Teachers' Covid fears not forgotten, insists Sturgeon

Secondary school students in some areas wil be asked to log each person they come within two metres of next week
17th December 2020, 2:23pm
Henry Hepburn


Teachers' Covid fears not forgotten, insists Sturgeon

Coronavirus: Teachers' Fears About Keeping Schools Open Not Forgotten, Insists Nicola Sturgeon

Teachers' concerns over schools being kept open until 23 December have not been forgotten, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said this afternoon.

But she showed no signs of reversing the decision to keep many schools open next week, and said that the country's adults should be willing to put up with restrictions on their lives in order to minimise disruption to pupils' education.

Meanwhile, more details are emerging of some of the measures schools will have to take each week, including secondary students in some areas being told that they must keep a detailed log of every person they have been within two metres of, in and out of school.

Background: Teachers in three areas back dispute over Covid safety

Related: Covid safety measures 'impossible in special education'

Also today: Covid 'is a chance to redesign Scottish education'

Ms Sturgeon made her comments in response to Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, during First Minister's Questions. He asked why Ms Sturgeon had yesterday "tightened" the advice on Covid restrictions over Christmas for the general public but was insistent that, in those areas where school is due to continue next week until as late as Wednesday 23 December, there will be no early school closures or move to blended learning.

Coronavirus: Students told to keep a record of close contacts

Mr Rennie said: "Teachers aren't on the vaccination list, they aren't on the routine testing list, those who were shielding [who are] on the shielding list are told to keep on working in school.

"Teachers are feeling forgotten. I understand the need for pupils not to miss out on more education, but the fact is that little useful learning is going to take place in schools next week. And if it is, then it can be switched online, because we're ready for that. We should be able to make arrangements for childcare, just like before.

"Spreading the virus in schools next week could spread the virus to vulnerable relatives at Christmas. So will the first minister think again, and close schools next week?"

In response, Mr Sturgeon said: "Given that young people have had a term out of school this year, I think that, as far as possible, our objective and our priority should be to have children in school for the remainder of the term...I think that is important.

"That does not mean that teachers are forgotten or that we do not listen to the concerns teachers have - it is because we listen to those concerns and want to address them that Public Health Scotland has done a lot of analysis in terms of the impact of Covid on both teachers in our schools and on pupils...and it's why we continue to liaise with teachers [through the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group].

She added that the government would "put public health first at every single stage" and that the current advice allowed her to judge that it was still better for young people to be in school.

Ms Sturgeon said that "we will continue to monitor that carefully - we are in a period again when Covid cases are rising", but that "I think we should have as our priority the maintenance of full-time, in-school education, and if that means adults, the rest of us, having to make more sacrifices, to have more restrictions, then I think that is a price we should all be willing to pay".

Horrified to see more and more Scottish councils requesting children aged 12 years and older keep a 'close contacts' log to ensure track and trace can occur during the Christmas break.

We should be ashamed of the position we are putting young people in at present.

- Dr Tracy Kirk (@TracyKirk01) December 17, 2020

Meanwhile, details have been emerging of measures schools have been told to take next week. In Falkirk, where schools are not due to break up for Christmas until the afternoon of Wednesday 23 December, secondary students must keep a detailed log of every person they have been within two metres of.

In letters sent to parents last night, headteachers said that "mandatory arrangements" next week would "assist our partners in the public health team with any contact tracing which may be necessary during the holidays, as a result of your child attending school during the last week of term".

Secondary students will have to keep a "close-contact log" - which they have been provided with in paper form - and will have to fill in "the names of all of their close contacts on the way to and from school (including transport), during class, intervals and lunchtimes". They will be given time to do this in classes and will have to submit their log at the end of each day.

The letters state that the close-contact logs "will form an essential part of contact tracing arrangements during the initial part of the school holidays", and add: "We cannot stress enough the importance of this in helping to ensure that anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person during those last few days of term can be identified."

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), said: "I am surprised that this hasn't happened before now.

"It should have been introduced when schools came back in August. It would have given the pupils the responsibility to keep themselves safe and take the pandemic seriously. Many pupils feel it is their job to challenge authority and buck the system."

Mr Searson said extra Covid funds provided to local authorities should have been used for administrative support to carry out contact tracing, but that councils' view was "why would we spend money when teachers will do it for nothing?".

The NASUWT teaching union is calling for blended learning to be introduced in the areas with the highest levels of Covid when Scotland's schools return in January. The call has come as Tes broke the news that there would be a staggered return to schools in England in January.

Secondary school pupils' return to class in England will be staggered in the first week of January. Last night's @tes scoop in confirmed https://t.co/k7ANQDjDT3

- Tes (@tes) December 17, 2020

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: "It is widely recognised, including by the Scottish government, that the relaxation of the Covid restrictions over Christmas is likely to significantly drive up rates of virus transmission.

"The NASUWT does not accept the statements made [yesterday] by the first minister which seem designed to play down the role of schools in driving virus transmission. We believe there is evidence linking virus transmission to schools and we are concerned that, without further safety measures being put in place in schools, there is the potential to create a 'perfect storm' once schools reopen in January."

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