Safety First and Reopening of Schools

Message to Members 25 June 2020

The SSTA position throughout the COVID-19 crisis has been one of safety first for all teachers and pupils. We have been guided throughout by the scientific and medical evidence and that will continue to be the case. We would all like to return to normal schooling but we are not at that place yet and not likely to be in the coming months.

The SSTA view remains that schools can only reopen and operate safely if there are significant operational changes in place to ensure effective social distancing, strong hygiene routines linked to thorough cleansing practices, appropriate PPE available where required, and ongoing risk assessments in place to monitor operations.
The DFM statement on 23 June and the decision for all pupils to return to school full-time in August was unexpected. The SSTA had been working with Government and Local Authorities in putting in place plans for blended learning in schools for August. At this point in time that position has not changed.
Please see the Government Press Release and the DFM’s Statement
To date the Government approach had been a cautious one, with the safety of all its paramount concern. The conditions that the DFM expects in place for the full time return of pupils to school:

  • sufficiently low infection rate;
  • early warning infrastructure in place, including test and protect;
  • right protective measures and risk assessments in place in schools

The DFM also stated that a full time return to school in August for pupils could only be achieved if there were no social distancing measures for young people. This situation cannot apply to teachers and other adults in school as COVID-19 has not been eradicated. The SSTA cannot ignore members’ safety and allow schools to return to normal as if the COVID-19 crisis had not existed.

The DFMs statement has heightened members concerns and raised more questions that must be answered before schools can return in August. The SSTA will be working to find answers to the many questions in the coming weeks to ensure members are safe should schools return in August.

The SSTA will be seeking that

  • additional time be given to all school staff to prepare for a change from the current blended learning plans for schools including delaying the return of pupils to secondary schools
  • teachers will not be required to undertake additional work in altering existing plans during the summer vacation
  • teachers who are in the vulnerable and shielding categories remain protected when schools return in August
  • suitable physical distancing arrangements for all adults in schools are in place
  • that the provision of suitable PPE is available for all staff,
  • proactive testing of all school staff, and
  • the highest level of school cleaning regimes are in place.

The SSTA believes it is unwise to anticipate the situation we may be facing in August and await further details before embarking on further work.

SSTA Advice

  1. Make no alterations to their existing plans for schools reopening in August
  2. Members should take their well-deserved break following a very stressful and demanding term and return to work refreshed and rested in August.