Coronavirus: Education staff fear return to school, survey finds

Jon Sharman
AFP via Getty

Thousands of education workers fear the consequences of returning to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, a survey has found.

The research by Unison found that 83 per cent of 5,000 staff in Scotland were worried about going back to work or increasing the number of children returning to classrooms. The union called on Nicola Sturgeon‘s government – which recently set out a lockdown-easing roadmap – to create guidance for teachers on using PPE and other issues.

Just 3 per cent of respondents to the survey, carried out between 18 and 22 May, believed it was currently safe to return. Thirteen per cent said they were losing sleep because of the thought of it.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced at Sunday’s coronavirus press briefing that schools in England would reopen from 1 June to early years, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children. Under Ms Sturgeon’s plan, Scottish schools will follow from 11 August.

Lorraine Thomson, chairwoman of Unison’s Scotland education issues group, said: “Unison’s survey shows the vast majority of education staff are anxious about plans for more children to return to schools and nurseries. Before they return we need clear guidance about how we keep children and staff safe.

“We need clarity about infection control and appropriate PPE. And all staff need full training on how to implement new rules and how to use PPE.

“A lot more work needs to be done to ensure safe return. The Scottish government and Cosla [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] must work with Unison to develop guidance, implement new rules and undertake risk assessments. We cannot send more children back to school until we all know it is safe for them and all staff.”

The trade union’s survey was divided between early years workers (48 per cent), staff in primary schools (33 per cent) and secondary schools (13 per cent) along with others working in community roles.

Other findings suggested that only 10 per cent had had training on Covid-19 health and safety measures including infection control, correct use of PPE or carrying out a virus-related risk assessment.

Nearly half (46 per cent) did not feel they had enough PPE, while 42 per cent did not know what they should have. However, 12 per cent felt there was enough PPE.

A quarter (25 per cent) were not aware of any risk assessments having taken place, while 27 per cent knew they had taken place, but were not confident that action has been taken to respond to issues raised.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart, said: “Opening schools and childcare is the most important step in getting society and the economy back up and running. It is important that Scottish ministers make sure all staff, not just teachers, have the time, the training and the equipment to do this safely.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Our overriding priority is ensuring the health and wellbeing of our pupils and staff and giving parents the confidence schools are safe.

“We will implement physical distancing, staggered arrival and departure times, staggered break times, increased hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning regimes and a range of other measures, including PPE and training for staff.

“Comprehensive health and safety guidance will also be in place prior to staff returning to school.

“The education recovery group, chaired by the deputy first minister, continues to work with representatives of local authorities, parents, teachers’ organisations and trades unions on how we manage the safe reopening of schools.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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