Scotland’s schools reopened mid-August with most of the mitigations from June still in place, as had been agreed pre summer within CERG. These are subject to review after the first 4–6-week period, which will coincide with all teachers having been offered a double vaccination opportunity, plus the two-week full effect period.
Currently, over 94% of teachers have had at least one jag, and over 75% have had two. As colleagues will be aware the vaccination does not offer 100% protection from future infection but does seem to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness, notwithstanding that some individuals in the vulnerable category may still be at comparatively heightened risk.
Given the current high levels of infection across the country, the six-week review of current mitigations may well result in little change. The EIS Executive today confirmed support for retention of all current mitigations for an extended period.
Test and Protect
This week has seen the highest ever figure for pupil infection levels and although this in part reflects the record level of community infection, there is undoubtedly a higher level of in-school transmission which we would argue is being fuelled by the new approach to Test and Protect.
Responsibility for contact tracing has largely been removed from schools and is now being conducted by Local Health Teams, as directed by PHS guidance. Alongside this has been the removal of the need for identified close contacts to self-isolate for 10 days, to reduce the number of pupils being out of school.
At first glance, the guidance around this change would seem to suggest that close contacts will instead be required to obtain a clear PCR test before being allowed back into class. In practice, however, although the definition of a close contact has not changed, PHS has raised the threshold of risk, for pupils, which would see it require a close contact to be PCR tested.
For example, sitting next to a pupil all day in class would make you a close contact if that pupil was infected but it would not trigger the need for a PCR test, as PHS consider the risk to health for pupils in this situation to be less critical than non-attendance at school. Close contacts will only be deemed “relevant” where there are additional factors in play e.g. overnight stay, more intimate contact, heightened vulnerability, etc.
Schools are only able to issue generic “warn and inform” letters to parents of pupils to state that there have been confirmed cases.
The upshot of these changes has been to leave schools feeling powerless to control what is happening in their community and has meant that fewer pupils are eligible for PCR testing (unless they develop symptoms). It has meant, also, that staff are reliant on pupils identifying teachers or support assistants as potential close contacts, which is problematic, especially in ASN settings.
Within CERG, the EIS has been vociferous in our criticism of this new approach and has been supported in this by all the trade unions involved. As a result of representations, a review has been taking place of the Test and Protect arrangements in schools, and the policy and practice will be subject to further discussion next week at the Education Scientific Sub-group and then subsequently at CERG.
The EIS Executive resolved today to continue lobbying for changes to Test and Protect arrangements to include the need for close contacts to be PCR tested before a return to classrooms.
Covid/Covid Sickness Absences – SNCT negotiations
We have been pursuing improved absence entitlement for all who have been ill from Covid and currently agreement is being sought on a period of up to 12 weeks of special pay for each period of infection/illness. The outcome of these negotiations is not certain, but it is hoped that agreement will be reached at the SNCT meeting on 30 September 2021. The issue still to be agreed upon is the extent of backdating of the proposed new provisions.
Vaccination and Testing
Currently, over 94% of teachers have had at least one jag, and over 75% have had two. As colleagues will be aware, the vaccination does not offer 100% protection from future infection but does seem to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness. It is estimated that by the end of September all teachers will have been offered double vaccination and had a two-week post vaccination period for full effectiveness.
The Institute would encourage all members to take up the vaccination offer (unless there are specific reasons preventing such).
Members are urged, also, to take advantage of the twice weekly Lateral Flow Testing offer, even when double vaccinated. Asymptomatic PCR testing for anyone concerned about their status, for example where there are school outbreaks, remains on offer to teachers.
The SNCT Extended Joint Chairs met again yesterday, Thursday 2 September, to continue negotiations on this year's Pay Claim.
The Employers' Side confirmed that they were currently unable to make an improved offer but hoped to be in a position to do so soon. The current offer of 1.22% across all SNCT pay grades, backdated to April 2021, has already been rejected by the Teachers’ Side.
The Teachers' Side made clear the frustration of members over the continued failure of their employers to make a reasonable pay offer and indicated that failure to make a substantially improved offer before the next SNCT meeting on 30 September would lead to declaration of a dispute.
The next meeting of the Extended Joint Chairs will be held in advance of the SNCT and members will be advised of progress following that meeting.