THE CHIEF of Scotland’s largest teaching union has raised “significant concerns” with Education Secretary John Swinney over social distancing, class sizes and testing following the publication of the Scottish Government’s guidance on re-opening schools.

Scotland’s schools have been given the green light to re-open from next Tuesday, with Nicola Sturgeon expecting all pupils to be back in classes on a full-time basis by August 18 “at the latest”.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, has penned a letter to Mr Swinney, demanding answers to concerns and “physical distancing guidelines for pupils” to be drawn up – in an attempt to reassure teachers and school staff over safety before they return to the front line.

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In the letter, Mr Flanagan points to a meeting of the Scottish Government’s education recovery group, which Mr Swinney chairs and the EIS takes part in, where the union’s view was “that whilst the guidelines represented the generality of where agreement was possible, they nonetheless fell short from an EIS perspective in significant areas”.

Pointing to the issue of physical distancing, Mr Flanagan warns that the government guidance includes an “exhortation to move to smaller classes to support physical distancing where possible” but adds this is “without specification as to how that was to be done”.

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He added: “The inherent contradiction in urging such a significant mitigation but failing completely to instruct its implementation is a major concern.”

The Scottish Government guidance states that “two-metre physical distancing should be maintained between adults and adults and adults and children/young people who are not from the same household, wherever possible”.

The EIS has also called for “the strongest mitigations possible” to keep teachers safe and Mr Flanagan has pleaded with the Education Secretary to be “erring on the side of caution” where there is “conflicting or emerging evidence in relation to the behaviour of the virus”.

He adds: “These should include specific physical distancing guidelines for pupils.”

Regarding testing, Mr Flanagan’s letter added: “We would urge that further consideration be given to a more proactive approach to supporting teacher and staff confidence that they are working in Covid-secure schools, by providing asymptomatic access to regular testing.”

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The EIS has also called for reassurance for teachings who have been shielding, which was paused on August 1 by the Scottish Government, who next week “could be back in front of a full class of pupils”.

Mr Flanagan added: “This seems to be an enormous leap and one which does not sit well with the First Minister’s warning to those who had been shielding until August 1, about continuing to be especially cautious.”

Mr Flanagan said: “The EIS welcomes the fact that Scotland appears to have successfully suppressed the virus at this point in time – however, we would not wish to see the re-opening of schools act as a catalyst to a resurgence. That means we must ensure that school buildings are Covid-secure environments.

“Across the globe we are witnessing how quickly things can deteriorate. Teachers, pupils, and parents have every reason to be anxious about schools re-opening.”