Coronavirus: Councils 'flout' advice on schools

Social distancing has proved 'impossible' in some schools today because of the numbers of people going in, union warns

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Councils have 'flouted' advice for schools, union warns

Some councils have "flouted" Scottish government advice over coronavirus and school closures and made social distancing "impossible", according to the country's biggest teaching union.

Schools and local authorities were told by first minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday that S4-6 students should not be going to school en masse to complete coursework, amid rising concerns about the number of people who would show up.

However, even after her intervention, the EIS has raised concerns about the number of people who were in some schools today.

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EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We have had a number of local situations reported to us where some councils have acted unilaterally, cutting trade unions out of discussions, and making arrangements that have flouted the Scottish government advice – for example, holding meetings of large numbers of staff where social distancing is impossible, bringing cohorts of pupils into schools who are neither at risk nor children of key workers, and insisting that teachers be in school buildings for no specific purpose when remote working is the default position recommended by the Scottish government.

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"Employers need to follow the clear health advice which has been published.”

He added: "These steps are about saving lives – there cannot be any expectation that things in schools will continue as normal.”

The EIS said it was "emphasising new Scottish government rules stating that home working for students and staff must be the default model, except in exceptional circumstances".

Mr Flanagan said: “It is absolutely essential that Scotland’s local authorities develop models of education provision that will minimise the risk of the spread of the Covid-19 virus amongst students, staff and the wider community.

"This should be based on the Scottish government rules on the presumption of schools closing to support social distancing, students and staff working remotely from home where possible, and strictly limiting pupils attending hub facilities to the children of key workers without another childcare option and, also, certain categories of vulnerable children.”

Mr Flanagan added: “Failing to take these steps could substantially increase the risk of infection to pupils and teachers and, as a consequence, also increase the risk of the Covid-19 virus being passed on to parents and family members who are essential workers, such as those working in the frontline of NHS services.

"The clear instruction from the Scottish government is that the default position is that schools must close, except in exceptional circumstances, such as the need to ensure the welfare of vulnerable pupils and to make provision for the children of Category 1 workers. These steps are about saving lives – there cannot be any expectation that things in schools will continue as normal."

A spokesperson for local authorities body Cosla said: "Minimising the risk of the spread of the Covid-19 virus among students, staff and the wider community is essential and is our collective primary driver.

"This is a national emergency the likes of which no one has experienced before. Local authorities have made a massive effort on day one to make sure provision is in place in as comprehensive a way as possible. We have to learn, be flexible, adapt to local circumstances and adjust our approach where required and every council is fully committed to doing this.

"The dedication of the teaching workforce and the other essential staff who make up the whole school system is greatly appreciated at this unprecedented time."

The EIS has issued updated advice to its members, addressing questions over school closures, working from home, protocols for teachers concerned about possible Covid-19 exposure, provision for children of key workers and vulnerable children, support for pupils with Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) assessment, arrangements for payment of supply teachers, and other "key issues".

The union will continue to update advice on its website.

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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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