Created on: 23 Mar 2020 | Last modified: 02 Sep 2020
Apologies for interrupting your weekend but it is important that this update is issued.
We had planned to issue this on Friday afternoon but unfortunately we are once again struggling to get agreement from COSLA (our Employers) for a Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) Circular which could give national advice – we will pursue this further next week but in the meantime here are some guiding principles which we believe should be adhered to by all employers and for your use as members.
Irrespective of what sector you work in, if you are already self-isolating as a result of pregnancy, underlying health conditions or caring responsibilities for others with such conditions; or are following NHS advice in relation to displaying possible symptoms of COVID 19 or having been in close contact with those doing so, especially members of the same household, – you should continue to work remotely and should not be attending your workplace.
If there is any grey area, err on the side of caution and advise your line manager that you will not be attending unless they can demonstrate that an appropriate risk assessment has taken place to address your issues. You should advise said person that you continue to be available to work remotely as required.
If, as a result of schools being closed, you have inescapable childcare duties, you should indicate to the school that you are unable to attend in person for that reason but that you are happy to work remotely as per the Scottish Government guidance.
Edinburgh, sensibly in our view, has no teaching staff in school this week to allow for planning to take place but other authorities have taken different positions.
Where staff have been asked to report, bearing in mind the personal advice outlined above about those who should not do so, all engagement must be on the basis of existing NHS advice around social distancing etc. and should be accompanied by appropriate risk assessments. If you have concerns you are entitled to ask the school to address them before deciding whether you are able to attend work.
I am aware that many members may be concerned because they have been asked to report to school tomorrow but are unsure as to what is planned in the short transition to remote working as a default. I am sure that these concerns are shared by all members, including our Heads and Depute who will have lead responsibilities in planning processes.
If you are in school, as soon as any necessary planning arrangements are in place, and that may be within a day, operations should revert to remote working and school closures.
There is no point being in a building simply to be in a building.
No one should feel unsafe at work and if you have concerns please raise them, so that they can be addressed.
Scottish Government Circular:
The circular issued on March 19th makes clear that the position of the Scottish Government is that schools and local authority ELC settings should have closed to children and young people on Friday 20th with the exception of any critical provision for key groups, arrangements for which should be in place by Friday 27th March:
Key Workers – local authorities are required to provide a level of access to appropriate learning and childcare to children of key workers (e.g. frontline NHS staff) to support a national response to COVID 19. Teachers will be part of that response, but not exclusively so. The level of demand is being assessed and the mechanisms are still be tested. The EIS is clear that many teachers will wish to volunteer to be part of such a response and we have said to Directors of Education that they should seek volunteers from amongst their staff to support this effort, recognising that the personal circumstances of some teachers will mean that their contributions are better focussed on maintaining the continuity of learning being sought for pupils being engaged remotely.
If demand for volunteers in any one area outstrips supply, the EIS would be happy to discuss this further but in our view a rigid rostering approach on the part of Councils is not an effective way to approach care arrangements for children, many of whom will be emotionally vulnerable, also.
The Scottish Government guidance makes clear that local LNCTs should be involved in all discussion around these arrangements. That hasn’t always been the case but we believe it must be, as basic issues need to be agreed: for example cleaning regimes in hub schools, testing of staff keeping such hubs open, operational guidelines e.g. 1 adult to 10 children ratios in a typical classroom?
If employers fail to engage, we will press for the Scottish Government to intervene where required.
Educational Continuity to ensure S4-S6 pupils can complete course work for NQs
This is causing great concern for pupils, parents and teachers. The above should not be interpreted as allowing significant numbers of pupils to attend school as normal nor should it be used to facilitate fresh “prelims” or last-minute assessments. If teachers are asked to accommodate this in school, you should refuse and indicate that you are adhering to the Scottish Government guidelines. The actual wording was intended to allow individual pupils to complete “course work” where possible. This may still be possible through pupils working remotely but some of the examples I have heard of, for example, pupils who have been self-isolating then coming into school to sit tests, are simply outrageous. I raised this issue with the Scottish Government this morning and asked that they make clearer the advice.
No one’s health should be put at risk for the sake of a piece of assessment.
The SQA will need to accept that teacher judgement linked to school based evidence will be the key yardstick for accreditation this year.
If teachers wish to generate additional evidence remotely (accepting some of the limitations which exist in such an approach), that is fine but we should not have significant cohorts of senior pupils attending over the next few weeks and schools should not plan for such.
Discussions with SQA are ongoing. We will keep you updated but my starting point is that the SQA should trust teachers’ professionalism to get everyone through the challenges.
Vulnerable Children: maintaining support for vulnerable young children is the third Scottish Government category. Schools have a part to be play here, but this category perhaps highlights why a multi-agency response is critical. Free meal entitlement, for example, is not in the gift of teachers are there are many third sector bodies who excel at supporting young people’s broader well-being.
A significant number of queries have been submitted by teachers providing supply cover. Our FAQ has made clear that we believe everyone currently doing supply should be treated as being in post and should continue to be paid accordingly. That is one of the issues we have sought to secure national agreement on.
If any local authority seeks to treat supply teachers differently, we will challenge that robustly on the part of members affected.
For those seeking supply work but not currently employed, we are looking at the income protections which the UK Government has put in place for private sector workers, particularly those in precarious employment, to see if something similar could be applied to supply teachers unable to work for the foreseeable future.
A sector specific update was issued earlier this week but suffice to say that the health advice cited above applies across all sectors, including colleges, where face-to-face teaching has ended also. I am aware the College lecturers have concerns about accreditation of awards such as HNCs and HNDs which are not covered by the current discussions with SQA on the National Qualifications. These concerns have been raised with me by the FELA Executive and the Institute will be pursuing them with the SQA (and indeed some other awarding bodies).
The principles outlined in the supply teachers’ section above, also underpin our approach to supporting Lecturer members finding themselves disadvantaged by short term contracts in that sector.
We will continue to update you as often as possible over the next few days, Colleagues, and to ensure the website and FAQS are refreshed often. We will be putting a Coronavirus Query Box on the website to try to speed up responses to questions (as direct replies to emails from me then involve a degree of sifting in order to get replies out).
Thank you for all you have been doing to support our children and young people.
My thanks also to the EIS staff and activists across the country who have been working hard on your behalf.
On Friday, I watched on the BBC news, a group of primary pupils standing as a choir in their school playground and singing “It’s a wonderful world”. Thank you to their teachers for organising that – it was both poignant and hopeful.