Guidance from the Scottish government on how to minimise the risk from the coronavirus pandemic when colleges reopen does not go far enough, a support staff union has warned.
On Monday, the government published its “Guidance for colleges in helping to minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus” - which it stresses was developed with input from unions, colleges and the Scottish Funding Council. It covers how social distancing should be implemented in colleges, stressing that “all reasonable measures will be taken to implement physical distancing (currently 2m) in all relevant areas of colleges”.
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“Physical distancing applies to all parts of the college campus, including entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings," the guidance states. "Colleges will take a risk-based approach and put in place measures to manage brief interactions within 2m which cannot reasonably be avoided, such as limited numbers of people passing each other in corridors.”
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The guidance says that where physical distancing cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, “colleges should consider whether that activity needs to continue, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission”.
Colleges should consider the use of spaces around campus; clear, appropriate signage; physical adjustments, such as the use of physical barriers and one-way systems; and special controls on access to constrained spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, as well as other measures such as staggered start times, shifts and part-time working to minimise the number of staff on campus and in specific buildings at any one time.
“On-campus activity will be undertaken only when deemed safe to do so through appropriate risk assessment and when safety measures are in place," the guidance states. "Where capacity constraints or safety and wellbeing considerations mean that students or staff cannot physically be on campus, colleges will continue to support remote learning or home working.”
The government’s guidance also covers issues such as requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), the use of public transport, and how college work will change as Scotland moves through phase 2 and 3 of the easing of lockdown.
A spokesperson for support staff union Unison said: "We are disappointed it took so long for the national guidance for the FE sector to be considered. Although unions were eventually consulted on the writing of the guidance, it was again disappointing that the Scottish government announced changes to phase 2 of the route map while the sector guidance was still being written.
“Finally, we do not believe the guidance alone goes far enough and urge that a compliance group needs to be set up to ensure that colleges follow the guidance properly and can react to any developments in the weeks and months ahead.”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, which represents college lecturers in Scotland, said: “The EIS welcomes this advice and the commitment of colleges and universities to working in partnership with trade unions going forward to ensure the safety of staff and students in both sectors.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said colleges were “key strategic assets in helping our economic and social recovery from coronavirus”. “The Scottish government is preparing an action plan for further and higher education financial sustainability, and is liaising closely with Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council," they added.
“The finance secretary has also announced a £230 million ‘Return to Work’ package of investment, from which the university and college sectors will benefit from a £10 million boost for estate maintenance.”
The spokesperson added: “As is clear throughout the guidance document, we have been - and are still - working closely with colleges, the SFC, trade unions and student associations on plans for a phased return to campus
“Our national guidance was developed with input from Unison and other trade unions, and is designed to support local decision-making within individual institutions as they prepare for a safe return.
“One of the key principles of the guidance is that colleges will engage with staff and students, including trade unions to ensure a safe resumption of activities – and indeed this has been widely welcomed.”