Potential for another tragic outbreak

By Jim Halfpenny of the EIS teacher’s union

It has been a clear political ambition of the Scottish Government to reopen schools since its chaotic unilateral switch from blended learning to full pupil return shortly before the end of last term .

The final decision on this was based on a perception that the virus has been suppressed.

However, many teachers, parents and students will be nervous about schools reopening, especially those who have been in vulnerable categories over the past few months.

The decision by the Scottish Government to remove the need for social distancing between pupils yet require staff to keep 2 metres distance from pupils and other adults is nonsense and creates an impossible situation which will concern everyone involved.

Two-metre distancing has significant implications for staff rooms and bases, -which the scientists suggest are potentially locations where risk of transmission could be greatest.

While the Government believes that physical distancing among younger pupils is not required, for which there is no conclusive proof, they admit that the scientific evidence for secondary pupils, many of whom are young adults, is even less clear.

In these circumstances, effective implementation of the health and safety guidelines is absolutely critical as a first step for schools in fighting this disease.

We will expect revised risk assessments, additional Health and Safety training, bespoke risk assessments for vulnerable groups, and active monitoring of these Government Guidelines.

Social distancing can only be improved through smaller class sizes and the employment of more additional staff.

Smaller classes not only assist with pupil physical distancing but in terms of education recovery, they would facilitate much greater individual support to pupils who, we know, will have suffered emotionally as well as educationally as a result of lockdown.

Staff must have access to testing without requiring to be displaying symptoms as we believe this would be an added reassurance to members around personal health.

The grave mistake by Councils overseeing Care Homes, which led to many avoidable deaths, was the decision not to supply appropriate protective equipment to care workers where there was no obvious signs of the virus in their workplace.

No obvious sign of the virus, as the Local Authority Trade Unions argued, did not mean that it was not there and infecting all those who came into contact with it.

The potential for another tragic outbreak, this time in schools, will occupy the minds of pupils, parents and teachers over the coming weeks.

Clearly there needs to be a high level of surveillance and monitoring within the community, within specific schools and, in particular, of staff.

Scientists are warning that the UK’s current test and trace systems are not performing well enough to prevent a second wave of the virus once all schools are open.

The only certainty is that we don’t know how all this will work out. We are in the midst of an experiment by the Scottish Government. An experiment that could go wrong. We will return not with the usual hope and excitement of a new school year but with our fingers crossed.


Willie Campbell wants more detail

Democrat reader Willie Campbell asks: I’d be interested to see more detail on yesterday’s downgrading of results particularly for pupils in poorer communities. We know the first minister has justified it on the grounds that pupils in such schools don’t perform so well, and she and the SQA have joined hands in impugning the integrity of teachers in these schools.

As the SQA haven’t taken account of any work submitted, presumably it has all been done by statistical manipulation. Is there anyone out there who can tell me…

In schools which have been deemed overly generous in their estimates, has the whole cohort lost out across the board?

Has it been on a subject by subject basis? Does any account seem to have been taken of individual Higher students Nat 5 results? I’ve read about a reliably straight A student from a poor area who had the temerity to be working towards a career in medicine, marked down because youngsters from her area don’t excel in that way. The damage done to some young lives is incalculable and inexcusable. It mustn’t be allowed to stand.

Additionally, we should by now be in the fourth year of Pupil Equity Funds, the Scottish government’s chosen instrument to deal with the attainment gap. If schools have been spending this effectively we should by now be seeing some impact on outcomes. Doubtless some will have come closer to finding a magic bullet than others, with teachers in these schools able to project a step change in pupils’ results. Presumably the rug has been pulled from under them as a step change in an individual school would be a statistical anomaly.

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