EDUCATION: It is essential that any new body is accountable to the profession

By James Halfpenny

The EIS welcomes the announcement that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to be scrapped and replaced with a new body. This decision had followed the publication of the OECD Review of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which identified a ‘disconnect’ between the core aims of CfE and Scotland’s qualifications system.

We believe it is essential that any new body is accountable to the profession through a model of governance based on educational, rather than political, considerations and with a teacher voice at its heart.

The OECD report confirms what the EIS has been saying for a number of years, that there is massive assessment overload in the senior phase, which squeezes out the time needed for both depth and breadth of learning – two of CfE’s big ambitions.

This overload is also the driver of excessive workload, and that has been exposed clearly during the pandemic while the Government’s focus on Standardised National Assessments has been a monumental distraction with little impact other than adding to the bureaucracy that bedevils teachers’ working lives.”

As pupils and school staff return the Scottish Government has made it clear that mitigations set out in their guidance to protect from this Covid-19 virus should be strictly adhered to in schools and ELCs. However, staff will tell you that there has previously been regular flouting of these guidelines by some, particularly with regard to social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) advice on Mitigations to Reduce Transmission of the New Variant SARS-CoV-2 Virus concluded that a step change in the rigour of application of mitigations is required, given the increased transmission risk associated with the new variant.

Teachers will expect schools and ELC settings to place a high priority on mitigations designed to maximise safety and reduce risks for children, young people and staff.

Updated risk assessments must be carried out, in conjunction with the EIS and other trade unions, to strictly observe these mitigations. These risk assessments should be shared with and be easily accessible to staff.

Quick and decisive action should be taken when positive cases are identified among children, young people and staff.

In the two weeks prior to closing in June there was a total number of

78 positive cases in schools and ELCs and 1409 individuals self-isolating.

While Local Councils across the country continue to deliberate on when it will be safe enough to reopen their offices to their employees and the public they continue to expect up to thirty five pupils and school staff to work happily in a classroom.

It is not acceptable that children and staff continue to be used as some kind of experiment for the rest of society.

On their return, teachers will expect enhanced environmental cleaning

with regular health and safety checks of the school estate, including water quality sampling for legionella and other bacteria.

This enhanced environmental cleaning regime must be in place before the schools and ELCs open in order to tackle this new and highly contagious Delta variant and any future mutations.

In particular, West Dunbartonshire Council must ensure regular and enhanced detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are in place.

There should also be more frequent cleaning of rooms/areas that are used by different groups, including staff (e.g. classrooms, toilet blocks, changing rooms and staff areas).

Careful consideration should be given to a greatly enhanced cleaning regime for specialist equipment (e.g. in practical subjects or for children with additional support needs), sensory rooms, practical subjects with specialist equipment and dining halls, etc. to ensure safe use.

The latest scientific advice identifies that ventilation is an important factor in mitigating against the risk of aerosol transmission.

There is, therefore, a need for an appropriate supply of fresh air to assist with minimising the risk of virus infection.

The Scottish Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of  strengthening the guidance around ventilation and the additional funding to close any gaps in this provision is a significant improvement to the current mitigations.

After a request from the EIS for every school in West Dunbartonshire to have a CO2 monitor, which can help identify areas with poor ventilation, the Council has purchased seven monitors. How effective this will be, considering there are forty schools, remains to be seen.

The completion of vaccination programmes for all school staff is vital and the EIS believes that voluntary vaccination of 12 – 17 year-olds would be sensible and may go some way towards making schools safer places and help to address the anxieties of many young people.

  • James Halfpenny is an official of the EIS teaching union.

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