Vulnerable teachers believe keeping schools open "at all costs" is risking their health

Created on: 14 Dec 2020 | Last modified: 01 Mar 2021

The EIS has today (Monday) published a new briefing paper which highlights the deep anxiety of teachers in vulnerable groups over COVID risks to their health.

The EIS recently surveyed members across Scotland on a wide range of COVID-related issues, and is publishing a series of themed briefings. Today’s report is based on comments received from 3,500 teachers in vulnerable or at-risk groups.

Key issues identified include:

  • A Clear consensus that the safety mitigations in place are not strong enough, or are impossible to enforce

  • Pregnant members, in particular, were concerned about the lack of clarity for those beyond 28 weeks of their pregnancy, as some members have been granted home working, or paid leave, and others have not

  • There is evidence that the management of this crisis has exacerbated existing physical and mental health conditions

  • Some teachers have decided to take early retirement, or have not sought supply work, because they do not feel safe returning to schools under the current circumstances.

One teacher who responded commented: “I find it hard to believe that there is no transmission in schools. With the sheer volume of young adults in close contact with each other it is insulting to me to be told that there is no evidence of transmission.  There is limited evidence of transmission as there is no testing being done in school settings.”

Another teacher said: “It is my opinion that teachers are being treated disgracefully, and in insisting that schools remain open at all costs, this is treating teachers as collateral damage…The suggestion that older recently retired and re-registered teachers should be ‘used’ to replace any teacher absences is particularly insulting to what is considered a vulnerable group in any other walk of life.  There has been a strong narrative of protecting older people throughout this pandemic, but that would not appear to include older teachers.”

One pregnant teacher said, “I don't feel I have been supported at all whilst being pregnant during the pandemic and having to return to full time work. The council have not allowed me to work from home and any emails I sent to the government for support and advice I was given a shoddy reply about social distancing which is impossible in the classroom…. I am currently 30 weeks pregnant and feel very unsafe. My mental health is being seriously impacted.”

Another teacher, in an at-risk group, added, ““I want to be in school, I love my job. I cannot be asked to choose between my health and career though. At what point will local authorities recognise that there is a small workforce of shielded teachers who could be utilised at home. It seems very short sighted to be trying to force people with genuine medical concerns into a workplace that is not safe for them.”

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Teachers in vulnerable and at-risk groups are deeply worried about the risks to their health of working in a crowded classroom environment during the pandemic. The evidence from our survey confirms that many of these teachers feel that the mitigations that are in place, particularly in areas with higher infection rates, are completely inadequate to protect them. It is nothing short of scandalous that some teachers, who have received clinical advice that they should work from home, have not been supported to do so by their employers. Compelling vulnerable employees to work in an environment that presents a clear risk to their health is shameful and completely unacceptable. The EIS is very clear that any teacher who has an established clinical case for working from home must be supported to do so by their employer, particularly if areas are at Level 4.”

Today’s briefing on teachers in vulnerable groups is the latest publication to support the EIS campaign #NotAtAllCosts, which argues against the government plan to keep schools physically open ‘at all costs’ even in areas with high rates of COVID infection. The EIS is continuing to share members’ comments online, and urges individual teachers to do the same using the hashtag #NotAtAllCosts and tagging the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in their posts.

Today’s briefing (copy attached) and further information on the #NotAtAllCosts campaign can be accessed via the EIS website at