Scottish schools should not be kept 'open at all costs' says union

Scotland’s largest teaching union has launched a new campaign calling on the Scottish Government to ensure teacher concerns around school safety in high prevalence areas of Covid-19 are taken seriously.

The campaign will highlight stories from teachers during the pandemic and their “deep concern” around keeping school buildings open despite high levels of Covid-19 in some areas.

A hashtag, #NotAtAllCosts, will be used on social media for teachers to share their stories and to underline concerns.

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Teachers have launched a campaign calling for a rethink on Scottish Government policy for keeping schools open.
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The launch of the campaign came the day the Glasgow branch of the union began to ballot members around whether to launch official dispute action against Glasgow City Council over the local authority’s refusal to agree to online-only teaching pre and post-Christmas to minimise the risk of infection.

A letter sent to the First Minister by the Educational Institute of Scotland’s (EIS) general secretary Larry Flanagan reiterates fears from teachers their safety is being put at risk by the decision to keep schools open regardless of the severity of the spread of Covid-19.

The letter is accompanied by two briefing papers on pupil behaviour and Covid-19 mitigation measures, which include first-person accounts from teachers outlining the struggles teachers are facing.

Mr Flanagan writes: “You will be aware EIS members have been clear in supporting the priority of keeping schools open, despite their very real concerns about safety, but not at all costs, First Minister.

“As you will read, teachers are working in crowded classrooms where social distancing is not possible, often with inadequate cleaning supplies and protections.

"Schools are not Covid-free environments – look at the evidence – and current mitigations are not keeping staff or pupils safe enough.

"Mounting workload and the stress of working under such conditions is having a significant impact on the mental health and resilience of our education workforce.

“I would ask that you read the comments from the classroom and that moving forward your Government does more to acknowledge, and address, the real fear and anxieties which exist in schools, than has been the case to date, especially when we have areas operating at level four.”

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Among the accounts shared by the EIS include teachers claiming it is "impossible" to enforce social distancing, with morale described as “exceptionally low” and staff left “anxious, scared and losing patience” with the government and the education system.

Within the briefing papers, teachers also call for a move towards blended or remote learning in high prevalence areas to minimise the risks facing teachers “thrust into the front line with next to non of the protections offered to other frontline workers”.

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly stated that her first priority is to keep schools fully open, with the blended learning model abandoned in the summer following a U-turn from education secretary John Swinney remaining available as a contingency measure.

Retaining open schools has also regularly been used as a justification for more unpopular restrictions such as the closure of hospitality and the travel ban in high prevalence areas.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Health and Safety Executive provided very positive feedback on the way schools are implementing that guidance and we are monitoring the situation closely, along with emerging scientific evidence.

“There is no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children and ONS data has shown no evidence of any difference between the positivity rates of teachers and other school staff, relative to other worker groups of a similar age.

“We continue to have discussions with teachers, trades unions, local authorities, parents and young people as we move through the coronavirus crisis.”

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