Teaching union suggests mandatory face coverings in schools

The EIS said measures like masks and perspex screens in schools should be considered.

Schools: EIS suggests some distancing should remain. Getty
Schools: EIS suggests some distancing should remain.

Teaching union EIS has called for a range of measures to be considered if pupils return to schools full-time in August, including mandatory face coverings and perspex screens.

The Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) said the planned reopening of schools on August 11 should be “demonstrably safe for students and staff”.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan stressed the interests of pupils, teachers and school communities should be put ahead of “political expediency”.

It follows a statement from education secretary John Swinney earlier on Tuesday who said an immediate return to full-time learning after the summer holidays is now the government’s “central planning assumption”.

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It had initially been anticipating a model of “blended learning” when pupils go back in August, combining part-time schooling and part-time home learning.

Swinney told MSPs the Scottish Government is now reordering its strategy on schools due to successes in suppressing coronavirus.

The education secretary said infection rates would have to remain low and testing be robust for a full return of schools in August, with blended learning still a “contingency” plan.

And he made clear that if pupils go back to school five days a week later this summer, they will not be expected to have to socially distance from each other.

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But EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the issue of an “appropriate level of physical distancing between pupils and most certainly between pupils and staff” should be looked at even with a full-time return.

He said: “Clearly, if the suppression of the virus continues to be successful, public health guidance may change and this will impact on schools as well as every other aspect of society.

“It would be a grave mistake, however, to believe that the virus has gone away and therefore in the event of schools reopening more fully than currently planned, appropriate mitigations must be in place to protect staff and pupils and prevent flare-ups either in terms of localised resurgence in infection or even a full second wave.

“In terms of schools, this means looking at measures already being used elsewhere such as mandatory face coverings, protective perspex shields, proactive testing of teachers and an appropriate level of physical distancing between pupils and most certainly between pupils and staff.”

Mr Flanagan also stated officials should seek to continue to protect vulnerable groups – and said the EIS expects all these issues to be agreed with the Scottish Government’s education recovery group before any reopening of schools.

He added: “A great deal of work at school level has already gone into planning for a blended learning model from August 11, so any change to that will require time to adjust plans and conduct revised risk assessments.

“Again, this will need to be subject to discussion and agreement.

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“Everyone wishes to see schools operate as normal, but this should be done in a way which is demonstrably safe for students and staff, which doesn’t undermine public health messages, and which is done with the interest of school communities being first and foremost and not political expediency.”

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