Scotland’s largest teaching union has called for urgent action to ensure schools do not become a catalyst for a coronavirus resurgence.
In a letter to Education Secretary John Swinney, the EIS voiced “significant concerns” about guidelines for reopening.
Schools reopen next Monday for teachers, and pupils in Tayside and Fife will start returning next Wednesday, with all back by August 17.
Guidelines issued by the Scottish Government last week stated that face masks were not needed but could be worn and physical distancing was not required among primary schools pupils but should be encouraged where possible among older pupils.
In a letter to Deputy First Minister Mr Swinney, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan claimed the advice “fell short” in significant areas.
He flagged up worries about distancing, class sizes, testing procedures and staff who have been shielding.
Mr Flanagan said there was “exhortation to move to smaller classes to support physical distancing where possible, without specification as to how that was to be done” and that the “strongest mitigations possible” were needed, including specific distancing guidelines for pupils.
He also said regular testing for the asymptomatic must be conducted and said it was an “enormous leap” to put teachers who had been shielding for three or four months into classes full of pupils.
We would not wish to see the reopening of schools act as a catalyst to a resurgence.”
Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary
Mr Flanagan told the minister: “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.”
Anxiety among teachers
The union’s Fife spokesman David Farmer said teachers in the region were anxious about arrangements for their return to classes.
He said: “The experience of every teacher is that viruses spread easily in schools.
“That the guidance includes phrases like ‘should encourage distancing where possible’ is unfortunate in terms of re-assuring staff.”
The experience of every teacher is that viruses spread easily in schools.”
David Farmer, Fife EIS
He welcomed assurance from Fife Council that it will follow government advice for risk assessment but said the branch would issue its own advice to members, stressing that those who wish to wear face masks can do so.
He added: “We all want to go back to school knowing that schools are as safe as they can be. At this moment we don’t know that.”
The EIS is surveying its members on steps to ensure schools are safe this week.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ensuring the highest quality education for our young people, in a safe environment, is our absolute priority, and we also want to make sure teaching staff feel supported.
“Our guidance clearly sets out the approach that must be taken, including a number of specific risk-mitigation measures that will need to be introduced in all schools in order that they provide a safe environment for staff and pupils.
“Individual schools will carry out risk assessments on their estate, as they will know how to apply the guidance in a way that works best to ensure the safety of their setting.
“An enhanced surveillance programme for schools will allow us to closely monitor the impact of the pandemic on school age children and young people and staff and to make adjustments to the arrangements as necessary.”