Teachers 'regarded as expendable' in new Covid system

The Scottish government has said that, even under the highest Covid alert level, schools will not automatically close

Emma Seith

Coronavirus and schools: Teachers being ‘regarded as expendable’, says union

Teachers feel they are “expendable” in Scotland's new coronavirus tiered alert system, the country's biggest teaching union has warned. 

The EIS union has now written to the Scottish government saying that concerns about the health and wellbeing of teachers have "deepened considerably".

The Scottish government has said that even if the highest level of its new coronavirus alert system is reached – level 4 – schools will not automatically be closed.

Before a Scottish Parliament debate this afternoon on the new system, the EIS wrote to the deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney, saying: “It very much appears to our members that the government has made a political priority of keeping schools open and, in that calculation, teachers can be regarded as expendable.”

Coronavirus: Vulnerable teachers ‘being treated like cannon fodder’

Watch: We ask Nicola Sturgeon: 'Has the government turned its back on vulnerable teachers?'

News: Tiered alert system will not dictate when schools close

Opinion: 'Lack of empathy for vulnerable teachers is staggering'

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan told Mr Swinney that, as infection rates have risen, teachers' concerns about their safety have “deepened considerably” and teachers in the former shielding category were being forced to attend school “by employers who have set themselves against clinically based advice that working from home should be the option used”.

Coronavirus: Vulnerable teachers 'thrown to the wolves'

This posed an obvious threat to their physical health, Mr Flanagan said, but being “in a confined space with individuals from up to 33 other households and only limited physical distancing” was also taking its toll on teachers’ mental health.

Vulnerable teachers told Tes Scotland last week that they felt like they were being “treated like cannon fodder” and “thrown to the wolves” by the Scottish government, which has said many times that its priority is to keep schools open.

We asked the first minister Nicola Sturgeon if the government had turned its back on teachers, but she insisted teachers had not been forgotten.

However, Mr Flanagan argued that the default position at level 4 that schools are fully open seemed “to be predicated on political messaging rather than controlling the spread of infection”.

He added: “We have seen school closures, and partial closures, deployed in Wales and Northern Ireland as part of a coherent national strategy for infection control (albeit as short-term measures), but this seems to be ruled out by the Scottish government despite significant investment of time and resource in contingency measures to enable blended and remote-learning approaches. The EIS believes that the deployment of blended or remote-learning contingencies should be cited, as a minimum, as required interventions at level 4 of the framework.”

The EIS is also calling for extra investment in school staff and learning spaces, saying the £50 million spent employing extra teachers is only plugging gaps in school staffing caused by Covid-related absence and is equivalent to the sum currently being deployed to close down hospitality for three weeks.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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