Guidance and staffing to support pupils with additional support needs in the pandemic is completely inadequate, a teaching union has claimed.
The warning comes following an outbreak of Covid-19 affecting 40 people at a special school in Dundee.
The Educational Institute of Scotland said current arrangements were inadequate for providing a secure environment for either children or staff across Scotland.
Its additional support needs network has urged local authorities and the Scottish Government to provide more detailed guidance and enhanced staffing.
The pupils we are working with need the close contact and the close support, which is totally incompatible with Covid guidance.”
An additional support needs teacher
One additional support needs teacher said: “The pupils we are working with need the close contact and the close support, which is totally incompatible with Covid guidance.”
Members also said youngsters relied on close contact and seeing their teachers’ faces without masks, and that teachers were putting themselves at increased risk of infection as they were in close, prolonged contact with pupils.
And they said they were carrying out enhanced cleaning, often cleaning up bodily fluids, without correct levels of PPE.
Youngsters among the most impacted
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Teachers working with pupils with additional support needs always want the best for these young people, and are doing all they can to continue to meet their needs while working within current Covid guidance.
“It is, however, extremely clear that the current Covid guidance is totally inadequate for teachers working with young people with more complex additional support needs.
“Young people with additional support needs were amongst those impacted most negatively by the school closure period.
ASN teachers are currently going the extra mile – and potentially putting themselves at greater risk of being exposed to Covid – to attempt to meet the needs of their pupils.”
Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary
“There is a desperate need for more detailed guidance and enhanced staffing to ensure that the needs of all young people with additional support needs, particularly the most complex, can be met in a Covid-secure school environment.
“ASN teachers are currently going the extra mile – and potentially putting themselves at greater risk of being exposed to Covid – to attempt to meet the needs of their pupils.”
Dundee City Council has already indicated lessons have been learned from the Kingspark outbreak, including around social distancing.
Kingspark School lessons
A spokesman said: “In Dundee we are working closely with our trade union partners to help provide a safe working environment for both staff and pupils.
“Risk assessments for each school have been carried out and a series of hygiene measures, including PPE where appropriate, is put in place.
“We are determined to learn lessons following the recent outbreak at Kingspark School and the phased return of staff and pupils this week reflects this.
“It requires a huge effort to minimise the risks of coronavirus for all our pupils and staff and we are taking these challenges seriously.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All children and young people should receive the support that they need to reach their learning potential and all teachers provide support to pupils with additional support needs, not just ‘support for learning’ staff.
“Education authorities are responsible for identifying and meeting the additional support needs of their pupils, including the employment and provision of appropriate resources such as teaching and support staff.
“We will continue to provide additional support to education authorities by investing an additional £15 million this year to further enhance capacity in education authorities and schools to respond effectively to the individual needs of children and young people. In addition to this, funding of £50 million has been ring-fenced for the recruitment of approximately 850 extra teachers and around 200 additional support staff to support education recovery.
“Angela Morgan’s independently chaired review of the implementation of additional support for learning was published in June. The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the educational experiences of children and young people with additional support needs. We are committed to working in partnership with Cosla and ADES to fully and carefully consider the conclusions of this report and agree actions to address the findings and recommendations. We will publish a full response in autumn 2020.”