Reopening Schools

Reopening of Schools - SSTA Advice

The SSTA has been contacted by a large number of members concerned about their safety and the arrangements for the return to schools in January following the Covid-19 statement made by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister on Saturday 19 December 2020.

The following was issued by Government on Monday 21 December - Arrangements for the phased reopening of schools in January 2021 – supplementary guidance. The guidance provides details regarding the phased start to the spring term 2021.  

This guidance supplements the existing Coronavirus: reducing risks in schools guidance, and is specifically to support schools and local authorities over the period from 21 December 2020 until 15 January 2021. The aim is for a full return to school buildings and face-to-face learning and teaching for all children on 18 January. All aspects of the existing guidance and accompanying mitigations continue to apply while schools are open.

SSTA Advice
The SSTA was not consulted on the guidance and the document stills leaves a number of concerns. The SSTA will be raising these with the Government and offers the following initial advice to all members. Please note: the rise in infections and further knowledge of the new variant may alter the arrangements and new measures may be required.

School Reopening – teachers are required to be available for work on the date the day schools were expected to open in the first week in January. The school will only be open for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. Schools should have knowledge of the numbers required to be supervised and the staff (teaching and non-teaching) required to carry out this function. These children will not be following normal lessons. Schools should seek volunteers to assist with this provision as some teachers and members of their households, may have an underlying health condition, or are a part of a vulnerable group, must be protected.

Risk Assessments must be conducted. Members must not be required to attend school if they have not been assigned a specific child caring responsibility and given advice on procedures to be followed.

In-Service Days at the start of term should be conducted remotely and should be focussed on teacher assessment following the DFM’s decision to cancel next summer examinations. This was confirmed by the DFM at a recent meeting with SSTA.

Monday 11 January - children of key workers and vulnerable pupils are to remain in school and are expected to follow their normal timetable. The remaining pupils are to stay at home and begin ‘remote learning’. This will cause a major problem for schools as teachers cannot be expected to teach pupils in school and deliver remote learning to those not in school. Additional staff will be required to achieve this expectation.

Definitions - the SSTA would like to clarify the position of the following terms:

Remote Learning is when learning continues when pupils are working from home while teachers will be working in a place of safety (at home). At this point this will be the case up to Friday 15 January 2021.

Blended Learning is when some pupils are in school whilst others are required to work from home. These were the measures prepared last summer (but not implemented) for a return to school in August.

Online Learning is another term used for remote learning and requires teachers to provide suitable work for the pupils in their own classes. The teacher will devise work including shared resources from colleagues or other professional sources for pupils to carry out the required tasks.

Live Teaching is when instructions are given by a video link. Teachers or presenters are employed, trained and have control of the medium used to provide such instructions. There is no requirement for teachers employed in schools to provide live teaching for those pupils not in the classroom.

The SSTA view is clear that there is NO requirement for teachers to be involved in live video teaching. The SSTA has a number of safety and security concerns for both pupils and teachers that have not been considered by those who promote such activity in schools. No teacher must be pressurised into providing live video teaching.

Please see SSTA Advice on Online Communication 

Supply Teachers – The SSTA expects all local authorities to honour all contracts and ensure supply teachers are paid during the coming weeks.

The SSTA will be issuing further advice in due course. Further advice on SQA procedures and the impact on Working Time Agreements will follow in January

The SSTA advice to all members at this time is:

Enjoy your Christmas break, don’t make any plans for January as guidance is likely to change again.
All teachers need and deserve a break.

All members are advised to follow SSTA on Twitter to get the latest news and advice especially over the festive period whist the SSTA Office is closed.

Members Update – Christmas Arrangements for Schools

Members Update – Christmas Arrangements for Schools – 11 December 2020

The SSTA met with John Swinney, Deputy First Minister this week and urged him to:

  • reconsider the arrangements for Secondary Schools prior to Christmas and
  • delay returning to face-face teaching in January

in order for everybody to be kept safe over the Christmas period.

This followed the SSTA letter to Local Authorities asking that schools move to ‘remote learning’ and fulfil their duty of care to keep everybody safe. Please see the SSTA letter ‘Continuing Education and Keeping People Safe at Christmas’ 

It is our understanding from a reliable source that it was a reluctance among local authorities that measures were not introduced to move to remote learning as suggested in the SSTA letter to CEOs.

The Deputy First Minister said that he was following the medical and scientific advisers and believed that pupils were safer in school than in the community. The SSTA stated our strong belief that the voice of the class teacher has not being heard. He may not be receiving the message that teachers are struggling and fearful for their families particularly at Christmas. He did accept that remote learning will be necessary in some areas and it may be appropriate in secondary schools particularly with senior pupils. The SSTA stated that, following the decision to cancel examinations in 2021, the pressure on teachers and pupils could now be reduced and allow measures to keep people safe and have a ‘real’ break at Christmas.

The DFM said he would consider our comments and would be in further discussions at the forthcoming CERG. The SSTA stated our concern that the CERG consisted mainly of policy makers and managers of the education system who do not represent and speak on behalf of teachers.

The SSTA looks forward to secondary schools been given support to move to ‘remote learning’ where both pupils and teachers work from home. An alternative would be a move to ‘blended learning’ where class sizes are reduced to allow strict physical distancing measures to be put in place with some pupils working at home. These are not ‘lockdown’ measures but measures to continue education and keep people safe.

Members Update - 1 December 2020

Examinations 2021

The SSTA has called for an early announcement as to the arrangements for the Higher and Advanced Higher examinations next summer. The assumption that the examinations should continue as normal ignores the damage that has been inflicted upon all pupils as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Teachers and pupils are under severe pressure, trying to ensure all candidates are prepared fully for the examinations next summer, whilst increasing numbers have contracted the virus or are required to isolate because of it. The continuation of the exam diet has the potential to increase the divide between the most disadvantaged and those who are not. Delaying the decision adds more stress and unnecessary pressure on those involved. A decision to focus on teacher assessment that identifies ‘quality rather than quantity’ would reduce the level of anxiety on an already distressed education system. 

Christmas Break

The decision to relax measures so that families can meet for Christmas has a number of risks that need to be managed. There have been discussions taking place around the arrangements for schools before and after Christmas. The SSTA believes a common end of term date for schools and a later return to physical schooling would be a sensible measure to protect people and control the virus. In addition, to continue education by moving to ‘remote learning’ at an earlier stage to reduce the risk both before and after Christmas would seem to be a sensible additional measure. This would not mean a return to the ‘lockdown’ measures introduced in March but a planned continuation of learning at the times when schools would be expected to be open. It has been a hard year for all so far so please remember it is essential for all staff and pupils to have a break over Christmas.

Remote Learning

Remote learning is the term being used to describe when learners and teachers are not physically present together in the traditional classroom environment. Teachers can arrange learning which is appropriate to the needs and circumstances of their learners.

Main elements of remote learning can include:

  • providing pupils with physical resources where needed such as learning materials, textbooks and digital devices
  • providing access to recorded learning sessions and tasks (such as Education Scotland and other resource providers)
  • setting learners tasks for completion and submission to / discussion with practitioners
  • engaging with pupils through email or an agreed platform
  • using the opportunity to check in, discuss and engage with pupils following a learning task, but not to deliver lessons or content 

Please note: Live teaching is a major safety and security issue and should not be taking place.

Heating and Ventilation
The regulations for heating in schools have not been changed as a consequence of the pandemic but guidance on ventilation has been added. If classrooms and other school areas do not meet the requirements then alternative arrangements need to be made and, in some instances, may lead to classes or schools being sent home. Please see the details within SSTA Heating and Ventilation Poster.

The SSTA recently arranged a number of members’ briefings that included a presentation on "Teachers’ Pensions Scheme(s) – Changes to the transitional arrangement to the 2015 schemes" by Stuart McCullough an Independent Financial Advisor. Stuart has kindly agreed for his presentation to be circulated to members, whether they were able to attend or not. Please follow the link to the Presentation 

SSTA Face Masks
You should have received an SSTA Face Mask recently from your SSTA School Representative. I would like to thank our school representatives who have carried out this task but, more importantly, for the vital work they have carried out on behalf of members during this very difficult time.

If you have not received your SSTA Face Mask please contact the SSTA Head Office

FACE COVERINGS – The Official Position

The SSTA has focussed throughout the covid-19 pandemic that safety of staff and pupils must be the first consideration. The SSTA continues to insist that all safety measures (such as face coverings, hand sanitisers/cleaning materials in all classrooms and strict physical distancing) should be in place in all schools.

There has been reluctance in some quarters to take all necessary steps to protect all staff and pupils during the course of the pandemic. As a consequence, there is much confusion as to what safety measures teachers should take whilst at work particularly in the case of face coverings. A large number of extensive documents have been issued recently and the essential documents have been added below.

The guidance on face coverings is:

Levels 0-2

  • Face coverings should be worn by adults where they cannot keep two metres from other adults and/or young people.
  • The “sustained period” 15-minute caveat no longer applies.

Levels 3-4

  • Face coverings should also be worn at all times by adults and young people in classrooms in senior phase.

At all Levels

  • face coverings should be used by adults when not working directly with young people
  • Face coverings should be worn by parents and other visitors to the school site
  • Classroom assistants and those supporting children with Additional Support Needs who work within two metres of young people should wear face coverings.

“…previous advice on face coverings in schools …should be strengthened and augmented to manage the main area of risk within schools, which is adult to adult transmission.  The advice has, therefore, been brought in line with current advice in the community, and the need for compliance should be strongly reinforced.” - COVID-19 Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues (30 October 2020) SSTA Face Covering Poster

Pupils Refusing to Wear Face Coverings
The SSTA still has a major concern that schools have been placed in an impossible position when pupils refuse to wear face coverings. A large number of members have reported the difficulties the non-compliance of pupils is causing in schools. The SSTA has written to the Deputy First Minister seeking that schools must be fully supported in taking action to ensure full compliance of safety measures in schools. 

Use of Face Coverings
Members are reminded about the safety guidance on the use of face coverings. It is vital that clear instructions on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. The key points are as follows:

  • Face coverings should not be shared with others.
  • Before putting on or removing the face covering, hands should be cleaned by washing with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
  • Make sure the face covering is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin. Children should be taught how to wear the face covering properly, including not touching the front and not pulling it under the chin or into their mouth.
  • When temporarily storing a face covering (e.g. during classes), it should be placed in a washable, sealed bag or container. Avoid placing it on surfaces, due to the possibility of contamination.
  • Re-usable face coverings should be washed after each day of use in school at 60 degrees centigrade or in boiling water.

Disposable face coverings must be disposed of safely and hygienically. Children and young people should be encouraged not to litter and to place their face coverings in the general waste bin. They are not considered to be clinical waste in the same way that used PPE may be.

 - Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on reducing the risks from COVID-19 in schools Non-statutory guidance to ensure a safe and supportive environment for learning and teachingVersion 4.3 Published 30 October 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): public use of face coverings  
Safe Learning in Scotland: Building on our Success (Education Scotland)

Advice from The Covid-19 Advisory Sub-Group On Education And Children’s Issues

SSTA Face Covering
The SSTA is providing all members with a face covering that will be sent out shortly. To get yours please ensure your personal details are correct.

Lockdown Learning Depended on Teachers’ Resources and Resourcefulness

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, Scotland’s specialist union for secondary teachers, recently carried out a survey of its members to establish the extent to which they felt employers had ensured they had the right ICT tools for the job both during and since lockdown.  Over 1900 secondary teachers from all over Scotland responded.

The pandemic has brought the use of educational ICT into sharp focus.  Teachers have been relying on ICT to maintain contact with colleagues and learners in a safe and secure way which allows learning to continue in a virtual environment.  It was essential during lockdown.  It continues to be essential for teachers and learners who are required to self-isolate.

As well as for facilitating school meetings, teachers have been using ICT for a range of other purposes including:

  • Google classroom,
  • Microsoft Teams,
  • access to GLOW (Scotland’s digital learning platform),
  • creatively developing learning resources,
  • management tasks (eg providing SQA exam data, timetabling, SEEMIS),
  • tracking and responding to student work,
  • mandatory SQA training,
  • professional learning (eg webinars, online training),
  • contacting learners’ families (email, telephone),
  • looked-after children’s reviews and social work meetings,
  • college and university applications,
  • maintaining communication with families through school websites and social media.

Although education would have ground to a halt without ICT during lockdown, remarkably less than half of teachers were provided with any kind of hardware during lockdown.  Some equipment provided was inadequate.   The vast majority of respondents (90%) reported having to use their own hardware, such as laptops/PCs/phones/printers to maintain continuity of education.  Over 56% dipped into their own pockets to purchase essential items such as webcams, printer consumables, office equipment, new laptops and upgrades.  Teachers covered the cost of telephone and broadband connections themselves.  In many cases teachers spent £100 or more, with some reporting having had to spend many hundreds of pounds on new equipment.  Fewer than 1% of respondents have had any of their additional costs reimbursed.

The survey revealed that teachers need home access to good quality ICT such as PCs, laptops and tablets which allow them to connect to school networks.  Unfortunately most local authorities were simply not ready for the challenges of lockdown.  Around two-thirds of respondents agreed that equipment should be provided by their employer, although about a third expressed a willingness to pay for it themselves if it could be purchased with assistance, eg at ‘cost’ through the local authority.

Euan Duncan, SSTA Assistant General Secretary said,

“Expecting teachers to provide, from their own pockets, resources which are essential for high quality learning and teaching to take place is simply unacceptable. Although there is evidence of some improvement since schools reopened, even now we are finding situations where employers are asking teachers to use their own devices to contact families.”

James Cowans, SSTA Education Committee Convener said,

“Teachers rose to the challenge of online teaching rapidly generally using their own resources and resourcefulness, but it remains that time needs to be set aside for teachers to develop their pedagogical skills further in relation to the use of ICT.  With the uncertainty still surrounding the spread of the virus, and with National 5 exams cancelled, employers must review teachers’ ICT provision and training as a matter of urgency.  Local authorities must refresh their ICT strategy thereby ensuring that young people are not disadvantaged by teachers’ lack of access to well-connected ICT.”

A variety of respondents commented:

  • It was simply presumed that teachers would have access to devices to enable them to do their duties.
  • The item was very old and dated in its specification and was often more of a hindrance than a help.
  • I couldn't access many of the usual facilities and systems which I have in school. We were all guessing how teams works, for example, which added enormously to stress levels.
  • It really was a nightmare to upload work or attachments using my iPad. So painfully slow and frustrating. If blended learning is to be a thing moving forward, my employer seriously needs to up their game in terms of ICT. The ICT situation at school is bad enough, never mind the provision for home working.
  • Pupil Support/Guidance needs mobile phones to engage with parents/carers. Using our own mobiles because the “school can’t afford to issue staff mobiles” is unacceptable.
  • It was taken for granted I could use my free minutes and internet to get work done. I pay for those contracts and effectively I am paying to work as those are not paid for by my employer.
  • My employer refreshed all our hardware to laptops before lockdown so it was easy to access and could be used at home.
  • This is an equity issue for both staff and pupils across Scotland. Colleagues in other areas provided Chromebooks etc by their schools and likewise some state schools provide iPads/similar to all pupils. In a household with 2 adults employed as teachers and 2 High School aged children our own resources very stretched despite being relatively well provided for. WiFi issues notwithstanding provision of laptops to all teaching staff would have helped to ease this.
  • I’m expected to buy/have my own hardware but I’m really struggling financially.
  • We were reluctantly loaned laptops- which had small screens and no mouse – not particularly useful for excel sheets needed to make up our rank order for SQA certification process.
  • There is currently no budget for printing or photocopying in my school. I do ALL printing and photocopying at home which is paid out of my family budget.
  • We were given nothing at all. The school didn’t have any laptops to give out. There was no warning and we didn’t know if school was closed/working from home/what the pupils had to do. ..... we are still in the same situation now where there is no help when it happens again.

SSTA Education Committee

11 November 2020


Safety Measures in Schools are Putting Teachers at Risk

The SSTA conducted a survey of SSTA School Representatives on the measures being used in schools to keep staff safe. The survey highlighted the inconsistent approach to staff safety taken by local authorities across Scotland.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary said

“The SSTA has argued for a consistent approach to safety during this crisis but unfortunately some local authorities are interpreting the guidance as optional rather than mandatory”.

“Safety in School must be the first priority. SSTA conducted a survey of school representatives and found an inconsistent approach in schools across Scotland. The SSTA is demanding that the Government set a good example and ensure the highest standards of safety across all schools in Scotland”.

“Physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings are essential parts of keeping people safe and must be the starting point in all schools”.

One rep said “Face coverings are a particular concern at our very large secondary. Pupils are actively defying government guidance and school management has failed to implement and reiterate guidance effectively. The lack of consequences for students is adding to members’ anxiety and stress levels as they do not feel safe at work”.

Another rep said “Pupils not wearing masks in communal areas and ordinary staff trying to enforce this is being met with abuse etc. No consequences apparent for not doing so. Complacency over cleaning and hand anti-bacterial by pupils now. We need stronger measures in place. It's a nightmare”.

Seamus Searson, added  “The Government is due to publish updated guidance for schools in the coming days but the SSTA fears that many measures are likely not to be mandatory. Teachers are desperate for clear definitive measures to keep all staff and pupils safe. Unfortunately, too many Local Authorities and schools choose to see the guidance as optional especially if extra costs are involved. The Government needs to step up and ensure the highest standards and provide all the finance necessary to keep schools open”.

“The Government must also be prepared to reduce the numbers of pupils attending school or closing schools to keep both pupils and staff safe”.
 (Please note: Further comments from reps can be found at the end of this message)
SSTA Survey Main Findings

  • The SSTA survey showed that 38% of schools had mostly introduced measures of physical distancing around the school with 12% of schools having no physical distancing measures at all. 49% had introduced some measures around the school.
  • Physical distancing in classrooms 28% of most secondary schools had introduced physical distancing measures in classrooms. 15% had none at all while a further 49% had some.
  • 64% of senior pupils mostly wore face coverings around the school with 69% of junior pupils mostly wearing face coverings around the school.
  • Only 2% of all pupils wore face coverings in classrooms whilst 53% of senior classes and 49% of junior pupils wore no face coverings at all in classrooms.
  • 94% of staff mostly wear face coverings around the school
  • 21% of staff mostly wearing face coverings in classrooms with a further 63% sometimes wearing face coverings in classrooms.
  • 27% of schools provided no face coverings for staff and 15% provided no face coverings for pupils

The SSTA recommends that all employers ensure that

  • Physical distancing measures must be in place in all school areas, including staff rooms and classrooms, reducing class sizes where necessary.
  • Face coverings are provided for all staff and must be worn in all areas including classrooms.
  • Face coverings are provided for all pupils and must be worn in all areas including classrooms
  • People who refuse to wear a mask must not be allowed to attend school. Medical reasons are the exception with additional safety measures.
  • Plastic screens to be placed in classrooms where physical distancing is difficult and where staff request them.
  • Staff should not be required to share equipment, especially ICT equipment
  • All staff meetings are conducted remotely
  • Visitors must not be allowed in schools unless absolutely necessary.
  • Vulnerable staff should be protected and work from home where appropriate.
  • Provision of cleaning materials in every classroom.
  • Regular risk assessment completed for all student and supply teachers. They need to be adequately prepared with the current guidelines to adhere to school policy.

Comments from Members

“There is limited use of face coverings by pupils and limited enforcement by SMT at entry to school and other areas”.

“There is really poor ventilation of rooms given recent decrease in temperatures and heating is not on in school yet, so if windows or vents open rooms are exceptionally cold”.

“Positive behaviour policy has been deemed fit for purpose by HT and has not been changed to allow different "sanctions" as a result of failures to adhere to new covid safety measures”.

“Pupils make little or no attempt to maintain social distancing on the whole”.

“While provisions are in place for social distancing and pupils are supposed to wear masks between classes, this cannot be enforced (headmaster has admitted this) and many ignore the rules”.

“Once in class pupils don't wear face coverings and are arranged in rows; my desks in the Chemistry lab were in fact further apart prior to lockdown but were changed as pupils shouldn't face each other”.

“I wish the government would just come clean and say that teachers will have to remain at their work even if COVID-19 spreads through schools they are being disingenuous!”

“Already guidance from council is suggesting that as long as teachers are wearing face coverings in class, that will be enough to stop them self-isolating, even if they have been in contact with pupils testing positive for COVID-19”.

“The school is implementing social distancing but it is VERY hard with pupils to genuinely keep this distance, they just keep coming up to you and you have to keep reminding them”.

“Social distancing in school corridors and classrooms non-existent. About 20% of pupils wear facemasks in corridors”.

“There has been a laid back attitude by management around the corona virus. Staff are expected to bring in their own masks. Very large numbers of pupils do not wear any masks at any time - a remarkably large number have become asthmatic during lockdown! Social distancing is only in place in dining areas - there has been no sanctions for pupils not remaining in their assigned areas”.

“HT wants it similar to last year with little/no alterations or consideration for the current situation. Health and well-being of staff was a serious topic during lockdown however it’s no longer a consideration as we are ‘back to normal’. Very worrying”.

“Pupils not wearing masks in communal areas and ordinary staff trying to enforce this is being met with abuse etc. No consequences apparent for not doing so. Complacency over cleaning and hand anti-bacterial by pupils now. We need stronger measures in place. It's a nightmare”.

SSTA School Representative Survey Results – October 2020

A summary of the School Representatives Survey Results can be downloaded here.

writing on a green chalkboard - back to school

SSTA Safety First - School Return Survey

Employers need to take their duty of care seriously

The SSTA conducted a survey of members to gauge their concerns following the return of all pupils to school.  The survey highlighted the inconsistent approach to staff safety taken by local authorities across Scotland.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary said

“It is particularly worrying that 53% of members in Glasgow were not confident in keeping safe following the return of schools but in East Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde the number fell to 22% of members. Staff confidence in keeping safe can only be achieved when all employers ensure that all measures to keep staff safe are put in place, which in turn will keep schools open”

“The SSTA survey showed that local authorities are reluctant to take their responsibilities as employers of teachers seriously to ensure the highest levels of safety during this Covid-19 pandemic. It appears that some local authorities are more intent upon saving money than protecting staff. It cannot be acceptable for safety measures in one authority to be different to another. Members reported that physical distancing measures around the school were best in schools in West Lothian at 86% with the worst 46% in East Ayrshire”.

“A basic safety measure to reduce staff sharing equipment in schools is being ignored as 93% of teachers in South Lanarkshire are expected to share ICT equipment whilst only 19% of teachers do so in Highland. More than 70% of teachers are expected to share ICT equipment in schools. Schools need to ensure teachers are provided with personalised ICT equipment so that they can control their own safety. The provision of face coverings for staff ranged from 78% in Dumfries & Galloway down to only 4% in Argyll & Bute.  Equally, we are aware of schools that are enforcing the wearing of face coverings whilst others are leaving it to the individual. Safety is not optional”

“The provision of safe work areas for teachers varies considerably with only 24% in South Lanarkshire allocated a safe space whilst in East Lothian 67% of members reported having been allocated safe work areas”.

“Should employers fail to identify the risks and put measures in place to keep staff safe then they will only have themselves to blame should those same staff need to take time off because of Covid-19. Passing the blame for teacher absences and threatening financial penalties for schools, as Glasgow did this week is not acceptable. Teachers are professionals and deserve a consistent approach to safety. The duty of care lies with the employer (the local authorities) and they need to put safety first”.

“The SSTA has argued for a consistent approach to safety during this crisis but unfortunately some local authorities are interpreting the guidance as optional rather than mandatory”.

The SSTA recommends that all local authorities ensure that

  • Physical distancing measures are in place in all school areas, especially staff rooms and classrooms
  • Face coverings are provided for all staff and worn in all areas including classrooms
  • Plastic screens to be placed in classrooms where physical distancing is difficult and where staff request them
  • Enhanced cleaning regimes with additional cleaners employed
  • Staff not be required to share equipment, especially ICT equipment
  • All staff meetings are conducted remotely
  • Visitors must not be allowed in schools unless absolutely necessary. If necessary, strict rules and restricted safe areas for visitors must be provided

Main Findings of SSTA Survey

Not confident in keeping Safe in the workplace
Teachers were not confident of keeping safe after returning to school in Glasgow (53%), North Lanarkshire (52%), Clackmannanshire and East Renfrewshire (both 50%). At the other end of the scale members not confident in keeping safe reduced in East Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde (both 22%)

When it came to individual schools keeping staff safe East Renfrewshire (34%), Argyll & Bute (32%), Clackmannanshire and Glasgow (both 30%) were not confident. At the other end of the scale staff in Midlothian, Stirling (both 11%) and Highland (10%) lack of confidence was reduced.

Physical Distancing
The SSTA survey showed that some areas were better in introducing physical distancing measures around the school with West Lothian (86%), Angus (83%) and Moray (80%) whilst at the end of the scale Dumfries & Galloway (55%) North Ayrshire (50%) and East Ayrshire (46%). In Independent schools 88% had introduced such measures.

When it came to physical distancing in teaching areas Angus (90%), Aberdeen City (84%) and West Lothian (84%) came out on top whilst South Lanarkshire (46%), Clackmannanshire (45%) and East Ayrshire (37%) were far behind.

Face Coverings
Staff being provided with face coverings Dumfries & Galloway (78%), Midlothian (73%) and Scottish Borders (67%) with the employer providing the lowest East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire (all on 11%), East Ayrshire (7%) and Argyll &Bute (4%).

Teacher Work Areas
East Lothian, Highland (67%) and Moray (65%) provided teachers with work areas with appropriate physical distancing whilst Glasgow (29%), East Renfrewshire (28%) and South Lanarkshire (24%) providing the least.

ICT Equipment
High numbers of staff are expected to share ICT equipment with South Lanarkshire (93%), East Dunbartonshire (91%) and East Renfrewshire (87%). While staff were least required to share ICT equipment in Aberdeen City (43%), Perth & Kinross (41%) and Highland (19%).

Please see the attached document for the range of responses by local authority
Please note: The survey was completed at the beginning of September and had 2,058 member responses. Some areas not included due to low level of response.


Safety First and the Education Recovery Year

Safety First

Schools have been attempting to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic but they are far from being complete. Some schools have been more successful than others but there remain many challenges ahead.

Some progress has been made in recent weeks but the recent SSTA survey highlighted a number of areas that are not been adequately addressed in all schools. The lack of physical distancing, inadequate cleaning regimes, the lack of face coverings and a lack of consistency of safety measures. The SSTA continues to press the Scottish Government and employers to introduce measures to keep staff and pupils safe. The priority must be ‘Safety First’ of all staff and pupils. The SSTA has updated its guidance and recommendations on measures to keep staff safe 

The Education Recovery Year

This school year has been labelled the ‘Education Recovery Year’ and the main priority for all schools during this national emergency is to support all the pupils who have suffered because of ‘lockdown’. All schools have been promised additional teachers to assist teaching and learning during this academic year. This should mean a reduction of class sizes and additional support for pupils that have missed out the most during lockdown. This is not a ‘normal’ school year and many of the tasks that have been expected of schools should be stood down in preference of supporting teaching and learning. The SSTA will also be urging the Scottish Government not to reintroduce school inspections this year. Please see the SSTA advice here.


Safety First – School Return – SSTA Survey

The SSTA conducted a survey of members following the reopening of schools to gauge the confidence of teachers returning to school. The survey received 2,058 responses and highlighted the concerns of members.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary said “The majority of secondary teachers still do not feel safe in school and lack confidence in their employers to keep them safe since the reopening of schools. Only 7% of teachers were very confident about their return with 38% not confident at all.“

“Members highlighted that 21% of teachers felt their schools were not at all prepared in keeping staff safe, 32% slightly prepared and 35% moderately prepared.  Remarkably only 12% of members said their school were very prepared in keeping staff safe”.

“The lack of physical distancing in classrooms and around the school is a major worry with 33% of members reporting that physical distancing measures have not been put in place”.

“Cleaning procedures are inconsistent with teachers reporting that just over half (53%) of classrooms were being cleaned after each lesson. 61% teachers were been expected to clean their workplaces with 79% of pupils expected to clean their workplaces”.

“Only 47% of members are being allocated an individual work area with appropriate physical distancing and 67% expected to share ICT equipment with other members of staff”

“70% of members highlighted the lack of clear advice on teaching approaches to be taken in a way that minimises the sharing of educational equipment with 68% of teachers, who have practical elements in their subject, not receiving subject specific advice on keeping safe”.

“A major concern for members was the lack of a detailed pupil discipline policy that includes actions for pupils who refuse to adhere to physical distancing and safety measures (such as hand hygiene) with only 21% of members indicating such a policy was introduced in their school”.

“It appears that schools are being exempt from all the normal Covid-19 safety arrangements, such as physical distancing, consistent and safe cleaning regimes, and restrictions on sharing equipment that take place in other public places. As one member remarked ‘Teachers are just been thrown under the bus’. Either we are serious about keeping people safe or we are not”.

Main findings

  • 33% of members reported that physical distancing measures had not been introduced around the school buildings and in their classrooms.
  • 2% of members reported that their class sizes had been reduced.
  • 53% of classrooms were to be cleaned after each class
  • 61% teachers expected to clean their workplaces 
  • 79% of pupils expected to clean their workplaces
  • 96% of classrooms would be provided with hygiene-sanitisers/hand washing facilities
  • 32% of schools were providing face coverings for staff
  • 47% of teachers allocated an individual work area with physical distancing
  • 67% of teachers expected to share ICT equipment
  • 21% of schools had a detailed pupil discipline policy including adherence to Covid-19 safety measures
  • 70% of teachers not given advice on teaching approaches to minimise sharing of education equipment
  • 68% of teachers who have practical elements in their subject have not received subject specific guidance


Appendix A – Survey Results.
Appendix B – Selection of Members Comments


Safety First and SQA

It has been a challenging return to school for many and there will undoubtedly be further challenges ahead. 

I would like to thank the very large number of members who had the opportunity to take part in our reopening of schools survey. The information received highlighted the issues that members and schools faced and allowed for further pressure to ensure staff and pupil safety.

The recent SSTA advice remains and are the steps we would like to see in place in all schools to ensure members’ safety, such as face coverings for older pupils, high standard cleaning regimes and strict physical distancing measures.

These measures are now becoming the way forward particularly with the increasing number of pupils at a number of different schools having tested positive for COVID-19 infection. These cases illustrate the serious risk of the virus spreading through school communities if strict measures are not put in place. In addition, we are expecting a reduction in class sizes in some instances to ensure physical distancing measures and assist the support for learning of all pupils during this Education Recovery Year.

Following the return to schools we are receiving reports from members where measures to ensure staff safety are not in place or are not being enforced. We will be carrying out a follow-up survey to assess the progress being made and the issues that need further action. You will receive a separate invitation to participate and your responses are vital in making progress in working conditions with the Scottish Government and Local Authorities.

SQA and Exams 2021

The Scottish Government decision to use teachers’ professional judgment this year was a major relief for most teachers, pupils and their parents. However, the arrangements for 2021 have still to be confirmed and the use of teacher professional judgement may become a major feature in the coming months. At this stage members are advised not to introduce any additional measures that will increase teacher workload and pressure on pupils.

On the 14 August the SQA launched two consultations on the modifications to National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher course assessments with a closing date of 24 August. The consultations are a technical consultation and survey on the proposed modifications for each course.

The SSTA Education Committee will be submitting a response but would welcome your views should you have concerns regarding the changes proposed in your particular subject(s). A short response stating your subject(s) and your concerns would be appreciated.

Keep safe

Seamus Searson
General Secretary