EIS Executive raises significant concerns over guidelines for re-opening of schools

Created on: 03 Aug 2020 | Last modified: 01 Mar 2021

The Executive Committee of the EIS has raised significant concerns over guidelines for the re-opening of Scotland’s schools.

With schools set to re-open next week, the EIS has today (Monday) written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney calling for a number of actions to be taken, as a matter of urgency, to protect pupils, staff and the wider community from the risk of COVID-19 infection.

In the letter, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan says, “I write to you in order to raise some significant concerns regarding the now published Guidelines for the reopening of schools. You will recall that I raised at the CERG (COVID Education Recovery Group) meeting of July 24th,  the EIS view  that whilst the Guidelines represented the generality of  where agreement was possible, they nonetheless fell short from an EIS perspective in significant areas.”

The letter goes on to outline EIS concerns in a number of areas, including physical distancing and class sizes, procedures for testing for COVID in schools, contradictions between procedures for schools and other settings such as public transport and shops, and concerns over staff members who have been shielding.

On the issue of physical distancing, the letter highlights that the Scottish Government guidance includes an, “Exhortation to move to smaller classes to support physical distancing where possible, without specification as to how that was to be done. The inherent contradiction in urging such a significant mitigation but failing completely to instruct its implementation is a major concern.”

The letter also calls for, “The strongest mitigations possible in place and erring on the side of caution particularly where there is conflicting or emerging evidence in relation to the behaviour of the virus and its capacity for transmission among and by children and young people. These should include specific physical distancing guidelines for pupils.”

On testing, the EIS letter says,  “We would urge that further consideration be given to a more proactive approach to supporting teacher and staff confidence that they are working in Covid-secure schools, by providing asymptomatic access to regular testing.”

And, on the issue of staff who have been shielding, the letter says, “Teachers who have been shielding for the past three or four months  under Scottish  Government direction, are now concerned that next week they could be back in front of a full class of pupils. This seems to be an enormous leap and one which does not sit well with the First Minister’s warning to those who had been shielding until August 1st, about continuing to be especially cautious.”

Calling for further action to ensure safety, the letter goes on to state, “The EIS welcomes the fact that Scotland appears to have successfully suppressed the virus at this point in time; however, we would not wish to see the reopening of schools act as a catalyst to a resurgence. That means we must ensure that school buildings are COVID-secure environments. Across the globe we are witnessing how quickly things can deteriorate. Teachers, pupils, and parents have every reason to be anxious about schools reopening. Addressing the concerns raised in this letter would go some way to offering reassurance.”

The EIS will open a new survey of its members in schools across Scotland to seek their views on these issues and on the steps that should be taken to ensure that schools are safe. The survey will run this week, and the results will inform further discussions with the Scottish Government and local authorities ahead of next week’s planned re-opening of schools.

A copy of the EIS letter to Mr Swinney is available, for information.