SOME children in East Lothian have been unable to return to school due to anxiety caused by the Covid-19 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 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 that they had 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 that 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 that the local authority was having to pull cleaning staff from other public services to cover a “severe” shortfall in cleaners to ensure schools remained 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 £1.04million has been allocated to the local authority to support recovery and will be used to tackle “lost learning”.

The committee was told that 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 includes 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 school pupils and staff, and restricting visitors to schools after the October holiday, and that guidance had been confirmed by the 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 had forgotten.

Warm clothing

He said: “Some parents are not able to provide warm clothing – unfortunately it still happens – or they may be rushing out of 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 added: “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.”

Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP and a councillor for the Dunbar and East Linton ward, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for all of us in East Lothian, but children and young people have undoubtedly been some of the most affected.

“There is a growing body of evidence which suggests Covid-19 has had a significant strain on the mental health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people.

“Disruption caused by lockdowns and levels of uncertainty around the future will have of course caused lasting impact.

“As we move forward from this pandemic, supporting our children and young people with their mental health and well-being must continue to be a priority.”

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP, added: “Lockdown has been hard on the young – normal life and even rites of passage restricted.

“It’s not simply in schooling but in life that it’s occurred.

“No wonder many have struggled.

“Some restrictions need to remain for the wellbeing of all ages but especially the young, who are not invulnerable.

“But additional support for those who have been facing difficulties and challenges is required and as much normality as is possible is required for all.”