Education convener Karen Conaghan, Bailie Denis Agnew and Cllr David McBride.
By Democrat reporter
The parents of schoolchildren in West Dunbartonshire – and other adults living in the same house – are anxious not just about the safety of pupils and staff but of the risk of children unwittingly becoming infected and bringing that infection home with them, according to Labour councillor David McBride.
He told the Council: “It is vital that we put in place the necessary arrangements to keep everyone safe. The way that our schools have operated will need to change to make them Covid-safe.
“These means risk assessments must be reviewed; unsafe ways of working must be changed; safe systems of work must be put in place; shared spaces must be managed and controlled to minimise risk; hand cleaning hygiene measures need to be in place; and social distancing which has become the new norm in our communities and our workplaces must also be introduced and adhered to in our schools.
“In the hierarchy of control in schools PPE must be the last resort. We must make our schools safe and our procedures safe, but we should also include a PPE strategy to ensure safety in our schools.
“Infection control measures should also be in place in our schools and these should be widely advertised to raise awareness and there should be clear written instructions for staff to follow in the event of individual displaying Covid 19 symptoms. To support all of this our schools should also have enhanced cleaning and maintenance to minimise the risk of cross contamination. The cleaning regime need to be regular and must use approved cleaning products that are effective against Covid-19.
“We need to build confidence in our arrangements in our schools to keep our people safe, so as well as managers fulfilling their role to conduct risk assessments and put in place measures to minimise risk, the trades unions must be fully involved in the process to make sure that they have a real say in making our schools safe.”
Cllr McBride added that since deprived young people have been unable to make use of online learning, they should agree that summer schools should be expanded to give these children enhanced transitions to the new term.
He moved that the Council should be encouraged by the use of telephone and online resources to support young people’s mental health during lockdown.
And that new resources for mental health in schools should be launched in the new term to deal with the anticipated increase in demand for these services in schools.
“These services should include not only counselling, but also mental health awareness for young people, families and staff, and mental health first aid training for staff,” he added.
“We all want what is best for our children and this means working together to make our schools safe not just as part of the transitions but when the whole school returns for the new academic year in August.
“This is our common endeavour and transparency and openness, about our new system of education; will help to reduce the stress, anxiety, and fear that has gripped our school communities. Any costs associated in this motion should where possible be claimed from the Scottish Government but if funding is not available should be from free reserves.”
However, the SNP refused to concur with Cllr McBride’s amendment. It is an unwritten rule in West Dunbartonshire that the Nationalists only agree with anything they put forward themselves – or by their friends in the Conservative Party.
They never, never, never agree with motions from the Labour Party councillors, not even in the middle of a crisis.
Councillor Conaghan, seconded by Bailie Denis Agnew, who is supposed to be Independent but votes constantly with the SNP to keep them in power, countered: “This Council recognises the challenges faced by every one of us due to Covid-19, in particular the challenges faced by education and recognises especially the huge impact on our children and young people.”
She spent most of her contribution thanking people rather than addressing the problems being faced by the Council under lockdown.
Cllr Conaghan said the plans currently in place would continue “to be kept up to date as we keep abreast of the scientific evidence and health guidance that may necessitate some restrictions if a second wave of uncontrolled virus occurs”.
She added: “We will continue to work in partnership with the Trade Unions and Scottish Government to ensure a safe working environment for all pupils and staff. Some of our children and young people have faced and continue to face greater challenges in their education not least through lack of access to online learning. We recognise and thank our education officers for their efforts in providing not only devices such as Chromebooks but also internet access where necessary.
“Our teachers and education officers know our young people and continue to develop individual plans to allow as much support for learning as possible for those who are in most need.”