The EIS has announced that an increasing number of its local associations are now moving towards balloting members on disputes with local authorities over school COVID-19 safety.

At present, six EIS local associations are moving to ballot members with at least four others currently considering whether to take this step towards a formal dispute with employers.

The EIS had called for a move to teaching and learning via remote online platforms for the pre and post-Christmas period, in the interests of minimising infection risk and protecting the health and wellbeing of students, teachers and their families over the festive season. Despite broad support from many parents, teachers and others this call was flatly rejected by the Scottish Government, which has pledged to keep school buildings open at all costs right up to Christmas.

Following this rejection by the Scottish Government, EIS local associations called on local authorities to utilise their devolved powers to move to remote learning platforms around the festive season. Subsequently, these pleas have been rejected by local authorities, with many councils citing a recent letter from the Scottish Government which urged them not to utilise their devolved authority to move schools to remote learning.

Today (Sunday), the EIS has also released its latest themed briefing, based on teacher comments in a recent national survey. The briefing highlights teachers’ views on the importance of moving to remote learning around the festive period, as a means to protect staff, students and their families. The key issues highlighted include:

  • Teachers believe that moving to blended or remote learning would help reduce infection spread in the new year

  • Teachers are concerned about being able to safely mix with family during the holidays, without having the ability to isolate for 5 days beforehand

  • There are concerns that with schools remaining open full time, right up until the 23rd December in some areas, many school staff will have to work over the Christmas period to ensure the track and trace policies are enacted – a fact that was confirmed by the National Clinical Director earlier this week.

  • A small adjustment in the final few days of term would make an immeasurable difference to staff and pupil wellbeing.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “The Scottish Government and local authorities seem determined to keep schools physically open, at all costs, right up to Christmas. Scotland’s teachers are clear that this will present a very real risk to their health, their pupils’ health and the health of their families by increasing the risk of COVID-19 spreading through family festive gatherings. Making a very slight change to arrangements around the holiday period, by allowing teachers and students to work remotely from home for a few days, would significantly reduce the risk of pupils or staff taking the virus into their family groups in the festive period.”

Mr Flanagan continued, “It was extremely disappointing when the Scottish Government rejected calls from teachers, and many parents, for schools to move to remote learning to protect families over the festive season. It is quite incredible that the Scottish Government has then placed pressure on local authorities not to use their devolved authority over education to move schools to remote learning in the run up to Christmas.”

Mr Flanagan added, “The number of EIS local associations moving to consultative ballots, together with the number still considering this action, is a clear indicator of the strength of feeling amongst teachers. Scotland’s teachers see governments in other countries increasingly taking steps to close school buildings early and move to remote learning in order to protect families over Christmas – this raises the question of why the Scottish Government apparently values its teachers less than governments in England, or Wales, or Sweden or Germany value theirs.”

The briefing paper, published today, focuses on teacher comments on the value of moving to blended or remote learning. One teacher said, ““It was with disappointment that I heard that the Scottish Government chose not to allow schools to move to a blended model for the 21st and 22nd December and while I welcomed the relaxing of lockdown tiers over the Christmas period, in reality, for me this won't change the fact that I shouldn't visit with my 80 year-old mum and other family members who are in the vulnerable category for fear of taking the contacts of the many pupils I work with on a daily basis to them.”

Another teacher said, “I am physically and mentally exhausted at the moment and am looking forward to Christmas as a time to relax a little and recover from the stress. I am now faced with the choice, however, of seeing my family at Christmas and risking the possibility of carrying infection to them or of isolating and not seeing them. Every day I am sitting in a room with 31 upper school children and whilst measures are in place, they are at times impossible to maintain. Should I carry the virus to anyone let alone my elderly in-laws I would never be able to live with myself.”

Another teacher added, “Going to blended learning on the 18th would not have a massive impact on the education of the children... but it would have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of staff who would be able to isolate, and then confidently visit with their bubble at some point over the holiday period. It would also be considered a gesture of goodwill in a season where it is supposed to be at its most prominent.”

The EIS is continuing to urge its members to share their experiences of working in schools during the pandemic and their views on keeping school buildings open around the festive period using the hashtag #NotAtAllCosts, tagging the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in their posts.

Recently, the EIS also wrote to all Directors of Education and the Deputy First Minister, calling for an urgent rethink on their refusal to move to remote learning around the Christmas holiday period. The letters highlight the health & safety implications of the decision and note that governments in other countries are increasingly taking the decision to close their school buildings early ahead of Christmas to protect students, staff and their families.

For further information on the EIS #NotAtAllCosts campaign, visit https://www.eis.org.uk/Coronavirus/NotAtAllCosts