FEWER than a third of teachers in Scotland feel safe to teach in schools – despite measures to prevent coronavirus infections – according to a new survey.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) found only 4.6% of its respondents felt very safe, while 25.9% said they felt safe in the current environment.

The teaching union says there is “clear support” to move to industrial action in higher risk areas “where teachers feel that the measures required to keep schools safe have not been delivered.”

Here is a summary of the findings:

  • 32.5% of teachers say they felt unsafe
  • 26.3% say the felt neither safe nor unsafe
  • 9.5% said they felt “very unsafe”
  • 1.2% of respondents replied: “don’t know”.

Despite these findings, almost two-thirds (64%) of teachers also told the survey they either supported (48%) or fully supported (16%) the Scottish Government decision to prioritise keeping schools open where possible.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “These survey findings confirm that the majority of Scotland’s teachers want to be in school working with pupils, and support the aim of keeping schools open where possible.

“This feeling of being at risk is particularly heightened for teachers in secondary schools, for teachers in higher risk areas under Level 3 or Level 4 restrictions, and for teachers in vulnerable groups or who live with or provide care for vulnerable family members."

Calls for industrial action

Mr Flanagan continued: “Although members hold a range of opinions on the best means of keeping pupils and teachers safe, there is clear support for moving to industrial action in higher risk areas to protest where teachers feel that the measures required to keep schools safe have not been delivered.

“The EIS has repeatedly said that schools remaining operational cannot come at the expense of teacher and pupil wellbeing.

“Just as importantly, blended and remote learning models are increasingly being adopted to stem increases in Covid community infection levels.

“For Level 4 restrictions to be as effective as we would wish them to be, short-term closure or part closure of schools need to be considered.”

Glasgow Times:

For Level 3 areas, 86% of respondents to the union’s survey had support for schools remaining open, but just under half (48%) believe this should be on a blended learning model to enable physical distancing.

And in Level 4 the majority (51%) believe remote learning should be introduced on safety grounds – however 34% support a blended approach and 11% were in favour of maintaining current arrangements with additional safety mitigations in place.

But two-thirds of respondents (66%) also indicated their willingness to support industrial action, including strike action, to protest against failure to move to blended or remote learning in Level 4 areas where staff deem it necessary.

What has the Scottish Government said?

Deputy First Minister John Swinney joined Mr Flanagan in welcoming support from the majority for keeping schools open.

The Education Secretary added: “Teachers understand the harm that closing schools in the spring had on children’s learning and wellbeing, particularly on vulnerable pupils, and the evidence to date is clearly in favour of children attending schools in person where safe to do so.

“I am concerned that some of those teachers responding to the survey say they do not feel safe in school – we need to do more to ensure everybody feels safe.

“On testing, we have already put in place arrangements to allow members of school staff who are concerned to get a test whether or not they have symptoms.

“Extensive guidance is in place to reduce the risk of Covid-19 in schools, drawing on the latest public health and scientific advice, with enhanced risk mitigations in Level 3 and Level 4 areas to protect clinically vulnerable staff and pupils.

“I am keen that we continue dialogue to ensure that we address as far as possible the anxiety that I know many school staff are feeling as we move into the winter period.

“I will continue to work with key stakeholders, including members of the Covid Education Recovery Group, to keep under close review the way in which guidance is being implemented in schools.”