Who’d be a school teacher? The job sounds stressful enough at the best of times, but in the current context it must be very difficult indeed. Teaching classrooms full of masked secondary school students, not knowing from one day to the next whether students will be in class or at home isolating, all while worrying about your own health. I don’t envy them and neither would I blame them in the slightest if they decide to pursue a safety strike, as they are currently being consulted on by the EIS union, as they have legitimate reasons to be concerned that not enough is being done to protect them.
There is no routine testing of teachers or students, and the data suggests there’s a good chance that covid-19 is circulating more in schools and childcare centres than in any other single work environment. Public Health Scotland figures for the week ending 15 November puts ‘attending childcare, school, educational’ at the top of a list of work/education environments where those who have tested positive with covid-19 have been to, above ‘health care’ in second. The Scottish Government say there is no evidence that schools are centres of infection, and of course we don’t know exactly if the pupils, teachers and school staff members actually caught covid-19 at school or somewhere else, but those figures paint a pretty clear picture.
The multiple reports of teachers being told to downplay close contacts in school following a positive case or even turn off or ignore their Protect Scotland app suggests intense management pressure upon teachers to take risks that no one should be asked to take. Even teachers with acute health problems are being pushed to work.
“More than a thousand teachers have had requests to work from home rejected and I’ve been contacted by dozens with vastly reduced lung capacity, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with heart conditions and severe asthma who have all been told that they must attend in person,” Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP writes in The National today.
Teaching unions called for 3500 additional staff in the summer, but only 1400 have been recruited. Given there are 339 secondary schools, that’s just over three additional staff members per secondary school. The Scottish Government has not put the significant investment needed into making the full return to school – a decision Education Secretary John Swinney flipped on after initially advocating a blended learning approach – as safe as possible.
In Spain and France, safety strikes by teachers over covid-19 have already happened, and pushed governments into action. Strikes have an uncanny ability to focus the minds’ of ministers. A 30,000 strong teacher demonstration and the threat of industrial action over pay in March 2019 pressured Swinney into agreeing a substantial wage increase of 13.5 per cent over three years. Teachers have power, if they want to use it.
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