Scotland's largest teaching union has written to education secretary John Swinney demanding to see the scientific advice behind keeping schools open in spite of the coronavirus outbreak.
In an email to teachers updating them on the ramifications of coronavirus, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said he is aware teachers may have “different views” on the government decision to keep schools open – especially as schools in Ireland were shut last week. However, he added that “frankly, the institute does not have the scientific expertise to contradict the view of Scottish government”.
Coronavirus and schools
He said he had written to Mr Swinney – who is also deputy to first minister Nicola Sturgeon – "to ask that Scottish government make public the nature of the scientific advice they have received, so that there is full transparency about the approach being taken".
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Mr Flanagan added that he suspected general closures would be required as the pandemic reached its peak. He also pointed out that staff illness and self-isolation could drive school closures.
He made his comments in an e-bulletin that went out to all EIS members yesterday, updating them on the discussions the union was having with the Scottish government and local authorities' body Cosla.
He said that a previous agreement that had been reached by the body that negotiates teacher pay and conditions – the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), which comprises unions as well as local and national government – on continuity of education during the swine flu pandemic had been updated to address the current situation.
This meant that, while under normal circumstances schools would not be allowed to put two pupil register groups together, the “emergency and temporary arrangement” would be to allow two groups to be together “as long as the total number of pupils actually present did not exceed the class size maxima for that stage”.
The agreement also covers the situation where if a teacher is redeployed to another school because their base school is closed then “additional travel costs and time require to be added in”.
Mr Flanagan said that anything over and above normal duties would be “voluntary in nature” and that the union had “explicitly rejected the notion of teachers being required to run extra classes – twilight and weekend – to support continuity of learning”.
He added that the union had hoped to share the agreement last week but Cosla had dragged its feet because “the Cosla leaders’ group thought it was too restrictive and that they wanted its workforce to be more 'nimble'”.
However, Mr Flanagan warned teachers that if they chose to self-isolate as a precaution – rather than as a result of displaying symptoms – because of “underlying health conditions or dependent family members with the same”, there was “no guarantee” that their schools would “treat that as valid self-certification” and continue to pay them.
The union is advising teachers who find themselves in that situation to ask for a risk assessment to be carried out which could result in them working from home or not having to teach classes of pupils.
The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.