The Scottish Parliament has backed a motion calling for the government to fully fund an additional 2,000 teachers so that all schools can maintain safe staffing levels.
The Scottish Greens' amended motion on school safety – which also calls for the government to make regular voluntary Covid-19 testing widely available for asymptomatic staff and senior pupils – received the backing of 64 MSPs, with 56 abstentions and one MSP voting against.
Background: Call for government to hire 2,000 more teachers
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, the Greens' education spokesman, Ross Greer, said that everyone in school – both staff and pupils – deserved a safe environment but that simply was “not the case” and that the description of school life, as set out by education secretary John Swinney and others, did “not match reality”.
Mr Greer said that he no longer believed the official statistics on self-isolation and transmission in school. He said current figures were an “undercount” because schools wanted to keep the number of staff and pupils self-isolating down. He said schools were worried about “parental backlash” if too many pupils were asked to self-isolate, as well as having to cope with staff shortages.
He also raised the concerns about teachers being told to turn off the NHS Protect app and vulnerable teachers being asked to remain in the classroom despite clinical advice to the contrary.
“These are teachers terrified, with justification, that going to work right now could kill them,” he said.
Responding, Mr Swinney said that an additional 1,250 teachers and 155 support staff had been recruited, with an estimated 200 further teachers and 100 support staff in the pipeline
He said that the government had committed to providing an additional £155 million for the Covid response in school education. He added the rise in pupil absence – which hit its highest level this month – was mainly owing to pupils self-isolating and that demonstrated that caution was “being applied”.
Mr Swinney said the guidance was “crystal clear” that clinical advice must be taken into account when agreeing mitigations for school staff.
However, Mr Greer argued that if the guidance was strong – which he said he disputed – the issue was with enforcement.
He urged the Parliament to "step up" and protect school staff.