Rising COVID infection levels highlight concerns over school safety

The EIS has today highlighted that the growing number of pupils and teachers infected with COVID-19 is creating increased concern over the effectiveness of COVID mitigations in schools and the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community.

Figures published on a regular basis by the Scottish Government have highlighted week-on-week increases in both the number of pupils and teachers infected with COVID-19 and, also, the number of pupils and teachers absent from school due to being required to self-isolate. The latest updated figures, published on the Scottish Government website today, indicate that 29,486 pupils were absent from school on 10th November for COVID-related reasons – an increase of 28% on the previous week’s figure of 23,034. For teachers, the figure of 1,559 teachers absent for COVID-related reasons represents an 18% increase on the previous week’s figure of 1,326.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “Our members are increasingly concerned by the week-on-week increase in the number of pupils and staff being infected with COVID-19. This, coupled with the increase in the numbers self-isolating, is having a significant impact on education provision and is raising anxiety levels over the effectiveness of safety mitigations in our schools. The weekly figures reveal an increasingly bleak picture and are leading to calls from members for a new approach to ensuring the safety of everyone within the school community. With the Deputy First Minister indicating today that some parts of Scotland may soon move to Level 4 restrictions, this will inevitably further heighten concerns over school safety and will prompt consideration of industrial action by our members, if schools are forced to remain fully open when staff feel it is unsafe to do so.”

Mr Flanagan added, “The EIS has repeatedly said that schools remaining fully operational cannot come at the expense of teacher and pupil wellbeing. Blended and remote learning models are increasingly being adopted in other countries to stem increases in COVID infection;  It is time for the Scottish Government to rethink its stance, in light of the rising infection levels, particularly if some areas do move into level 4 in the near future.”

Earlier this week, the EIS issued a survey to its teacher members across Scotland, seeking their views on the effectiveness of COVID safety measures in schools. The survey will close next week and will inform the next steps to be taken by the EIS to protect teachers and pupils from the potential risk of COVID-19 infection.

They EIS survey is seeking members’ views on issues such as: perceptions of current COVID mitigations in their workplaces; attitudes to the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework and its default position on schools remaining open at all levels; and member willingness or otherwise to support industrial action in response to a refusal to implement a move to blended or remote learning at Level 4, where staff support either contingency. The survey also includes sections to gauge the specific COVID-related concerns of teachers in vulnerable groups and teachers without permanent contracts.