Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP has today written to the Education Secretary to raise concerns about the safety of school staff across Scotland who were asked to shield and propose the implementation of a Danish-inspired scheme, whereby teachers with existing health conditions could seek consultations with their doctors, and that the doctor’s advice to the individual teacher returning to work must be adhered to by the employer.
Ms Wishart’s letters is as follows:
Dear Cabinet Secretary,
I write to highlight urgent concerns that have been raised with me about the safety of individual teachers and school staff across Scotland who were asked to shield. They have been back working in schools since the start of August, when the virus had been driven to a low level, but many are understandably anxious now it is spreading rapidly again.
I understand that there is no Scotland-wide assurance that vulnerable school staff members will be offered home working options should their medical vulnerability necessitate it. This is despite the increasing infection rate, and the inevitable risks for staff working in schools that this will lead to.
I note that Denmark implemented a policy before schools returned, whereby teachers with existing health conditions could seek consultations with their doctors, and that the doctor’s advice to the individual teacher returning to work must be adhered to by the employer. This would seem a sensible step, and has reportedly meant that school staff who returned to work in Denmark felt safe and trusting.
That does not appear to be the case in Scotland, even in terms of individuals who were asked to shield. It is difficult to understand how individuals deemed so medically vulnerable that they were asked to stay in their homes for months on end are now being asked to turn a blind eye to that medical risk, and continue to work in a place where risk of transmission can only be mitigated to some extent.
Since August, many teachers have felt that they are just being expected to get on with it and have been telling the government that the guidance doesn't reflect the realities of teaching. With statistics showing the situation deteriorating by the day, will the Scottish Government now ensure that decisions around working arrangements are informed by the medical advice received by each individual staff member, and that they won't be penalised if the evidence is that they need greater protections? I am worried by reports that teachers in extremely vulnerable categories have not been allowed to work from home.
Did the Scottish Government give consideration to shielding and vulnerable school staff during the course of planning for a return to schools? What advice did it offer to local authorities, who now appear to have diverged in their treatment of these individuals? Will the Scottish Government now consider the Danish model going forward?
These are questions that need to be answered urgently, and I would therefore be grateful if your response would reflect that.
Beatrice Wishart MSP
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson