attending school.
Teachers know their pupils, having spent the best part of an academic year with them, and it is important that their judgement is respected in the new process, as well as being weighted against other measures including coursework and prelims. The process is still under development but we will continue to monitor this to ensure that there is a high level of quality assurance and that pupils are treated as fairly as possible.
There are no easy decisions in this global public health emergency but we support the measures that have been set out by the Education Secretary that should mean pupils receive the qualifications and learning they deserve.
The SQA has said that it will work to ensure that learners receive their results no later than 4 August, as planned. The SQA has also stated that it is considering more fully the impact these changes will have on its exceptional circumstances and post-results services.
Term dates are not expected to change.
Childcare: Advice for parents
Key workers will continue to be able to access childcare. You should check with your local authority what the arrangements are in your area.
Childcare: Advice for nurseries
The Scottish Government is advising private and third sector childcare providers that they can remain open but subject to the following:
(i) that they refocus their operating models to support solely the children of key workers and vulnerable children; and
(ii) wherever possible they do this in coordination with local authorities in their areas, to ensure maximum efficiency.
Childminding services can continue to operate on a limited basis, but should operate in accordance with public health guidance.
The Scottish Government will maintain funding streams which allow contractual payments to private and third sector providers including childminders for statutory early learning and childcare hours to continue.
Local authorities are being asked by the Scottish Government to give particular weight to the use of private and third sector childcare providers for continued critical provision, to ensure financial support for that sector and to make use of existing expertise and resources.
The business support measures (above) are available to help providers remain viable operations.
Support for parents and carers
The Scottish Government have created a hub for support and information, which can be found here: https://www.parentclub.scot/topics/health/coronavirus.
In addition, Parentline is available free of charge via phone, email, webchat or text for all parents and carers in Scotland. Skilled and fully qualified staff will be on hand to talk through anything that families are worried about, seven days a week: 9am-9pm during the week and 9am-12pm at the weekend.
This service can provide help and support, including money advice, for parents and carers to talk about anything from behavioural challenges and concerns, bedtime routines, mental health worries and coping with changes to routines, including being at home for longer periods of time and helping families through schools and nurseries closures.
They can be contacted on 08000 28 22 33, emailed at email@example.com. Their website www.children1storg.uk/parentline.