By Hugh Cullen
SSP National Secretary and EIS Branch Secretary (speaking on behalf of the SSP)
The Scottish Socialist Party shares the frustrations of the EIS and other teaching unions who have been sidelined by the Scottish Government throughout the lockdown.
Union representatives have found consultations to be largely tokenistic with the government making repeated announcements that undermine negotiations and disregarded the concerns of teachers. We share the desire for learners and teachers to return to school but do not believe that the announcement today does enough to support staff or mitigate the chance of virus transmission.
The SSP supports a worker-led recovery from this Coronavirus pandemic. We must value expertise and fight for the democratisation of workplace health and safety at every stage of the decision making process as we try to safely return to work and education.
Teachers are experts in learning. We understand better than anyone the challenges involved with re-opening schools in a manner that is safe, maximises the opportunities for effective learning, and supports pupil wellbeing. Unions have made it clear that there are not currently enough staff in schools to support a full-time return for all students without unsafe class sizes and inadequate cleaning/sanitation.
The Scottish Government announcement today does not provide enough funds for staffing and appears to accept that there may be transmission of the virus amongst large groups of students, potentially undoing all the hard work done by the population to this point and endangering families. Issues with the reliability of testing and Scotland’s contact tracing system do nothing to quell these concerns.
The Scottish Government must learn from mistakes they have made throughout this pandemic. Failing to listen to care sector workers played a role in the shocking number of deaths in privately owned care homes. Daily briefings from St Andrews House and legislation passed in Holyrood are clearly geared towards business owners and landlords, ignoring the rights and interests of Scotland’s working-class majority in a desperate attempt to return to the profiteering we endured before the lockdown.
Speaking anonymously, a secondary school teacher and EIS member in Edinburgh said,
“Having worked at a school to provide care for key workers children during lockdown, I am not convinced that social distancing ambitions will be possible or that there is sufficient support for cleaners or teachers to ensure the building is safe.
“There hasn’t been adequate time to prepare for the new term, which continues the approach that has been taken by the Scottish Government since the first announcements were made that schools would be closing. Teachers have been an afterthought and this uncertainty continues to cause a lot of stress. Working within a system that is already understaffed, we’re not sure how we will cope with this plan if colleagues have to go off sick.
“Although frankly, we have bigger worries than personally catching Coronavirus. Schools are already chronically underfunded and we don’t have enough teaching staff or resources. I think teachers will have no choice but to return to work because we don’t want students to miss out more than they already have.
“Teachers understand the vital role we have in supporting students and colleagues with mental health which has been compounded during the current crisis. Throughout lockdown, we have been mindful of the fact that the poorest have suffered the most, and that our responsibility when we return to school is more than just “catching up” with the curriculum, it is unpacking the trauma that our young people have faced.”