Concerns over Scots schools in level 4 staying open

Concerns have been raised over the decision for schools to remain open in areas where Level 4 restrictions will come into effect from Friday evening.

There are concerns about schools remaining open in level 4 areas
There are concerns about schools remaining open in level 4 areas

Concerns have been raised over the decision for schools to remain open in areas where Level 4 restrictions will come into effect from Friday evening.

Despite non-essential shops being forced to close and a non-essential travel ban becoming law for these 11 council areas, Nicola Sturgeon has maintained the position that schools will remain open for the three weeks restrictions are in place.

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The First Minister announced the weekly review decision on Tuesday - affecting areas mostly in the west of Scotland - with restrictions in force from 6pm on Friday until December 11.

In response to the news, the NASUWT teaching union said blended learning - where pupils learn at home and school - should be used to help protect pupils and staff.

NASUWT national official for Scotland Jane Peckham said: "The First Minister has said that pupils who are extremely clinically vulnerable should not attend school, but only that adults in Level 4 areas who are clinically extremely vulnerable will receive further advice and will not automatically be exempted from attending their workplace.

"Given the risks, the NASUWT believes that all clinically vulnerable teachers in Level 4 areas should be advised to work from home.

"Serious concerns also remain about the risks to other groups of teachers working in Level 4 areas who are vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission, including those who are pregnant, those who have other underlying health conditions or disabilities or who are from higher risk groups such as BAME teachers.

"Ministers now need to go further and issue more robust measures to protect all staff, including those who fall into these higher risk categories and who should also be receiving additional protection."

The calls to protect staff and move to a model of blended learning were echoed by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) general secretary Larry Flanagan.

He said: "The EIS is clear that, in areas that are now at Level 4, the current policy of keeping schools operating as normal on a full-time basis is at odds with delivering effective virus suppression.

"It is not only about the safety of schools themselves, it's about the role of schools in terms of local community transmission.

"It's difficult to imagine somewhere with more social mixing than schools and pupils and staff then go back into their communities and their homes and families.

"We have been repeatedly told at CERG (Covid Education Recovery Group) that blended and remote learning remain active contingencies, but the First Minister appears to be ruling them out entirely, even at Level 4.

"Teachers understand the importance of schools to the lives of young people and would wish to see schools open but not at any cost - safety and Covid security need to be guiding concerns also."

FBU Scotland regional secretary Denise Christie warned staff do not feel safe with shortages in some areas where the restrictions will be enforced.

Speaking at the STUC annual congress on Tuesday, she said: "We remain enormously concerned at the insistence from government, that even at Level 4 schools must remain open - school closures can contribute to virus suppression in local areas, so that Level 4 is effective and not a prelude to complete lockdown.

"The decision to open up universities and college proved to be a disaster... the truth is that we are now reaching - in Level 4 areas - a situation where neither the objective of protecting public health, nor the aim of providing the best possible educational experience for our children is being achieved.

"In truth, we have schools in areas such as Glasgow and Clyde which are riven by staff shortages and by massive numbers of self-isolating pupils.

"We know from union surveys that cleaners, caterers, and support staff do not feel safe or equipped.

"The result is that, even for those able to attend classes, the normal educational experience is enormously compromised with mixed classes and a shortage of staff.

"The move to tier 4 will inevitably further heighten concerns over school safety and we call on the Scottish Government to consider a temporary return to blended, online or distance learning."