The NASUWT teaching union has today written to education secretary John Swinney to highlight its "serious concerns" about data included in the Scottish government’s evidence paper on Covid-19 in schools.
The evidence paper, released on Wednesday, was used to support ministers’ decision to keep all schools across Scotland fully open, even though 11 of the country's 32 local authorities move to the severest level of Covid-19 restrictions as of 6pm today.
The NASUWT said: "We believe [that] the data in the paper, which supports the government’s claim that there is no difference in Covid positivity rates between teachers and other key workers, is misleading. Furthermore, statistics in the paper on the number of positive cases among education staff in the week ending 10 November suggest a prevalence rate of 758 cases per 100,000 staff, significantly higher than the prevalence rate across Scotland as a whole."
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The letter, from NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach, calls on Mr Swinney – who is also deputy first minister – "to withdraw the misleading claims about education staff not being at higher risk of catching Covid and explain the prevalence of figures included in the evidence paper".
Our GS @PatrickR_NASUWT has called on the DFM to withdraw misleading claims made in the Government's evidence paper on schools about education staff not being at higher risk than other key workers of catching covid pic.twitter.com/422K2rSmf2— NASUWT Scotland (@NASUWT_Scotland) November 20, 2020
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Keeping teachers safe is our absolute priority – and that is why we’ve put in place robust measures – developed with input from our Education Recovery Group, which includes trades union representatives – to help us to protect our school community.
“As the first minister reiterated today, recent ONS data shows no difference between the positivity rates of teachers and other school staff, relative to other worker groups of a similar age – and it is wholly untrue to claim this is in any way misleading.
“The suggestion that there is a prevalence rate of 758 cases per 100,000 staff is incorrect and is based on inappropriate comparison of separate data.
“We are of course keeping current guidance and emerging scientific evidence under very close review, and the Health and Safety Executive has provided very positive feedback on the way schools are implementing the guidance.”
After the announcement on Tuesday that 11 of Scotland's 32 councils would be moving to level 4, the severest level of Covid restrictions, EIS teaching union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS is clear that, in areas that are now at level 4, the current policy of keeping schools operating as normal on a full-time basis is at odds with delivering effective virus suppression."
The EIS is exploring the possibility of industrial action if schools are forced to remain open even at level 4, and is expected to reveal the results of a survey of members early next week.