The head of a Dundee school has called for more online learning after a “horrendous” week which saw more than 170 people forced to self-isolate.
Graham Hutton, rector at Grove Academy, hailed the efforts of staff after five positive cases linked to the school led to 169 pupils and five staff members being placed in quarantine.
However, in a strongly worded post on social media, Mr Hutton called for remote lessons to be made the norm at schools to prevent similar outbreaks occurring elsewhere.
He said: “This is unsustainable. Pity we are not moving to online learning for the rest of the term, as it would be much safer for all and ensure Christmas is safe.”
It follows an outbreak at St John’s High School, which has led to blended learning being adopted there.
Mr Hutton said he was “sadly not” able to make such a decision himself.
He said: “We shall now have to balance planning, preparing and teaching in class and providing work online. That is a huge increase workload, but we shall endeavour to do our best, as always.”
The decision to adopt a remote learning policy is made by local authorities, working on advice from public health experts within the Scottish Government.
Mr Hutton did not respond when contacted by The Courier to discuss his Twitter posts further over the weekend.
Well, we got to the weekend! Horrendous week with 5 positive cases and 169 young people & 5 staff self-isolating! This is unsustainable! Pity we are not moving to on-line learning for the rest of the term, as it would be be much safer for all and ensure Christmas is safe!
— Graham Hutton (@ghutz1) December 11, 2020
What do teachers think?
However, David Baxter, Dundee secretary for EIS, said the teachers’ union supported a shift to remote and blended learning, especially in the build-up to Christmas.
He said: “We have written to the local authority asking for online learning to be adopted.
“We’re seeing situations where if a handful of cases are being found at a school, whole swathes of people have to self-isolate as a result.
“With Christmas coming up and Dundee being in Tier 3 for so long, our members and the wider public face missing the only chance they have of meeting with their families over the festive period because they will have to quarantine.
“Nobody knows what is going to happen over the next week and a bit.
“At a local and national level, the EIS support online and blended learning to help allow social distancing in the buildings and reduce risk.”
Council and government reaction
A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “The council’s children and families service is constantly monitoring the situation regarding cases and absences at schools across Dundee.
“Officers are in regular contact with head teachers about coronavirus-related issues.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Being in school is in the best interests of children and our priority remains to ensure schools are safe, open and welcoming.
“We have put in place robust measures developed with input from the Education Recovery Group, which includes local authority and union representatives, to help us to protect our school community.
“There is no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children and Office for National Statistic data has shown no evidence of any difference between the positivity rates of teachers and other school staff, relative to other worker groups of a similar age.”
The situation at St John’s
More than 25 members of staff and a “significant number” of pupils were told to isolate at St John’s last week.
Blended learning has been put in place for S4-6 pupils in the aftermath.
Youngsters in S1-3 will still have to physically attend class, however.
The local authority said it was not possible to deliver the curriculum with that many teachers forced to stay at home.