Covid Scotland: Calls for schools to close early as teachers call for mitigations to continue

Teachers want Covid mitigations in classrooms to continue, a survey by teaching union the EIS has found, as unions urged the Scottish Government to close schools early for the festive break amid spread of the new Omicron variant.

Only six per cent of teachers who responded want to see face coverings in secondary schools removed at the present time. The majority of teachers - 55 cer cent - want to see face coverings retained throughout winter. A minority of teachers – 47 per cent - feel either ‘very safe’ or ‘somewhat safe’ in schools with the Covid mitigations currently in place.

This comes as the union urged decision-makers to consider shutting Scottish schools by Friday. While some council areas are already due to finish by the end of this week, others are set to continue until Wednesday.

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Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of EIS, warned that more schools would have to close or move to remote learning if they cannot be staffed.

Teachers want mitigations in schools to continue.

He said: “The Scottish government should consider an early Christmas closure if a firebreak is needed to fend off a new wave of infection. There is no threat to next May’s exams as yet but the situation is being monitored and discussed.”

The Scottish Government has said any school closures would be avoided when possible, however, deputy first minister John Swinney refused to rule out the possibility, saying any further measures would be agreed by Cabinet on Tuesday.

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The survey of 16,000 teachers found that around two-thirds of respondents say that regular Covid risk-assessments have been carried out by councils – although another 23 per cent don’t know if risk assessments have been carried out.

The EIS said that 30 per cent of those surveyed do not believe that their working space is well ventilated to combat risk of Covid spread. Meanwhile, a minority of respondents believes that their school has a procedure in place to raise concerns about inadequate ventilation.

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Mr Flanagan said: “It is clear from this major survey that Scotland’s teachers remain concerned about many aspects of Covid safety within schools. The emergence of new variants such as Omicron, coupled with the higher risk of illness during the Winter months, will only increase the risk of Covid infection spreading through school communities. Case numbers remain high, and we have recently seen at least one school being compelled to close its building and move to online learning as a consequence of high rates of Covid illness.

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"Teachers continue to work flat-out, in the face of the continuing Covid pandemic, to ensure a quality learning experience for young people. It is clear, however, that the threat of Covid has not gone away and, also, that teachers remain concerned about the potential risk to pupils, staff and their families. Councils, and the Scottish Government, must listen to and act upon the concerns expressed by teachers.”

In an interview yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “We may feel that we maintain education at all costs. And we want to keep in-school education because we think young people have suffered so much interruption to their education. We want to avoid that.”

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