Relieved head teachers and council leaders say return to schools amid Omicron variant went better than expected
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WELL-PREPARED Moray schools had a successful start to the new term.
Despite worries about the Omicron variant's effect on pupil and staff absences, senior teachers and council staff say pupils' return to schools has gone smoothly.
While England faces 1-in-12 teachers being absent, Moray is actually in a better situation than before Christmas.
Moray Council's head of education Vivienne Cross said: "It has not been too bad over the whole authority, although people at individual schools might say different.
"Headteachers and managers have been absolutely brilliant for working hard to help schools stay open.
"There certainly are not 1 in 12 teachers off in Moray, though.
"I don't want to tempt fate, but I don't think its near a critical level right now."
The differences between before and after the Christmas break were dramatic at New Elgin's Greenwards Primary School.
The school, which also supports children with additional support needs, was badly hit before Christmas by Covid absences.
At one point, the school – which has 339 pupils – was missing eight teaching staff and was 15 staff members down in total.
Head Teacher at Greenwards Sarah Grant said: "The absences were bad before Christmas.
"It was a very tricky situation and how well we managed is a tribute to the staff that were here.
"It was difficult for the children but the remaining staff pulled together to provide continuity."
"Things this time around were an awful lot less tricky than expected – an awful lot better. We have been quite lucky.
"Everyone has been really careful this time."
Schools are prepared for the worst, however, with council staff having rushed to prepare new strategies before schools returned.
Ms Cross said: "Coming up to the start of term, we had queries about the transmission of this new Omicron variant.
"We had no guidance until December 23 but, of course, the school term also finished in December.
"We said don't worry about it over Christmas. Come back and everything will be fixed.
"I came back with some other council officers on the 5th of January to get ahead of the game."
These changes have also been combined with renewed focus on Covid-safety basics like hand hygiene and sanitising.
Mrs Grant said: "Before Christmas, we had already been with Covid a long time so the novelty was wearing off.
"Since returning we have focused on the basics again and it is working.
"There are lots of plans in place to make things easier and lots of thinking on your toes about your plans too.
"Thankfully, many plans haven't needed to be used at all."
Council officials are also hopeful that lessons learned from previous staffing problems will prepare Moray schools for any future Covid problems.
Ms Cross said: "Obviously, Moray has previously had critical staff recruitment difficulties, which we resolved through a range of measures.
"We resurrected these protocols when faced with staff absences during Covid, which gave Head Teachers a list of effective actions to fill staffing gaps."
There is hope, however that the end is in sight, especially as Covid-related absences are now lower than other routine absences, according to Ms Cross. She said:
"For a long time we have not had normal prevalent illnesses. The coughs, colds and sniffles are now coming back."
Mrs Grant said: "We are all very happy with how children have coped and how parents have supported them through these tricky times.
"The one thing that made all this happen was teamwork.
"The team rallied round to make it as smooth as it could be.
"We would not have got through it if it had not been for the team."