Unions urge caution over re-opening of schools in Scotland

Unions have urged caution over the re-opening of schools in Scotland.

The Scottish government yesterday announced plans to re-open schools in August, with teachers returning next month to prepare for a new type of “blended” learning, part at school, part at home.

When schools re-open, they will need to put in place physical distancing measures including ensuring seating is at least two metres apart while arrival, departure and break times will be staggered.

Schools will also need to increase levels of hand-washing or the use of sanitisers, alongside enhanced cleaning and put protocols in place for suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Class sizes will be significantly reduced, with most pupils spending half of their learning time physically in schools and the rest at home.

The EIS welcomed the clarity provided by the Scottish government but has highlighted that significant challenges remain over managing it effectively. The union has consistently called for three conditions to be met before schools reopen: full test trace and isolate capacity to be established; a programme for implementing operationally in schools all public health advice e.g. physical distancing; and demonstrable evidence that the virus is under control e.g. a lower R figure and steady reductions in new cases.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on schools, pupils and teachers over the past months. Our members will welcome the clarity provided by the First Minister’s announcement, and the clear statement that schools will not re-open until after the summer and only if health conditions allow.

“This will provide valuable time to allow schools to prepare for what will be a very different learning environment, with physical distancing requiring smaller class sizes and schools delivering a blended approach of part time in-school learning and part time remote learning for most pupils.

“The EIS has worked constructively with the Scottish government and with local authorities throughout this crisis and will continue to do so in the best interests of learners and teachers. There is a strong shared commitment to protecting the health and wellbeing of everyone in the school community. Delivering a new blended learning approach is potentially the biggest curriculum challenge of this century, however, and it will require significant commitment from all parties to make it work.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The NASUWT has previously welcomed the Scottish government’s decision not to rush ahead with the reopening of schools.

“As plans are now starting to be set out of how schools might begin to reopen in the coming months, it will be critical that ministers maintain a cautious approach which does not undermine public health or put at risk the health and safety of teachers or children.

“As more detail emerges on arrangements, the NASUWT will evaluate them and advise members in the light of the key tests it has established around making schools COVID-19 secure and minimising risk. The NASUWT’s bottom line remains that no teacher or pupil should be expected to return to school until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so.”

NASUWT National Official Scotland Jane Peckham said: “Teachers will understandably be anxious to know the detail of how the government’s plans are going to work and what measures will be in place in schools to keep them safe.

“The NASUWT will continue to work with Scottish government, employers and sister trade unions through the Education Recovery workstreams in the development of these plans, with our primary concern being the safety and wellbeing of staff and pupils.”

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