'Clear support' for industrial action over Covid safety

Survey of over 18,500 teachers reveals that fewer than a third feel safe from Covid infection in Scottish schools
23rd November 2020, 2:02pm


'Clear support' for industrial action over Covid safety

Coronavirus: 'clear Support' For Teacher Industrial Action Over Covid Safety In Schools In Scotland

Fewer than a third of teachers feel safe from potential Covid-19 infection in schools, according to a survey by Scotland's largest teaching union.

The EIS has now indicated that there is "clear support for moving to industrial action" in areas worst affected by the coronavirus.

The union surveyed 18,733 teachers across Scotland on Covid safety in schools over the past week, gauging teachers' views on issues such as procedures in schools, whether schools should remain fully open or move to blended or remote learning in areas under more severe restrictions, and teachers' willingness to take industrial action in areas where they believe schools are unsafe.

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The survey findings include:

  • Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of teachers either "supported" (48 per cent) or "fully supported" (16 per cent) the Scottish government decision to prioritise keeping schools open, where possible.
  • Fewer than one-third of teachers (31 per cent) felt "safe" (26 per cent) or "very safe" (5 per cent) in schools under current Covid safety measures.
  • In coronavirus Level 3 areas, there was clear support (86 per cent) for schools remaining open, although 48 per cent believed this should be on a blended learning model to enable physical distancing.
  • In coronavirus Level 4 areas, 51 per cent believed that remote learning should be introduced on safety grounds, although 45 per cent supported either a blended learning approach (34 per cent) or maintaining current arrangements but with extra safety mitigations (11 per cent).
  • Despite the support for keeping schools open where safe to do so, 66 per cent indicated a willingness to support industrial action, including strike action, in protest at failure to move to blended or remote learning in Level 4 areas.
  • 33 per cent were either in a "vulnerable" category themselves (9 per cent) or lived with, or provided care for, someone who was in a vulnerable group (24 per cent); these groups include members who are in the former shielding category, identify as BAME (black, Asian and/or minority ethnic) and who are pregnant.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "These survey findings confirm that the majority of Scotland's teachers want to be in school working with pupils, and support the aim of keeping schools open where possible. Despite this, however, it is clear that a significant number of teachers - 43 per cent - do not feel safe working in schools under the existing arrangements.

Coronavirus: Teachers feel 'at risk' in schools

"This feeling of being at risk is particularly heightened for teachers in secondary schools, for teachers in higher risk areas under Level 3 or Level 4 restrictions, and for teachers in vulnerable groups or who live with or provide care for vulnerable family members."

Mr Flanagan added: "Although members hold a range of opinions on the best means of keeping pupils and teachers safe, there is clear support for moving to industrial action in higher risk areas to protest where teachers feel that the measures required to keep schools safe have not been delivered."

Mr Flanagan said: "For Level 4 restrictions to be as effective as we would wish them to be, short-term closure or part closure of schools need to be considered."

The EIS survey results were released during the Scottish government's daily coronavirus briefing. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had not seen the EIS release and would examine it before responding.

Sample comments from teachers in the survey include:

  • "My fear is that I am bringing in hundreds of potential contacts into my home. My children attend a different secondary school, and they are also bringing hundreds of contacts into the home every day. Despite the mitigations, pupils are not wearing face coverings as recommended in the guidance and this has the potential to infect others as social distancing between pupils is impossible in schools."
  • "It seems that the council is not keen to let the staff, pupils and parents know what the prevalence is in the school...The absence of information leads to rumour and a less trusting environment, and less goodwill."
  • "While staff and pupils are all trying their best to comply with wearing face coverings and regular handwashing and sanitising, the idea that staff and pupils can always remain at a two-metre distance is unrealistic and at times practically impossible."
  • "I would like to see us campaigning to be held on an equal footing to NHS staff as regards priority for flu vaccines."
  • "We cannot do everything, and at times are being asked to teach online and teach in class as well as keep track of kids who are isolating on top of massive pressure from the SQA [Scottish Qualifications Authority]. In these uncertain times, I feel that teachers are being asked to step outside of our jobs and put our health (mental and physical) on the line with little to no consideration."
  • "It appears like we don't matter and are totally replaceable within our school roles...The government forget that we are not replaceable to our own kids and families."

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