Fewer than a third of teachers feel safe from Covid in schools, according to a survey carried out by Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS.
It would like to see a move to blended learning in level four areas.
It asked its members how concerned they were about schools remaining open, and asked teachers about a possible ballot on industrial action.
But the Scottish government has said extensive guidance is in place to reduce the risk of Covid in schools
It comes as schools returned for the first time since more than two million people across Scotland were placed in level four Covid restrictions.
How safe do teachers feel?
The EIS asked teachers across Scotland about how safe they felt at work with the measures that were currently in place. Their survey found that:
- Fewer than a third indicated that they felt safe (26%) or very safe (5%).
- And while nearly two thirds said they either supported or fully supported the Scottish government’s decision to prioritise keeping schools open, half of teachers surveyed (51%) said they thought remote learning should be introduced in level four areas on safety grounds.
- Just over a third (34%) said they supported a move to blended learning in level four areas – where pupils are in school part of the week and learn from home part of the week – and just over a tenth (11%) said they wanted to maintain the current arrangements but with additional safety measures in place.
- At level three, 86% of teachers said they wanted schools to stay open. However, just under half (48%) said they thought they should remain open under a blended learning model to allow for social distancing.
- Two thirds (66%) of teachers would support industrial action as a protest at not moving to blended or remote learning in level four areas.
- A third of those who responded indicated that they were vulnerable (9%) or were living with or caring for someone who was (24%).
But the Scottish government said the evidence to date was clearly in favour of children attending schools in person where safe to do so.
‘No evidence’ transmission in schools drives up infection
Last week, the Scottish government said the latest evidence pointed to “no current direct evidence” that transmission within schools plays a significant role in driving increased rates of infection among children – but neither is there evidence to suggest otherwise.
It said it was difficult to separate the risk from infection as a result of behaviour outside school and from in-school contacts.
The paper also said that positivity rate among teachers was between 3% and 7%, the same as other worker groups.
Education Secretary John Swinney said: “I am concerned that some of those teachers responding to the survey say they do not feel safe in school – we need to do more to ensure everybody feels safe.
“On testing, we have already put in place arrangements to allow members of school staff who are concerned to get a test whether or not they have symptoms.
“We are making plans, informed by clinical advice, to build on that which will potentially include piloting and rolling out in-school rapid testing of staff.”
He added that extensive guidance was in place to reduce the risk of Covid in schools, and that enhanced risk mitigations were in place in level three and level four areas to protect clinically vulnerable staff and pupils.
Parents group Us For Them Scotland has called for the government to keep schools open – even in level four areas.
“We know there are influential groups who’ve wanted schools shut right from the start, and now strike action is being used as another tactic to force this through,” organiser Jo Bisset said last week.
“All of this serves to damage the wellbeing and prospects of children.”
‘Do you think it’s safe to be here?’ – One teacher’s worries
“I really don’t know many teachers who want to close schools, but increasingly we’re asking each other: ‘Do you think it’s safe to be here?’,” one teacher – who asked to remain anonymous – told BBC Scotland.
He said there had been “a lot of tears” from colleagues who were anxious to be at work.
In his school, which is in a level four area, several teachers have lost loved ones to Covid.
The teacher said now was the time to move to blended learning – “we worked so hard planning for it, now is the opportunity. Teachers are still in every day, it’s not that we want to close the schools. We just want to be safe,” he said.
He added that some children were now into their third period of isolating since the summer, yet teachers were hardly being told to isolate at all.
He said teachers were angered by claims that transmission rates were not increased in schools.
These claims were “patronising” given how “blatant” it was that transmission was occurring, he added.
EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said a significant number of teachers did not feel safe under existing arrangements.
“This feeling of being at risk is particularly heightened for teachers in secondary schools, for teachers in higher risk areas under level three or level four restrictions, and for teachers in vulnerable groups or who live with or provide care for vulnerable family members,” he said.
Mr Flanagan added that there was “clear support for moving to industrial action in higher risk areas”.
The EIS union said one teacher said pupils were not wearing face coverings as recommended, and that social distancing between pupils was impossible, causing teachers unsustainable stress.
Another said that authorities were “secretive” about the prevalence of the virus.
Teachers should be prioritised when a Covid vaccine becomes available, according to a third teacher.