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Schoolchildren’s return should be delayed to let exhausted teachers prepare says union

Schools had already prepared for pupils to return part-time in classes set up for physical distancing.
Schools had already prepared for pupils to return part-time in classes set up for physical distancing.

A senior teaching leader has called for a delay to pupils’ return to school to August 17 to allow exhausted staff time to prepare.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the AHDS union which represents primary school head and depute head teachers, claimed teachers’ efforts to ensure children’s safe return had been “trampled” by the Scottish Government.

Many had worked 12-hour days seven days a week, he said, to plan for pupils to be taught using a blended learning model at home and in school.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the AHDS which represents senior teachers in primary schools.

On Tuesday, with teachers about to break off for the summer holidays, schools and local authority education departments were sent back to the drawing board by Education Secretary John Swinney’s announcement they should prepare for a full return of pupils on August 11.

Mr Dempster said teachers needed to take their holidays and have time at the start of the new term to prepare.

He told Mr Swinney that political developments – firstly the determination schools should provide at least 50% class time and then the aim of 100% – had “trampled” staff efforts.

Efforts ‘trampled’

He told us that pupils back en masse was the best scenario for teachers but there was uncertainty over how next term will look and reorganisation was required.

He said: “We have lots of members who have been working 12 hours a day seven days a week since the guidance came out to get everything organised.

“Now the expectation it will be on a completely different basis, that requires a whole lot more of what they have just been doing – lots of replanning, redoing risk assessments, redoing physical arrangements that have been made, passing on information.

“They are just desperate for some down time, they have been working their socks off since the start of this, lots of them right through the Easter break, supporting hubs, supporting home learning.”

They are just desperate for some down time, they have been working their socks off since the start of this.”

Greg Dempster, AHDS

He said there was a lack of clarity about measures still be required, including social distancing, PPE, other infection control measures, extra classroom space and outdoor teaching where possible.

Schools including those in Dundee and Angus which finished on Friday, he said, would have finished preparing for blended learning.

He said: “They would have packed all their furniture up, their classes will be ready for social distancing in August.”

Decision by end of July

The Scottish Government pledge that a final decision on how schools will return will be made no later than July 30 was welcomed by Mr Dempster.

If pupils do return full-time, he said, teachers need the first week from August 10 to get ready.

He said: “We do need time where school staff are in work but the kids are not there to reorganise, rework, to make sure everything is right for those kids coming back on a full-time basis.

“Teachers need to take some holidays, they need to recharge. They have been working so hard for the last few weeks and the new session, regardless of how we come back, is going to be really difficult.”

Blended learning is a necessary contingency plan in case the virus gets out of control again.”

Scottish Government

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Blended learning is a necessary contingency plan in case the virus gets out of control again.

“We know how hard councils, schools and teachers have been working on this – it is vital work and we can’t thank them enough.

“The scientific evidence and public health advice under-pinning our planning is being kept under constant review and we will make a decision on no later than July 30 on whether schools can return full-time.

“In the meantime, the education recovery group, which brings together councils, teachers’ representatives, parent bodies and trades unions, will continue to meet over the summer to discuss the next steps to ensure the reopening of schools.”

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