'Lack of empathy for vulnerable teachers is staggering'

Why isn't more being done to protect school staff whose health leaves them vulnerable to Covid-19, asks this teacher


Schools reopening: How does it feel to be a teacher shielding against Covid at home?

On 1 August, shielding for the extremely vulnerable in Scotland was paused. On 11 August thousands of vulnerable teachers were expected to be back in front of a class. Many, like myself, were anxious, but keen to be back with our young people doing the job we love.

However, it very quickly became apparent that schools are not Covid-secure, with children and staff having to self-isolate in increasing numbers. Areas of Scotland were placed under local restrictions, then national restrictions, and yet we are still expected to be in busy schools and classrooms. We are not allowed to meet immediate family in their homes, yet it is considered safe to be in school.

We were advised that a return to school was safe if we socially distanced, wore masks and observed stringent hygiene levels.  However, to socially distance from young children is nigh on impossible. They need to feel close to their teacher and will gravitate towards you. Having 30 children in a classroom also makes it virtually impossible. Masks, unless of PPE standard, offer no protection to the wearer so unless we are going to ask all children in a class to wear a mask at all times in the class, there is no protection in staff wearing one. This is a scenario that no one would want.

Background: 'The last thing I want to do is close schools'

Coronavirus: Teachers' Covid fears 'not taken seriously enough'

On the buses: Pupils not wearing face coverings could be reported to police

Data: Covid-19 staff and pupil absences in Scotland

The Scottish government has consistently said that you should only return to work if your workplace is Covid-secure, which our schools are not. However, many councils across Scotland are refusing to allow teachers from the extremely vulnerable category to work from home. These are teachers with severe lung disease, heart conditions and autoimmune disorders, who have letters of support from consultants and work-from-home recommendations from occupational health, and yet many councils are saying no and asking us to put our lives on the line. Some teachers have been sent for repeat occupational health appointments as their authority wanted a second opinion. Are we waiting for teachers to be in intensive care or die before we are protected?

Coronavirus: Vulnerable teachers putting their lives on the line

At a time when Covid numbers are rising, teachers working from home could be providing vital resources for our young people who are self-isolating, and, indeed, some authorities are allowing this. There is a real need for this support. Instead, we are being told to present in school or take sick leave. How is that financially sensible?

Many teachers across Scotland have been left feeling extremely vulnerable. The stress and anxiety of the situation, added to existing health conditions, is doing untold damage to their health and wellbeing. The lack of empathy and understanding being shown is absolutely staggering.

We are all desperately keen to be working, to be supporting colleagues and our young people, but we are being denied the opportunity to do so unless we are willing to risk our health.

So, my question to first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy, education secretary John Swinney, is this: what steps are you going to take to protect the extremely vulnerable teachers of Scotland? These are teachers who love their jobs, who are passionate about supporting our children, who want to play their part in this pandemic, but who also want to live.

The writer is a teacher in Scotland

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