The past few days have seen rapid changes in the international, national and local situation in the coronavirus outbreak. Consequently, it seems like an appropriate time to write to you to update you on a number of matters as they are affecting schools and in particular Firrhill. There is much to tell.
As we have all along we continue to follow advice and guidance as issued by the UK and Scottish Governments and by the City of Edinburgh. We continue to try and operate as normally as possible because that benefits our young people most whilst taking appropriate measures in light of the guidance issued by the bodies I listed above.
These have been significantly impacted and the following decisions have been taken:
- The Peru Expedition has been cancelled
- The Paris and Berlin trips have been cancelled
- The Battlefields trip has been cancelled
- The Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition has been cancelled
- The Silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition has been postponed to the new school year
- The Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition has been postponed to the new school year
- The S6 breakfast and picnic (24th April) have been cancelled
- All Ethos Day (June 25th) trips have been cancelled
The decision to cancel trips is never taken lightly but in a situation where the ability to travel abroad, the ability of health services globally to deal with the current and anticipated levels of infection and the uncertainty about the staffing available in schools, all make it unwise to proceed with any trips.
Additionally, all day trips planned for the rest of this session (up to June 26th) have been cancelled.
- School concerts and performances are all cancelled
- All events where parents have been invited to attend have either been cancelled or will be ‘closed’ events where no visitors, including parents, will be able to attend
- All extra-curricular sports have been suspended indefinitely – this includes training and fixtures
- There will be no assemblies for pupils for the foreseeable future
- Events where groups of pupils bigger than a class (c.30) will not go ahead or will go ahead in a modified form with groups of 30 or less
- Events where large numbers of primary school pupils were due to attend have been cancelled
- Almost all events where visitors from outside school are coming into to work with pupils have been cancelled or postponed
- Commemoration Evening for S6 pupils and parents (June 4th) has been cancelled
- Business placements for S3 pupils due to take place in May will not go ahead
- Additional cleaning has been in place in the school for the last fortnight; this includes using sterilising cleaning products on areas such as door handles and desks
- Keyboards and shared equipment have been given additional cleaning for nearly three weeks
- Following precautionary advice from science advisory bodies we are disinfecting protective goggles after each lesson they are used
- Additional regular checks have been in place for the last fortnight to keep soap stocks in the toilets topped up
- All pupils were given information in the week beginning 9th March on handwashing, good hygiene, symptoms of infection and what to do if an infection was suspected
- Information posters on coronavirus, including how to wash hands properly, are displayed throughout the school including in toilets
- Where we knew of pupils and/or family members who had returned from areas overseas identified by Public Health bodies as potential infection sites we made contact with the family to ensure proper protocols were being followed and to offer support as required
Advice continues to be updated daily and we are responding to this as quickly as we can.
In particular, the advice regarding self-isolation if a member of a household displays key symptoms (new, continuous cough and/or fever) was updated on Monday of this week meaning that a number of pupils and staff are following this advice and self-isolating.
If a parent contacts us to advise they are self-isolating due to the presence of symptoms we will send them an email reminding them of the current guidance and a link to NHS advice. It is vitally important that the guidance regarding self-isolation is taken seriously and that children do not attempt to return to school until the appropriate isolation period is over.
We know that these periods of self-isolation will cause some difficulties for families and we are very grateful for your adherence to the expert medical advice. That helps us keep the school running.
Where staff are absent we will cover classes where we can. We may at times combine two small classes into one to free up teacher time to cover for an absent colleague. This is a normal action when cover for absent colleagues is tight. We continue to try and run business as usual as much as we can. As much as possible lessons continue as normal.
We are unlikely to hold meetings that will require a parent to attend school. If we need to discuss anything with you it is likely to be done over the phone.
Please do not come into the school building unless you have been asked to come in. If you are collecting your child at the end of the school day please wait outside the building.
All the staff are busier than usual, especially the Pupil Support Leaders and the office staff, so please be patient if you are waiting to hear back from us. We will get to you but it might take longer than usual.
Just as I was about to send this to you the First Minister has announced that schools and nurseries in Scotland will close from the end of this week. Further detail will be announced in Parliament tomorrow and I think it best that I do not try and anticipate what that detail might be.
However, as the possibility of closures has been apparent for some time we have been working with that in mind for almost a month. Some of things we have done are:
- Brought forward as many SQA coursework assignments as we possibly could – by the end of this week all those we could reasonably move will have been completed
- All S4-6 pupils have been issued with their SCHOLAR online learning resource login details and have access to their Office365 suite of programmes from anywhere
- Staff have been working very hard, in addition to their normal teaching load and getting SQA assessments completed, to set up online resources and Microsoft Teams groups so online teaching can continue for senior classes if we close
- A comprehensive Revision Resources booklet was issued electronically to all S4-6 pupils and parents
- While I hope you will understand why we have focused on those pupils due to sit examinations teachers have also been working to create online resources for younger years and will do more before the end of this week
For our senior pupils and their parents the current situation has created a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about what will happen to examinations. That is completely understandable.
Examinations are run by the SQA and we follow their advice and guidance in all matters concerning examinations. Their most recent update (issued earlier today) as regards coronavirus can be found at https://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/93577.html . It is reassuring that they are considering the challenges around examinations and are looking how they will manage that situation.
I would encourage you to keep checking the SQA website for any updates and, of course, if we receive anything from the SQA of relevance to exam arrangements we will share it with you.
Firrhill is currently open and we are working as normally as the current situation allows. If your child is well they should be coming to school (see below).
Please read and follow the guidance being issued and regularly updated on the coronavirus outbreak. You can find that information at:
You will find information on that page (3. Stay at home advice) regarding what you should do if someone in your household is showing symptoms of possible infection.
Where a young person has an underlying medical condition there may be some anxiety about whether they should attend school. The advice is to contact your GP or specialist and seek their advice on whether your child should attend or not. If the advice is not to attend please make that clear when you contact school to inform us of your child’s absence.
An ‘underlying medical condition’ has been described as any condition which results in a person being specifically invited to get the annual flu’ jab. There is additional information in section 4 of the NHS website above.
There is no doubt that the current situation is unlike anything most of us will have experienced. For some the current situation will be inconvenient, for others it will be very scary. Rest assured that we will continue to follow relevant guidance and to keep your children safe as we give them as normal a school experience as possible. A fantastically dedicated group of staff – teaching and non-teaching – are working very hard to make sure of that.
Well done for getting this far in a very long update but there was a lot to tell you. I hope that future updates will be much shorter.
Let me end by wishing you and your family well. Right now we need to look after each other. I have said many times what a strong community we have at Firrhill. That is never more important than at times like this.
18 March 2020