Created on: 10 Dec 2020
Please find below an e-mail below that was sent to Derek Brown, Executive Director for Education and Families on Monday regarding the DFM’s decision not to make any changes to the dates of the school holidays.
A copy of this was sent to your EIS Representative but I copy for your information.
I am writing to you regarding the Deputy First Minister’s decision on Thursday to the Education and Skills Committee of the Scottish Parliament not to make any change to the dates of the school holidays.
However, this was conditional on school staff being enabled to have a proper break over the festive period, and their wellbeing being given due attention.
Des Murray, Chief Executive reflects the views of everyone when he says to staff, “This has been a year like no other in living memory. Your ongoing resilience in the weeks and months ahead will be critical to North Lanarkshire’s recovery.”
That resilience has been tested to breaking point in many schools as staff have been working under the most stressful of circumstances in the presence of a very dangerous and infectious disease. Teachers have been doing their utmost to keep their pupils, themselves and their own families safe whilst delivering learning; maintaining health and safety mitigations; ensuring hygiene and cleaning measures are on-going in classes; supervising children constantly to ensure social distancing is adhered to and that BGE and senior pupils do not mix out with their segregation areas. These arrangements have been every school day since August 11th, in addition to the job of teaching in a very restrictive environment due to mitigations in place to stop transmission of the virus.
The Scottish Government’s advice to work from home wherever possible has helped to reduce transmission and enabled schools to remain open. Teachers have not been afforded this opportunity to work from home since they have been identified as frontline keyworkers in delivering essential educational services. Teachers have been supportive of the Scottish Government’s decision to prioritise keeping schools open despite the higher risk of being in a position of contracting the virus through raised exposure as individuals commute back and forth into schools from different communities.
This year, schools will close for the holidays on Tuesday 22nd December with Christmas Day on Friday. In essence, this will leave Wednesday and Thursday to join loved ones over the Christmas period. If a school has a symptomatic COVID 19 case on Monday or Tuesday, it is possible that that both staff and pupils would already be in their holiday bubble when identified as a close contact and the associated risks that that would bring to a vulnerable person in that group.
One teacher said, “We just want to be able to see our families safely in the knowledge that we are not putting them at risk.”
If a person then tests positive on Christmas Day or later in their bubble then all those individuals within that bubble will need to self isolate. This will certainly not “avoid families being disturbed on or around Christmas day due to any outbreaks which may involve a school prior to the start of the holiday period.”
Current arrangements for positive cases in schools rely on SLT working through risk assessments to identify close contacts on behalf of Public Health and managing all of the mitigation measures mentioned earlier. This has added a huge additional workload burden which frequently interrupts weekend and evenings, over and above their already demanding duties. Unless alternative arrangements are in place then SLT are likely to be involved in this process over the holiday period.
The Deputy First Minister’s states;
“In considering local arrangements, it will be vitally important that every effort is made to ensure that senior leadership teams and school staff get a proper break, and that the likelihood of staff being required to support contact tracing activities over the holiday period is minimised.”
The EIS would seek that such duties are removed from SLTs over the holiday period.
At a time when the Government has put in place arrangements to form a bubble over Christmas it is clear that the advice to limit your social contact with others as far as you can before and after forming a bubble to minimise transmission risks and to protect your loved ones will potentially exclude teachers from meeting family at this time.
The Scottish Government’s decision also significantly increases the risk of pupils and staff taking the virus into their homes, or into the homes of potentially vulnerable family members, during the festive period.
North Lanarkshire Council has praised the efforts of school staff at this hugely difficult time and to avoid those words becoming hollow praise we are seeking that school buildings close on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd December and that the education of pupils is delivered via remote learning. Teachers are not asking for extra holidays as has been falsely claimed elsewhere; we are asking to protect teachers, pupils and their families over the festive break.
North Lanarkshire Council is risking what little goodwill remains amongst a teaching profession that has been worn down to the point of physical and mental exhaustion over this past year. As it stands on the 1st December the number of pupils not in school because of a COVID-19 related reason in North Lanarkshire was 2376 and the number of staff having COVID-19 or self isolating is 170 staff. If these numbers are repeated the week beginning 21st December then there will be a considerable number of staff, pupils and their families being unable to enjoy the festive period due to the Council’s decision not to move to remote learning on the Monday and Tuesday of the last week of term.
There is an opportunity for North Lanarkshire Council to show that they do indeed value the extraordinary efforts of staff in schools by ensuring they are able to spend time with their family knowing that their employer has listened to and done everything they could to avoid the risk of passing on the virus to their loved ones. By all accounts, North Lanarkshire Council still faces some very difficult months ahead before the large-scale deployment of vaccines. Being listened to and valued now will go a long way in contributing to the resilience that will be needed in the months to come.
I look forward to your response.
Colin Glover Ian Scott
LA President LA Secretary