Coronavirus: Teachers call for clarity over closures

Teachers in Scotland have been asking questions over how many people will be in schools on Monday and the assessment requirements expected

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Teachers call for clarity over closures

Teachers in Scotland are seeking more clarity over how many people should be in schools on Monday, as details emerge of different approaches to the closures enforced in response to coronavirus.

Many teachers are also seeking greater clarity about assessment requirements, following the news on Thursday that this year's exams would be cancelled.

Some teachers have contacted Tes Scotland to express concerns that all teaching staff and S4-6 students have been told to come to school on Monday, while others report that in their area schools will be shut to all barring a relatively small number of exceptions.

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On Friday afternoon, EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan told Tes Scotland that, other than those already exempt from working for various reasons, teachers would be asked to work in a school on Monday.

However, he said that number would fall over the course of next week as it became clearer what level of demand there would be for support for parents who are deemed "key workers", such as nurses and doctors.

Secondary teachers would also be completing coursework to ensure their students had enough evidence to show their progress this year, now that exams have been cancelled, he added. He said that schools should not be generating extra evidence by, for example, setting new prelim exams next week.

On Friday evening, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that pubs, restaurants and gyms were to close, as another urgent measure to prevent transmission of coronavirus.

Teachers have used social media to share concerns that the plan in some schools and local authorities does not appear in keeping with the extreme health and safety precautions elsewhere in society. Some said it was not right if decisions were left to headteachers locally and that there should be a more uniform approach across the country.

It appears that a number of approaches are being taken on Monday, ranging from schools being closed entirely bar a few exceptions, to schools where full staff and S4-6 attendance is expected where possible, at least at the start of the week.

There have been hundreds of responses to a tweet yesterday by Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who was surprised to hear about teachers across Scotland being called into work.

In a letter to education directors dated on Thursday, education secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney said that schools would be closed, with the "exception of any critical provision" in the cases of certain "key interests and groups", comprising:

He said in the letter that it was for local authorities to decide "the extent to which opening of physical settings is required".

Some teachers have been told by their local authority that they are all considered "key workers" and should attend work as normal, while some schools have been disseminating S4-6 timetables for the completion of SQA coursework.

Yesterday, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) published advice for its members, which states that the "first consideration for members is your own personal safety" and there "must be no normal lessons, including senior classes, taking place after [5pm on Friday] as schools are closed.

The SSTA advice added: "The detailed arrangements for pupils in S4-6 to meet the requirements of SQA during this emergency have not been issued to schools. Until such time members are advised to work remotely and create no new work for pupils.

"At this time no senior phase pupils should be in school and this was confirmed by the deputy first minister John Swinney last night on television. No member should be asked to attend school to teach senior pupils at this time."

Meanwhile, teachers have been contacting Tes Scotland with issues they would like the SQA to clear up; in the extraordinary circumstances, some said that more trust should be placed in teachers' professional judgement to award the right grade. One teacher said: "I'm utterly, utterly confused. SQA have now started emailing markers saying coursework *will* be marked as normal."

Here are questions that teachers and others have asked us to put to the SQA:

*"Why are SQA asking we risk students and staff to go into school to complete against scientific advice? Some folios still have weeks left on the clock. What about students who can't attend? Can't marking be pro rata or even based on teachers professional judgements?"

*"My school is marking us go into sit second prelims over the next two weeks...I have been in isolation this week so have missed content Are these compulsory?

*"Would really like to know when evidence/estimates are going to need to be submitted by."

*"Can you shed some light on what happens to S3 students who will miss eight weeks of their Nat 5 course?

*"Will the SQA extend the deadline for completion of National 3 and 4 courses until August/September?"

*"Can you find out if SQA will accept one unit as evidence of all? Typically we do one unit by March then other two up to May. We're desperately trying to do units today in nightmare circumstances."

*"Will RPA [Recognising Positive Achievement] be reinstated for this session given the planned removal?"

*"What evidence will be expected to back up estimates for exams, when will deadline be, can pupils appeal against teacher estimate, can unfinished units be awarded without full completion?"

*"What's going to happen with maths which has no internal assignment? With no units either many departments will have very little evidence."

The Scottish government and SQA are being contacted for comment.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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