THOUSANDS of teachers, including those who have retired, will be asked to rejoin the profession as schools adapt classrooms and provide regular distance learning amid fears a new “blended model” will heap yet more pressure on staff. 

The General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS) will actively contact more than 15,000 teachers on its register, asking if they will help support schools across the country as class sizes are set to be reduced, possibly as small as 10 in some cases, to allow schools to return safely in August. 

The new “blended model” of teaching will involve most children receiving part of their teaching in schools with social distancing measures – and the rest at home with digital learning. 

Guidance issued by the Scottish Government to schools and local authorities warns the new model of teaching “may lead to requirements for workforce flexibility and increased staffing”.  

The Government also points to a requirement for “more teachers or support staff being needed for a greater number of smaller classes”. 

It adds “a proportion of staff may also be shielding or absent due to Covid-19 symptoms” and warns this “may affect their ability to attend physical settings”. 

Concerns have been raised over councils’ ability to attract enough teachers back into the profession for the blended learning model to be effective. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, there were 88 vacancies in Scotland’s primary and pre-schools and 294 shortages in secondary schools, according to the latest statistics – despite an improving picture from the previous year. 

Teachers will begin going back to school from today as they start to draw up plans for a new way of providing education to pupils.  

Education Secretary John Swinney said the August 11 return date for schools was “set in stone”, but the EIS union has warned the blended learning model will be “potentially the biggest curriculum challenge of this century”. 

A survey of more than 26,000 teachers by the EIS found only 44 per cent of those asked felt that social distancing of two metres had been maintained at all times in the schools that have remained open for children of key workers. 

The study also found 77% believed there was a critical need for adequate time to prepare for the delivery of a more “blended” approach to learning, 58% of teachers agreed certain categories of pupils should be prioritised in a phased return to school, with 23% believing universal access to provision on a part-time basis was the preferable model. 

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The smaller teaching groups that will be essential to maintaining social distancing will place significant strain on staffing levels in many schools.  

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“Moving from class sizes of as many as 33 pupils to groups of perhaps 10 at a time will inevitably mean schools will require a greater number of teaching staff. 

“Added to this, any teachers who are in a vulnerable group or who are required to self-isolate will clearly not be available to work within a school environment

“Attempts to boost teacher numbers ahead of August are welcome, therefore, and very necessary if we are to provide sufficient support to pupils.  

“The planned return in August presents huge challenges for all those working in education and so must be managed in a way that is realistic, achievable and safe.” 

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, has warned that more burden cannot be placed onto teachers as they adapt to their working life in the new normal. 

He said: “We have made it clear to ministers that schools must factor into their planning the impact of staff absences due to the continuing need to protect teachers who are clinically vulnerable and the likelihood of higher than normal sickness leave rates.  

“Where schools are operating with lower staff numbers the answer cannot and must not be to add additional workload on to other teachers or for safety measures to be compromised in any way. Where there is a depleted workforce, the response from schools must be to manage and potentially reduce the number of pupils or classes operating so that safe staff-pupil ratios can be maintained. 

“The NASUWT’s bottom line remains that no teacher or pupil should be expected to return to school until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so.” 

The GTCS will proactively approach registered teachers “to facilitate their contact with employers” in a bid to “establish their willingness and availability to return to teaching”. 
The organisation will also reach out to people whose registration has recently lapsed, including recently retired teachers. 

Ken Muir, chief executive and registrar of the GTCS, said: “We are pleased to be part of this collaborative approach to supporting the teaching profession and helping children and young people return to schools when it is safe to do so. 

“As part of this work we are currently finalising with Scottish Government and other partners how arrangements will be managed.” 

He added: “In the meantime, and to maintain public confidence, we suggest that teachers who are registered with GTC Scotland, who hold a current PVG and who are interested in returning to teaching, contact the local authority they wish to support. As employers, local authorities can provide further advice at this time. 

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“There are currently 76,643 people on the register of teachers with 61,349 employed in schools. The register changes on a daily basis and is reliant on employment information being kept up to date by registrants. It is important to note that the difference between both figures includes people who are employed in other settings; who work abroad; and are retired.” 

School buildings will also need to be adapted for pupils to be taught with social distancing rules and enhanced facilities for hand-washing and hygiene. 

Nicola Sturgeon said: “All of these things are being worked through. Our local authorities, obviously with the support and guidance of the Scottish Government, will be looking at the physical adaptations that will need to be made but also the staffing requirements – in order to make sure that all young people have the right input from teachers. 

HeraldScotland:

“The Deputy First Minister, through the education recovery group, will continue to oversee that work.” 

“Added to this, any teachers who are in a vulnerable group or who are required to self-isolate will clearly not be available to work within 
a school environment. 

“Attempts to boost teacher numbers ahead of August are welcome, therefore, and very necessary if we are to provide sufficient support to pupils.  

“The planned return in August presents huge challenges for all those working in education and so must be managed in a way that is realistic, achievable and safe.”