Keeping schools open is right, Sturgeon insists

Teachers in Edinburgh the latest to vote for action against their employers, amid mounting concerns about Covid safety
16th December 2020, 3:43pm
Tes Reporter


Keeping schools open is right, Sturgeon insists
Coronavirus: Keeping Schools Open In Scotland Is The Right Decision, Nicola Sturgeon Insists

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted it is "right" that schools in Scotland stayed open this term, as teachers again raised concerns over safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pupils across the country have continued attending classes, even when 11 local council areas were placed under the toughest level 4 Covid-19 restrictions.

The EIS teaching union has reiterated its calls for the Scottish government to consider "blended learning".

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General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "Our members want to be in schools working with pupils - but they also want pupils and staff to be safe.

Coronavirus: Keeping schools open 'has increased the risk'

"The Scottish government's rejection of remote or blended learning for schools in areas with high rates of infection has increased the level of risk for pupils, teachers and their families.

"It is time for the Scottish government to rethink this damaging policy, with the danger of increasing rates of community infection throughout the winter months."

The EIS has published new papers highlighting teachers' concerns.

These include difficulties with social distancing in classrooms, face coverings "not being worn consistently" in secondary schools where senior students and teachers are required to wear them, and fears from some that case numbers in schools are not being recorded accurately.

One teacher said: "It is a pretence to say that Covid protections are fully in place.

"Many senior students do not wear masks and we often end up herded together in pinch points like corridors as students travel from one class to another."

Another secondary school teacher said: "We are seen as expendable. We are teaching so, so close to pupils of all year groups with no social distancing and no protection - except a simple mask when present with upper school pupils.

"I'm worried I'm going to catch Covid and suffer serious health complications just for going to my job."

But Ms Sturgeon cited new reports from Public Health Scotland as backing up the Scottish government's stance that schools should remain open.

The first minister, speaking at her regular coronavirus briefing, said the figures show "almost two-thirds of schools have not had any pupil cases of Covid".

Around 620 children aged between 2 and 17 are currently diagnosed with the coronavirus every week in Scotland - a rate of 70 per 100,000 children, Public Health Scotland found.

At the peak of wave two, it said that "around 11 per cent of schools had one or more children diagnosed with Covid each week" - with this amounting to around a third of secondary schools and one in 12 primary schools.

Speaking about the impact of the virus on school staff, Ms Sturgeon said the experts had found "no evidence of any difference in the risk of hospitalisation for teachers when compared to the general population".

She said the risk of severe Covid-19 "actually seems to be lower in teachers than in the population as a whole".

While she stressed that the Scottish government would "continue to listen very carefully to the concerns of teachers and others", she added that the reports support the view that "it has been right for schools to remain open".

Teachers in Edinburgh have become the latest to vote in favour of declaring a formal dispute with their employer over safety concerns.

The EIS said members in the capital were the fourth local group to take such a step, with ballots also underway on the issue in both Argyll and Bute and Midlothian.

The Edinburgh EIS executive will now have talks with leaders in City of Edinburgh Council, local association secretary Alison Murphy said.

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