A Scottish teaching union is calling for the government and councils to recruit out-of-work supply teachers to help make the return to school “safe and sustainable”.
The NASUWT union – which raises the issues in a letter sent to education secretary John Swinney today – has called for "schools and employers to utilise the army of supply teachers to support the phased return to school of more pupils from next week".
This would not only benefit the safety and education of pupils, the union says, but would also provide employment opportunities for “the large number” of supply teachers who have been left facing financial hardship as a result of the Covid outbreak.
Out of work: Supply teachers 'forgotten' during Covid lockdown
Back to school: Youngest pupils to return to school buildings on Monday
On Tuesday first minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that nursery and P1-3 pupils, as well as some senior secondary students, would be returning to school buildings next week.
Coronavirus: Supply teachers 'need financial support'
The NASUWT is also calling on the Scottish government and local authorities' body Cosla to reinstate a system of financial support for supply teachers who are unable to access work
NASUWT research shows that half of supply teachers have had assignments withdrawn during the current lockdown and a further 14 per cent have had their hours reduced.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said the SNCT [Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers] Supply Teachers Job Retention Scheme should continue “while the pandemic remains with us and continues to impact on supply teachers’ ability to access work”.
He added: “It cannot be right that hard-working and dedicated supply staff, who have been fundamental to ensuring that schools continue to function during the ongoing pandemic, are being prohibited and excluded from financial assistance at such a critical time.
“The Scottish government and employers have a responsibility to do all they can to make schools Covid-safe. One of the main ways to prevent transmission of the virus is to maintain strict two-metre physical distancing. We have called for the introduction of rotas to assist in preventing overcrowding, but creating smaller class sizes through the recruitment of supply teachers would also help to assist in reducing contact between pupils.
“Utilising supply teachers in this way to work with smaller groups would also help in providing more time and attention to each pupil as they work to recover their learning from the impact of the pandemic, and could provide a win-win for both schools and supply teachers.”
An EIS teaching union survey of 1,800 Scottish supply teachers also revealed that these staff were continuing to have difficulties securing employment, with the situation having worsened for many since the start of the latest lockdown in January.
Meanwhile, a Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association survey of 120 supply teachers found that more than half (56 per cent) had not had work this year, prompting the union’s general secretary, Seamus Searson, to say government money was not getting through to schools.