The vast majority of Scottish education staff do not believe it is safe to return to work as lockdown eases, a new survey reveals.
In the poll of 5,000 Scottish education staff by public sector union Unison – which has 250,000 members working as school support staff in the UK – workers called for personal protective equipment (PPE), training and Covid-19 risk assessments before more children return to schools and nurseries.
Some 83 per cent of education staff are anxious about returning to work in schools or, if they are already at work, increasing the number of children. Only 3 per cent said that returning to work or increasing the amount of children in schools and nurseries was safe.
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The biggest group of respondents was early years practitioners and classroom assistants, but the survey also included cleaners, school office staff, technicians, janitors and caterers.
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The survey was carried out from 18 to 22 May, and Unison lists these key findings:
- 78% of staff who are working with pupils and families at the moment are concerned about their safety at work.
- 25% are not aware that any risk assessments have taken place.
- 10% say they have had training on Covid-19 health and safety, such as infection control, correct use of PPE or carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment.
- 24% feel that establishments are cleaned often enough to keep them safe from Covid-19.
- 46% do not feel they have enough PPE, 42% do not know what they should have and 12% feel there is enough PPE
- 10% of those who had children of their own felt it was safe for their children to return to school or nursery.
Lorraine Thomson, chair of Unison Scotland's Education Issues Group, said that the "survey shows the vast majority of education staff are anxious about plans for more children to return to schools and nurseries".
She added: "Before they return, we need clear guidance about how we keep children and staff safe. We need clarity about infection control and appropriate PPE. And all staff need full training on how to implement new rules and how to use PPE.
"A lot more work needs to be done to ensure safe return. The Scottish government and [local authorities' body] Cosla must work with Unison to develop guidance, implement new rules and undertake risk assessments. We cannot send more children back to school until we all know it is safe for them and all staff."
Anonymous quotes from staff in the survey include:
"I am really concerned every time I need to go to school and work with children where I am not confident they or their families have not been in contact with other people."
"PPE just getting implemented now and risk assessment only meeting primary/secondary hubs not early years environment.
Kids with additional support needs (ASN) aren't able to comply with any social distancing measures and many require personal care."
"You cannot social distance in a nursery, I have been caring for NHS children who are 13 months old, so need changed, comforted, put to sleep."
"It is impossible to social distance from young children. The building in which I work is very small with lots of furniture and for children to access our outdoor space, they need lots of help to put on outdoor play suits...this would have to be looked at to keep both staff and children safe."
"I work in an ASN school. A lot of our children don't understand social distance...I am worried that we will have too many children in one class, who will not be able to comply with social distancing, and although we have PPE, the children will pull off face coverings and rip aprons from the staff...I struggle to believe the children and staff will be safe."