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Return to full-time schooling not agreed by education recovery group, EIS says

Larry Flanagan - Image credit: EIS

Return to full-time schooling not agreed by education recovery group, EIS says

The planned for pupils to return to school full time from 11 August was a “political announcement” that was not agreed with by the COVID Education Recovery Group (CERG), teaching union the EIS said.

In an update to members, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the announcement had “sparked considerable debate, anxiety, frustration, confusion and even anger amongst many members”.

He also said that “significant caution” was needed and although the union acknowledged that improved public health conditions would change the situation around how schools operate, “wishing something does not make it a reality”.

Flanagan described the change in emphasis as a “a ‘Maybes Aye; Maybes Naw’ scenario” because so much depends on what the situation is like in seven weeks’ time.

Education secretary John Swinney announced on Tuesday that all pupils would return to school full-time after the summer holidays as long as the coronavirus epidemic continued to be under control.

This was a change from the previous plan of ‘blended learning’, with pupils only in school for part of the week to allow for social distancing.

Blended learning remains the “contingency” should there be an increase in cases after coronavirus again after lockdown eases.

Swinney said: “There are now only around 2,000 infectious people in Scotland – a reduction of around 90 per cent since May.

“There has been a sustained downward trend in COVID-19 deaths. Intensive care cases now stand at a fraction of what they were.

“If we stay on this trajectory – which cannot be taken for granted – by August, the position will be even better. That is good news.

“That means we are now able to update our planning assumptions.

“If we stay on track, if we all continue to do what is right, and if we can further suppress this terrible virus, the Government believes that we should prepare for children to be able to return to school full time in August.”

The EIS has set out three ‘red lines’ that it wants to see before pupils can all return to school without two-metre social distancing in place: “demonstrable evidence” that the virus is under control, mitigation measures in place to protect teachers and pupils, and consideration of proactive testing of teachers to quickly control spread of the virus in case of outbreaks.

The union is “not convinced” that no physical distancing between pupils is safe and “absolutely certain” that physical distancing between pupils and teachers remains essential, Flanagan said.

He commented: “Clearly, if the suppression of the virus continues to be successful, public health guidance may change and this will impact on schools as well as every other aspect of society.

“It would be a grave mistake, however, to believe that the virus has gone away and therefore in the event of schools reopening more fully than currently planned, appropriate mitigations must be in place to protect staff and pupils and prevent flare-ups either in terms of localised resurgence in infection or even a full second wave.

“In terms of schools, this means looking at measures already being used elsewhere such as mandatory face coverings, protective perspex shields, proactive testing of teachers and an appropriate level of physical distancing between pupils and most certainly between pupils and staff, alongside continued protections for vulnerable groups.

“The EIS would expect these issues to be agreed within CERG before schools could reopen more fully.

He added: “A great deal of work at school level has already gone into planning for a blended learning model from August 11th, so any change to that will require time to adjust plans and conduct revised risk assessments. Again, this will need to be subject to discussion and agreement.

“Everyone wishes to see schools operate as normal, but this should be done in a way which is demonstrably safe for students and staff, which doesn't undermine public health messages, and which is done with the interest of school communities being first and foremost and not political expediency.”

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