The EIS press release in response to last week’s announcement by the Scottish Government can be read here.
Whilst it is good news that infection levels continue to fall, with the test positivity now below 5% for a fortnight – a WHO test of whether a virus is "under control", the EIS has continued to press for a cautious approach to school reopening as we have seen in the Christmas period how quickly infection levels can soar. With Scotland’s "R" figure currently between 0.7-0.9 there is little headroom to play with.
The EIS believes that there needs to be a genuine review of emerging data before any phase is finally green lighted. The caveat around the timetable, set out by the Scottish Government, of continued progress around suppression of community levels of infection has to be held to. You can view the latest data on local authority levels here.
The Phase 2 announcement last week of all of P4-P7 to return and all S1-S6 to have some level of face-to-face teaching, was a Scottish Government decision and not an agreed outcome at CERG (Covid Education Recovery Group).
The EIS view remains that we wish to see Primary schools return with smaller class sizes to tackle potential aerosol transmission and we wish any Secondary return to prioritise S4-S6, with physical distancing in place, in an effort to boost the qualifications process.
We also wish to see medical grade face coverings made available for staff, improved ventilation processes, and we had pressed on vaccination priority for education staff.
The revised guidance which has been issued today by the Scottish Government, therefore, is not an agreed output although we will push for those mitigations included within it to be implemented in full. The introduction of physical distancing between pupils in Secondary schools and the wearing of face coverings, for example, are welcome and should be applied rigorously.
Teacher and Senior Phase pupil take up of the twice weekly Lateral Flow Tests has been strong, and the figures are now included in the weekly PHS Dashboard data updates. The Government also announced today an extension of twice weekly Lateral Flow Testing to all secondary pupils, post Easter.
Updated health and safety guidance on the reopening of schools will be issued to School Reps this week. Given the increased awareness of aerosol transmission associated with the new variant, all risk assessments need to be updated.
A particular workload challenge has been raised by Government's insistence that Secondary schools need to provide some level of face-to-face teaching for all S1-S6 pupils, maintain provision for children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable, and, also, provide remote learning for those not in school!
EIS advice is very clear – teachers cannot deliver full time in-school teaching and sustain remote learning platforms simultaneously. For the hours that teachers are class committed within a working week, they cannot also be engaged in remote provision and where teaching is being provided across both modes of delivery, there must be sufficient time allocated for preparation and marking for both, within the parameters of the 35-hour week.
This is consistent with the advice issued previously around P3/P4 composite classes.
Workload needs to be controlled, with each school devising its arrangements accordingly, in full consultation with teaching unions. Local Associations, Area Officers and Organisers will offer support where required to any school branches facing challenges in this area.
The EIS view is that the in-school offer to S1-S3 pupils is essentially about a re-engagement strategy focussed on pupil well-being and likely in many cases to feature outdoor learning as an aspect of this, not a return to normal timetable teaching.
Priority for in-school teaching is to be given to the Senior Phase given the tight timescales for course completion and delivery of the Alternative Certification Models for N5, Higher and Advanced Higher.
Education Scotland has issued guidance which can be read here.
Local Association Secretaries will be keeping an overview of developing plans in each Council area and will be discussing this week how members can engage in lobbying local councillors for improvements to be made in the mitigations applied e.g. why one Council allows working from home for pregnant staff in the third trimester whilst others don't. Further details of local campaigning will be issued shortly.