As schools return after the Christmas break the spread of the Omicron variant has led to a rapidly changing situation in schools. The latest Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on reducing the risks from COVID-19 in schools was issued on the 7 January 2022 .
This guidance includes updates to
- Self-isolation sections (paras 54 to 94)
- Vaccination section based on latest JCVI advice (paras 115 to 120)
- Outbreak management (paras 185 and 186)
In addition, please find a link to the Covid – Good Practice Guide that has been produced by COSLA and is endorsed by all the trade unions. This includes ventilation guidance in all workplaces.
The SSTA View
The safety and wellbeing of teachers and learners is paramount. The new variant is a significant worry with teachers and support staff being put at increased risk should all the mitigations not be implemented as far fewer people under 16 have received vaccinations compared with the rest of the population.
It is predicted that staff absence will increase due to the spread of the virus and the rules on isolation. This could lead to schools finding themselves in a situation where there are simply too few teachers available to open schools safely. Any decision to keep schools open or closed should continue to be based on a full risk assessment. All schools should have updated risk assessments in line with the most recent guidelines.
Schools need to be prepared to move towards a variety of ways of continuing education in the event of a partial or complete closure. It is being reported that there are schools are running with large groups being supervised in large areas, which is not sustainable or safe under the current circumstances. Some are sending senior phase pupils home, and in some cases teachers are losing their marking and preparation time every day for emergency cover. An emergency situation is a single day, or two, but not any longer.
It is the SSTA view that any proposals to recommence remote learning must be carefully considered with sufficient advance notice being given to teachers, learners and families. We are aware that it is not an attractive idea to many teachers or learners, and we are concerned about the impact it is likely to have on teaching and learning and people’s mental wellbeing.
Even though school communities have become quite adept at online learning, moving from classroom to remote learning represents a big change and cannot be achieved simply by pushing a button. If risk and/or teacher shortage is such that it is necessary to move to online learning early in the new term, we would expect schools to be given the time necessary for planning and organisation. A huge amount of administration and planning will be required. School communities will need time to organise effective and worthwhile learning experiences, as well as considering all the other functions schools are required to undertake.
The response to the current crisis needs to be proactive, rather than reactive. Schools need time and resources to organise and plan, not just for the current situation, but for the forthcoming National Qualification demands.