Additional support needs (ASN) teachers have formed an action group urging councils to move to a blended learning model for special needs pupils to avoid whole schools or departments being struck down by the coronavirus.
The teachers say the policy in some councils of classing all ASN children as vulnerable – and therefore allowing them to continue to attend school during lockdown – means staff are mixing with over a dozen different households every day, putting them and their often more clinically vulnerable pupils at “huge risk”.
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Earlier this week an ASN teacher from Fife told Tes Scotland that it was “basically business as usual” at her school and the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association expressed its concerns about the “critical” situation that ASN teachers find themselves in.
Now a group of 160 ASN teachers called the Scottish ASN Covid Measure Group has written to the education secretary, John Swinney, highlighting their concerns. They also question why ASN staff are not being prioritised for vaccination.
They say school nurses who work in the same buildings as them are being vaccinated – and rightly so – but they actually have less contact with learners.
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The letter says: “We provide personal care to our pupils, we provide medical care for our pupils and we perform assisted feeding, including gastroscopy feeding for our pupils. Yet we are not classed as a frontline care service.”
The teachers say most of their pupils do not understand physical distancing; it can be hard to distance from other staff members because “support requires close contact of two to three adults”, and pupils often cannot cope with face masks being worn either by them or by staff.
Yet, despite concerns about the new coronavirus variant and its increased transmission, they are being expected to mix with “upwards of 15 households per day”.
Out of work, meanwhile, they point out that they are permitted to meet up with just one other household outdoors.
“In local authorities opening fully to all ASN learners, staff will not be on a rota looking after two or three learners, three times a week," the letter adds.
"We will literally be face to face with our learners, who will be shouting, spitting and crying at us frequently over the course of a day, with little to no social distancing, or respite, and no planning time in a worst-case scenario.”
They say that families trust them to keep their children safe and have the impression that additional safety measures are in place. However, they say the reality is that “there are very few differences between tier 2 measures in ASN settings and current measures”.
Overall, a move to blended learning, they argue, would reduce staff “mental stress”, cut down the risk of cross-contamination, allow more cleaning to be carried out, and make it less likely that whole schools or departments catch the virus.