Scottish teachers say social distancing 'often impossible' in classrooms

Scotland's teachers have raised widespread concerns over Covid-19 safety in classrooms, with fears over a lack of social distancing, ventilation and even accurate recording of cases.

Scotland's schools returned in August
Scotland's schools returned in August

A survey of almost 19,000 teachers by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) found many feel "unsafe" in classrooms and the Scottish Government has failed in its "duty of care" to education staff and pupils.

Two briefing papers released by the union today after surveys with teachers in primary and secondary schools finds commons concerns across both sectors over the safety of classrooms for staff and pupils.

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The union has been demanding that schools shift to "blended learning" or even remote learning in worst-hit areas, but Nicola Sturgeon has insisted schools must stay open.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Scotland’s teachers are working in environments that many do not believe to be safe enough and this is having a serious impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

"Our members want to be in schools working with pupils, but they also want pupils and staff to be safe. The Scottish Government’s rejection of remote or blended learning for schools in areas with high rates of infection has increased the level of risk for pupils, teachers and their families.

"It is time for the Scottish Government to rethink this damaging policy, with the danger of increasing rates of community infection throughout the winter months.”

The surveys find social distancing is "often impossible" in many classrooms, with ventilation also a real problem as teachers are often forced to choose between "good ventilation or a warm classroom environment”.

Primary teachers also say they feel "unsafe" and want stronger mitigations, including a move to blended learning in hotspot areas.

Secondary teachers say face masks are not being worn consistently - and even when they are, teachers do not feel they go far enough to keep schools safe.

Some teachers even warned the number of cases in schools is not being recorded accurately.

Among the comments in survey, one teacher stated: “At the moment I feel very unsafe in my place of work."

Another criticised the approach of ministers, claiming: “I feel the Scottish Government and local authority have failed in their duty of care.

"I am currently ill with the worsening of my heart condition, which has been caused by their negligence. It is shameful that the Scottish Government refuse to implement temperature checks, smaller classes and bubbles, social distancing between pupils, masks for all, proper ventilation, and routine testing to identify asymptomatic pupils and staff.”

Another added: “It is a pretence to say that Covid protections are fully in place. Many senior students do not wear masks and we often end up herded together in pinch points like corridors as students travel from one class to another.”

The profession is not being properly valued, another added.

“I believe my council - and indeed government - have failed to protect frontline teaching staff,” they said.

“We are seen as expendable. We are teaching so, so close to pupils of all year groups, with no social distancing and no protection - except a simple mask when present with upper school pupils.”

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