Coronavirus: Are teachers 'key workers' in Scotland?

More details emerge over what will be expected of teachers in the coming weeks following the closure of schools today

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Concerns have been raised over teachers going into school

Many teachers will be working in schools next week as Scotland's response to coronavirus steps up, but that number is expected to fall over time.

By the return from the Easter holidays, only a relatively small minority of teachers should be working in a small number of schools, to support "key interests and groups".

Questions have been raised about "confusing" expectations on teachers after the mass closure of schools was announced on Wednesday, followed by the announcement yesterday that this year's Scottish Qualifications (SQA) exams would be cancelled.

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In a letter to education directors dated yesterday, education secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney said that from 5pm today (Friday), schools would be closed, with the "exception of any critical provision" in the cases of certain "key interests and groups", comprising:

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan told Tes Scotland this afternoon that, other than those already exempt from working for various reasons, teachers would be asked to work in a school on Monday.

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However, he said that number would fall over the course of next week as it became clearer what level of demand there would be for support for parents who are deemed "key workers", such as nurses and doctors.

Secondary teachers would also be completing coursework to ensure their students had enough evidence to show their progress this year, now that exams have been cancelled, he added.

However, Mr Flanagan said that, by and large, there should already be enough evidence; even before the coronavirus outbreak schools were already expected to be able to call upon such evidence for students affected by exceptional circumstances, such as a death in the family. He added that schools should not be generating extra evidence by, for example, setting new prelim exams next week.

Once the situation was clearer – and certainly by the start of the new term after Easter – Mr Flanagan said "the majority of teachers will be working from home" and using "online learning platforms". Those who remain working in schools thereafter will themselves be deemed key workers.

Mr Flanagan also stressed that the situation "does vary across the country" and that there may be some differences in local approaches.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) has been drafting advice for its members, which states that the "first consideration for members is your own personal safety".

The SSTA advice also states: "There must be no normal lessons, including senior classes, taking place after [5pm today] as schools are closed.

"Arrangements for making provision for children of key workers and vulnerable children in school buildings is at an early stage. The number of pupils and the number of staff (teacher and other workers) required has not been determined as yet.

"Local authorities are making arrangements for meals for vulnerable children and this may involve the use of school buildings."

The SSTA advice adds: "The detailed arrangements for pupils in S4-6 to meet the requirements of SQA during this emergency have not been issued to schools. Until such time members are advised to work remotely and create no new work for pupils.

"At this time no senior phase pupils should be in school and this was confirmed by the deputy first minister John Swinney last night on television. No member should be asked to attend school to teach senior pupils at this time."

The SSTA says:

  • If you, or a member of your household, have any of the symptoms then you must follow the health guidance and isolate.
  • If you have an underlying health condition, or are part of a vulnerable group, you must work from home.
  • If you have caring responsibilities and are unable to make alternative arrangements then you must stay at home.
  • If you are not able to attend work, please inform your employer in the normal way. Early notice is important.

The SSTA also issued this advice for teachers who are fit for work:

  • Please inform your headteacher that you are available and that you wish to volunteer your services.
  • Schools must ensure a "risk assessment" has taken place that includes provision of necessary cleaning materials and measures to prevent close contact.
  • Schools need to prepare a schedule for the supervision of pupils and a rota for available staff.
  • Do not attend work if you have not been assigned a specific child-caring responsibility. Avoid unnecessary journeys.
  • Do not attend work to take part in a meeting. This is an unnecessary risk.
  • All meetings must be conducted remotely.
  • All planning work should take place at home.

On supply teachers, the SSTA says: "During this difficult time of staff shortages, all supply teachers are required. If you are fit to work, please inform your local authority and ask to be assigned to a school...The situation is constantly changing and we will issue further advice in the coming days."

Meanwhile, Fife education director Carrie Lindsay, who is also president of education directors' body ADES, said secondary schools in Fife would be "allocating time" for any S4-6 students to "come in to complete coursework, where necessary".

All school kitchens will be open, with drop-in lunch sessions for pupils entitled to free meals, while "by the end of next week we will have over 20 locations set up to provide childcare and some learning for our more vulnerable or those whose parents are classified as key workers".

Ms Lindsay said: "We'll keep everyone updated as much as we can in the coming days. In the meantime follow the national  guidance and the NHS advice on how to keep yourselves and others safe."

Some teachers have reported "confusion" in their school or local authority.

Teachers have expressed concerns that going into school would undermine a critical reason for closing school, which is to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus being transmitted.

And some teachers have contacted Tes Scotland to say that, locally, it appears the plan is to run close to a normal S4-6 timetable, in an attempt to help students get more evidence under their belt to make up for the cancellation of this year's exams.

One teacher tweeted this afternoon: "We’ve just been told to report to school as normal on Monday morning. Not sure how this fits in with overall strategy to reduce contact."

Another teacher tweeted that Mr Swinney's letter was "very clear that only a few schools acting as supportive hubs for vulnerable pupils, families of frontline medical staff and other key workers should be open".

A secondary teacher contacted Tes Scotland early in the afternoon to say: "Headteacher is as confused as us. Not really been given any detail." 

A student on Twitter said: "My school is making us go in to sit second prelims over the next two weeks [which] contradicts government advice of social isolating."

A school leader from the Central Belt told Tes Scotland there were lots of plans at different schools for bringing in students to finish assignments under exam conditions.

However, in one local authority, school staff were reportedly told that young people had to be given the opportunity to come in and complete assessment, but that this morning they were told that this must not happen as schools were closed to all pupils.

The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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