Most education staff ‘anxious about returning to work’

More than eight in ten Scottish education staff are worried about schools returning, survey finds.

The vast majority of education staff in Scotland are anxious about returning to work, according to a new survey.

A Unison union poll of more than 5000 education staff in Scotland found that 83% are worried about going back to work or increasing the number of children returning to classrooms.

It also showed that 13% are losing sleep worrying about the issue after being in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

Just 3% of respondents to the survey, carried out between Monday, May 18, and Friday, May 22, consider it safe to return to work.

Lorraine Thomson, chairwoman of Unison’s Scotland Education Issues Group, said: “Unison’s survey shows the vast majority of education staff are anxious about plans for more children to return to schools and nurseries.

“Before they return we need clear guidance about how we keep children and staff safe.

“We need clarity about infection control and appropriate PPE, and all staff need full training on how to implement new rules and how to use PPE.”

She continued: “A lot more work needs to be done to ensure safe return.

“The Scottish Government and Cosla must work with Unison to develop guidance, implement new rules and undertake risk assessments.

“We cannot send more children back to school until we all know it is safe for them and all staff.”

The trade union’s survey was divided between early years workers (48%), staff in primary schools (33%) and secondary schools (13%) along with others working in community roles.

Other findings suggest that only 10% have had training on Covid-19 health and safety measures including infection control, correct use of PPE or carrying out a virus-related risk assessment.

Nearly half (46%) did not feel they had enough PPE, while 42% did not know what they should have – but 12% felt there was enough PPE.

A quarter (25%) were not aware of any risk assessments having taken place, while 27% knew they had taken place, but were not confident that action has been taken to respond to issues raised.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said: “Opening schools and childcare is the most important step in getting society and the economy back up and running.

“It is important that Scottish ministers make sure all staff, not just teachers, have the time, the training and the equipment to do this safely.

“Ministers need to set out how they will use the time before August to give staff the confidence that they will be safe and can manage the risk.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In reopening Scotland’s schools, our overriding priority is ensuring the health and wellbeing of our pupils and staff and giving parents the confidence schools are safe.

“We will implement physical distancing, staggered arrival and departure times, staggered break times, increased hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning regimes and a range of other measures, including PPE and training for staff.

“Comprehensive health and safety guidance will also be in place prior to staff returning to school.

“The Education Recovery Group, chaired by the deputy first minister, continues to work with representatives of local authorities, parents, teachers’ organisations and trades unions on how we manage the safe re-opening of schools.”

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