If schools are not cleaned then they will not be safe for pupils’ return in August, says EIS representative

Councillors and officials who clashed over school cleanliness.

By Bill Heaney

The EIS teaching union has warned councillors that West Dunbartonshire schools may not be clean enough to keep pupils and teachers safe from coronavirus when they reopen in August.

They have told The Democrat that they are “seriously concerned” that extensive and regular cleaning needed amid the Covid-19 pandemic will not be achieved.

The EIS local branch say council cuts, which have seen the axing of 180 cleaners over five years, has left the local authority with “insufficient resources”.

This follows claims from Labour councillor Douglas McAllister that the cleaning regime was not stepped up when the 14 school hubs opened, with cleaning only taking place once every other day.

Jim Halfpenny, of the West Dunbartonshire EIS branch, said: “Extensive and regular cleaning of schools will be absolutely crucial for the health and safety of pupils and staff.

“However, we remain seriously concerned that this will not be achieved.

“Despite the substantial efforts of West Dunbartonshire Council cleaners, whose numbers have been cut by 180 in in the last five years, they continue to work with insufficient resources.

“Incredibly, the authority is trying to assess how they can divert resources from other areas of the council to the schools.

“In the midst of this pandemic we appear to be running out of time.”

Ex-Provost McAllister fed back the union’s comments to a full council meeting last week d when the Labour group called for a number of measures to be implemented across schools in August, including enhanced cleaning, which was rejected by the SNP, who said they were already in place.

SNP’s Caroline McAllister said: “I’m left wondering, have Labour been asleep for the past three months? The demands made in this motion are already in place.”

Cllr Douglas McAllister told her: “I contacted the EIS a fortnight ago because I wanted to hear directly from them their concerns in relation to their members and their concerns on the return to school.

“The EIS advised me that they could see no evidence whatsoever of any increase to the cleaning regime, no increase in the resources allocated to the cleaning regime and the existing regime of cleaning schools every other day would remain the position in the hub schools and that has been the position.

“The EIS informed me that they had made practical requests coming from their members for returning to school, such as pedal bins you didn’t need to touch, hand held temperature devices to test people when they are coming into school and additional PPE equipment for staff.

“There had been no additional cleaning and certainly no additional cleaning in the staff rooms.

“They said in their opinion education is trying really hard to help them with existing resources but it doesn’t appear to be nearly enough.”

He also raised worries over a lack of Scottish Government education funding, saying the council’s finance chief had confirmed no extra cash had been allocated.

Council leader Jonathan McColl said there was plenty of time for chiefs to put in necessary measures before August and said the comments were out of order.

He said: “Cleaning in hubs has been absolutely excellent. We have not had any issues in our hubs with the cleaning regime.

“When we were talking about going back with a blended learning situation, the plan was to implement the cleaning in the hubs, which has been successful for the lower number of pupils.

“Now that is being re-evaluated and the fact that you think our chief education officer [Laura Mason] wouldn’t re-evaluate based on what is now going to happen is disgraceful.

“They have seven weeks to do so. Give them the time to do their job. Don’t jump down their throats.”

An SNP amendment tabled by Councillor Karen Conaghan, which promised to “continue to work in partnership with the trade unions and Scottish Government to ensure a safe working environment for all pupils and staff”, received a majority vote.

A council spokeswoman said: “The health and safety of our young people and employees is always our top priority.

“As part of our recovery planning for the reopening of schools and early learning centres we are reviewing cleaning arrangements for August and beyond.

“This will include refocusing our resources on daily cleaning of key areas within these buildings.”

LATE NEWS: There is growing speculation that St Martin’s Primary School in Renton which has been earmarked for closure may open again in August. A council insider told The Democrat that there is spare classroom capacity at St Martin’s which could help with social distancing problems. West Dunbartonshire Council, which has plans to move the St Martin’s pupils to a refurbished St Mary’s PS in Alexandria,  refused to comment.

One comment

  1. Jim Halfpenny and the EIS are coming across as playing political games. But it takes two to tango.

    Meanwhile, for others, its unbelievable that their only focus is to get the shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs back to business. Indeed , that’s another political football when you look at the red faced Jackson Carlaw braying at First Minister for holding business back and not removing restrictions like in England. The virus must have gone away -eh Jackson?

    Otherwise, good idea to be thinking about bringing mothballed St Martin’s back into use. Quite why it’s taken so long to think about things like this, one can only wonder. But when they get round to it, maybe we’ll find out sometime what the plans are.

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