EDUCATION: Teachers feel that the danger to their health has been greatly ignored

Coronavirus: Christmas school holidays could be extended

West Dunbartonshire Council leaders discussing whether to standardise the holiday from December 18 to January 11

School pupils might have longer than normal Christmas holidays to look forward to.
School pupils might have longer than normal Christmas holidays to look forward to.

Council leaders are discussing whether to standardise the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11.  Return dates currently vary between local authority areas from January 5-7.

A recent survey by the EIS teachers’ union found that fewer than 1/3 of teachers in Scotland feel safe from potential Covid-19 infection in schools. The local breakdown of these figures shows that only 27% of teachers in West Dunbartonshire feel safe.

Dunbartonshire EIS rep James Halfpenny, pictured left,  said: “This cannot come as a surprise to anyone as infections and self isolation among pupils and staff continues to rise in our schools.

“While teachers want schools to remain open, 85% indicate that, at Level 4, we should move to Blended Learning or Remote Learning. This demand rises to 88% among teachers in West Dunbartonshire.

“At Level 3 the demand for Blended Learning or Remote Learning among teachers is 66% nationally and over 70% in West Dunbartonshire.

“Teachers feel that the danger to their health has been greatly ignored and concerns have been ‘swept under the carpet’.

“This has generated an anger which has been reflected in the survey with 66% prepared to take industrial action if schools don’t move to Blended Learning or Remote Learning in Level 4 high risk areas.

“This support for industrial action including strike action at Level 4 rises to 70% among teachers in West Dunbartonshire.

“There is serious concern among teachers that the 5 day relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period will result in a further spike in infections when schools reopen increasing the danger to themselves and their families.”

The government states that the proposal has been designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 after families gather for Christmas. Three households will be allowed to form a ‘bubble’ and spend time indoors together between December 23-27.

Discussions were also held on Thursday, with the proposals leaked to the Daily Record newspaper.

An alternative plan would see remote learning reintroduced for a few days until schools return.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman, pictured right, who confirmed Scotland has recorded 37 deaths and 969 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, spoke about the proposals at the briefing on Friday.

She said the education recovery group’s discussions were focused on maintaining the Scottish Government’s commitment to keep schools open, “so that our young people can have the opportunity to learn and be part of normal school education.”

Freeman added: “Now, that recovery group has been working all through the summer to give us the best advice they can about how to ensure we can keep schools open.

“They looked at the end of the summer holiday period, the return of school, the lessons we have learned from that and what more we can do and they’re obviously looking at how we enter the festive period and the school holidays and how we return to school at the end of that holiday period.”

The Scottish Conservatives said various measures should be taken before the school holidays are extended.

Shadow education secretary Jamie Greene ]said:  “We want young people to grow up to have the best careers possible and any further watering down of their class time must be properly catered for at home.

“Every child should have access to proper IT equipment and learning materials to ensure they don’t fall behind with their studies.

“We should not underestimate the enormous pressure an extended Christmas break would put on countless working parents and every effort should be made to support them.

Schools returned in August, following a closure which saw pupils sent home in March as the country locked down in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Other than occasional temporary closures to deal with outbreaks, schools have remained open with mitigating measures in place.

These include the use of face coverings among staff when social distancing is not possible and among S4-S6 pupils in level three and four areas.

Earlier this month, the NASUWT teaching union said smaller class sizes and blended learning should be considered for the areas in level four.

However, education secretary John Swinney, pictured left,  said schools are “not a significant area of transmission” in response to the request.

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