Schools face a staffing crisis as absences and a reduced reserve increase the risk of students being sent home.
It comes amid growing fears of a significant increase in Covid infections driven by the Omicron variant and social mixing during the holiday season. Students should start returning to class from today after the Christmas break.
A senior staff member told the Herald that there were serious concerns about how his school was going to fare and said there was “no” supply coverage for the. to help.
While uncertainty remains as to how absence rates will evolve in the coming weeks, union leaders said the possibility of gaping shortages underscored the need for schools to prepare for distance learning.
READ MORE: Schools may need distance learning to ‘protect education’
They warned the loss of large numbers of staff would take a heavy toll on the quality of teaching at the school and said online methods could provide a more cohesive educational experience during times of disruption. .
Ministers recently sought to strengthen safety in classrooms. Updated Covid guidelines were released last month and 12 to 15 year olds are given the option to advance their second vaccination.
The government has also stressed the importance for symptom-free high school students to take home lateral flow tests the day before they start school or the morning they return home. After that, the tests should be done twice a week.
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville previously said her “top priority” was to keep schools safe and open and to minimize disruption to learning.
But deep concern remains about the impact of teacher absences during the busy January to March period.
Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, warned schools were facing multiple pressures. “The number of substitute teachers has decreased,” he said.
âThere were a lot of bad feelings among the substitute teachers during last year’s lockdown because they didn’t have a job, so some of them decided they weren’t going to be treated like that. and got other jobs.
“Likewise, you have people of a certain age who might not want to stock up because they are over 60, or caring for a vulnerable person.”
Mr Searson pointed out that his union has asked ministers to delay going back to school so that the latest wave of Covid and its ramifications can be better understood.
He also said that intense discussion would be needed on issues such as risk assessment, additional mitigation measures and distance or blended learning readiness if absence levels are as high as we feared him.
READ MORE: Omicron’s ‘Almost Unavoidable’ Cases Will Increase With Return of Schools
He added, âI think we’re going to end up with some form of distance learning in the very near future, but none of that has been planned.
âWe were told that schools are returning to their normal course in January with additional mitigation measures, which are welcome but not enough. There was no plan B for this term.
âThe number of employees on leave is a serious concern. The second [area of concern] is the lack of supply. And then there is the increased rate of infection. ”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said: âIt is clear that many teachers will be nervous about the reopening of schools, as Omicron has continued to spread rapidly during the holiday season.
âAlthough the mitigation measures have been updated, there is essentially nothing new in the safeguards. It is therefore essential to revisit risk assessments to take into account the increased transmissibility of Omicron, especially for personnel with increased vulnerabilities. are rare, schools may need to consider short periods of distance learning to maintain a consistent continuity of learning.
âKeeping schools open is the preferred option, but there can be no compromise in terms of the health and safety of staff and students, regardless of the political imperative. ”