THE HEAD of Scotland’s largest teaching union has called for officials to employ “every qualified teacher in the country” as well as “enlisting an army of support staff” to assist children as schools re-open full time in three weeks' time.

Schools are set to welcome pupils on a full-time basis from August 11, but Education Secretary John Swinney has warned that “we will only be able to open the schools if we continue to effectively suppress the virus”.

Mr Swinney will address MSPs in Holyrood tomorrow as he sets out the Scottish Government’s strategy to re-open the schools – which could include details of testing for symptomatic pupils and teachers as well as plans to manage any Covid-19 outbreaks.

The general secretary of the EIS teachers union, Larry Flanagan, has called on local councils, with financial support from the Scottish Government to recruit an army of teachers to help effectively support pupils, warning that “those children already suffering from disadvantage having that divide deepened” while schools have been closed.

Writing in a new paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Mr Flanagan has stressed that “physically returning to school buildings is probably the easiest part of an education recovery programme” - adding that “despite the rhetoric, neither local nor national government have provided the resources required” to employ more school staff and teachers.

He added: “Why aren’t we employing every qualified teacher in the country so that we can cut class sizes to provide more individual support, why aren’t we enlisting an army of support staff to provide additional support, why aren’t we paying retired teachers to act as mentors and tutors to disadvantaged pupils?

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“Addressing the poverty induced attainment gap is an agreed priority for the Scottish education system but, in truth, pre-Covid we were running to stand still because of the growing levels of need in our society. 

"Growing unemployment and renewed austerity present as major threats to this situation worsening in a post Covid world.

“I began teaching in 1979 and watched a generation of young people being systematically failed by Thatcherism. If the same is not to happen over the next decade, we need more than fine words.”

Mr Flanagan has also written a letter to all Scottish councils, calling for priority to be given to employing newly-qualified teachers and recently qualified teachers before consideration is given to former and retired teachers being drafted back into classrooms

READ MORE: EIS union demands army of teachers to be recruited to fill 'glaring demand' ahead of schools return

He said: “Tackling all of these aspects will be a labour-intensive process as children will need counselling, support and nurturing. To this end we will need more teachers, more specialists, and more support services.

Mr Flanagan has urged heads of education at Scottish local authorities to make the case for more resources to support education recovery.

He said: “We have unemployed NQTs, RQTs, teachers on supply lists and temporary contracts – all of whom are anxious about their employment prospects for next session when there is such a glaring demand for all of them to be utilised in our schools.

“The GTCS has identified thousands of retired or inactive teachers waiting in the wings to be deployed but before we even begin to consider this cohort, we need to employ the staff already there.

“Teachers make the difference – let’s get as many as we can into our schools.”

But the Education Secretary has warned that although Scotland is “making good progress towards our shared ambition of safely re-opening schools”, if a situation arises “where we are not able to effectively suppress the virus, then the opening of schools is called into question”.

Mr Swinney will lay out more details on the Scottish Government’s plans to re-open schools in a statement to Holyrood tomorrow.

A decision will be made on July 30 as to whether schools can re-open on a full-time basis in three weeks' time.

Mr Swinney's statement will include "practical and logistical preparations that we are making for the school re-opening including on vital health protection measures".

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He added: “Those measures will include issues such as a surveillance programme, outbreak management protocols and quick access to testing for all symptomatic staff and pupils."

Cosla, which represents Scottish councils, said it remains “fully committed” to employing teachers if required.

A Cosla spokesperson said: “Due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation and our continued main objective of getting the workforce in place to deliver the broad range essential services to our communities, we have had to adapt our practices and procedures to suit.

“The bottom line however remains that councils, in line with our agreement with Scottish Government, are fully committed to the employment of newly qualified, recently qualified and those teachers on supply lists.

“As well as support assistants and other specialists as required to ensure we draw from the full pool of talent we have available. We will do this on the basis of the needs identified of our young people and ensure we have the staff required in place at the right time."