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Tears and torment when the slaughter arrived

Raymond Ross reports on how schools and colleges are coming to terms with mass culls and strict quarantine

It is perhaps not until you pass along the highways and byways of Dumfriesshire that the scale of the foot-and-mouth disaster really hits you.

"I don't think people understand how bad it is," says Jennifer Davidson, an S4 pupil who has returned to Lockerbie Academy after three weeks of isolation. Her dad's farm has just been declared "clear".

Jennifer chose to stay with her family, preparing her folio work for Standard grades, while the pyres on the farm consumed their stock of 483 cattle and 1,300 sheep.

At Canonbie primary, near the first confirmed outbreak in Scotland, pupils had to be kept indoors for a whole day because of the smoke and the smell from the pyres. The nursery was shut for two days because the smoke and the smell permeated the Portakabin.

Nigel Pike, the head at Canonbie, has run special circle times to deal with the psychological effects and to help children to a better understanding. "We had pupils crying because they could see the sheep being rounded up for culling in the field across the road. One boy lost his pet lamb and some pupils thought all their pets would be affected. They also thought the sheep were being burnt alive."

Dumfries and Galloway's psychological services have sent out packs on the emotional impact caused by the disease to provide additional support for both staff and pupils.

"The impact is twofold," Fraser Sanderson, director of education, says. "There is the effect of lost time especially on exam preparations and then there is the puils' preoccupation with the threat to their families' livelihoods and the sheer trauma of the culling, the burning. Some pupils have suffered a kind of incarceration on their own farms and all the intensity that goes with that."

Firm figures are problematic but Mr Sanderson reckons that the five per cent of Lockerbie Academy's roll who have missed two or three weeks of school may be the average. But in some rural areas, such as those served by Wamphray and Tundergarth primaries, the absence level runs at 40 per cent.

Schools are using e-mail and fax, as well as the post and "neutral" drop-off points, to send homework and distance-learning materials (which secondary staff are preparing voluntarily) to pupils on isolated farms. Extra resources have gone into affected primaries, equivalent to a day a week, for homework preparation and marking.

It is the east of the local authority area which has been worst hit with all inter-school sports and activities cancelled, bus routes and pick-up points altered and disinfectant mats placed at all school doors. School uniform rules have been relaxed because all clothes are washed daily on threatened farms.

The disease is now moving west into the Stewartry, into the Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas areas, and the council's education department is stepping up precautionary measures.

Mr Sanderson says officials are in discussions with the Scottish Qualifications Authority over lost study time. "Some pupils are getting extensions for folio and unit work and it may well be that some exams could be sat at home if invigilating procedures can be set up."

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