HEADTEACHERS have warned of "excessive" and "unsustainable" workloads as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with poor IT making working online "completely impossible".

School management teams sounded the alarm as the Scottish Government said blended learning – where classroom teaching is combined with remote lessons – remains "a necessary contingency plan".

Scotland recorded 208 new coronavirus cases yesterday, the highest daily increase in positive tests for more than 17 weeks.

The last time more people tested positive for Covid-19 was May 8, when there were 225 new cases of infection.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a new Protect Scotland phone app will be launching in the next few days to boost tracing efforts.

Headteachers and their deputies raised concerns over "ever-changing guidelines", unrealistic demands and a lack of support from councils at a meeting of the EIS, Scotland's largest education union, on Friday.

They said many management teams were required to work throughout the holiday period to prepare schools for reopening and have continued to face excessive pressures. Four weeks into the new term, they are now exhausted.

Elsewhere, poor IT infrastructure and connectivity is making working online and holding virtual meetings impossible, they said.

They also raised fears over stress-related illnesses and potential coronavirus infection due to working with large groups of colleagues and pupils, often without physical distancing.

Higher rates of illness among teachers also needs to be managed at a time of "substantial staffing pressure across the system".

Lorraine McBride, convener of the EIS headteachers and deputy headteachers network, said: "The ever-evolving situation, and frequently changing policy in relation to schools, has substantially increased the workload of all teachers with a particularly heavy burden often falling on school management teams.”

She added: “Burnout is a very real risk for members of staff who have not had a real break since before the lockdown began.

"The challenge of having to plan entirely new methods of educational delivery, then re-plan again at short notice as a result of changes in government policy, has heaped huge amounts of pressure on school management teams across the country.

“The levels of additional management and HR functions that school management teams have faced have been quite incredible.  

"As one headteacher told the meeting, he was required to carry out 30 individual risk assessments in the week before the school reopened, which he was committed to doing but had to do without any extra support being provided to him.

"That represents additional workload, over and above all of a headteacher’s normal responsibilities, and illustrates the unmanageable and unsustainable levels of workload pressure that school management teams are facing in schools across Scotland. The risk to the health and wellbeing of headteachers and deputes is very real and very worrying.  

“In addition to the increased risk of contracting Covid as a result of working in busy school buildings, there is a growing danger of stress-related illness taking its toll on school management teams.

“How will our education system cope if a large number of headteachers and deputy head teachers become ill as a result of the current situation that they are facing at work?”

Officials are carrying out tracing following cases at three new schools within the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. These are St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow, Braidbar Primary School in East Renfrewshire and Johnstone High School in Renfrewshire. They said there is no evidence of internal transmission.

It came as the Digital Schools Awards initiative, which aims to encourage schools to integrate digital skills across the curriculum, announced it will incorporate blended learning into its national programme.

Established in 2016 in partnership with Education Scotland, HP, Microsoft and Intel, 54 per cent of schools across Scotland are registered participants in the scheme.

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “The experience of lockdown shows that access to technology and digital capability is, and will remain, a fundamental aspect of education in Scotland.  

“We know that the effects of the pandemic will be long-lasting, and individual circumstances mean not every family will have had access to such technology, but we will ensure that no young person is left behind.

“We are grateful to councils and teachers for their hard work on a blended learning model and that remains a necessary contingency plan should the virus get out of control again at any point.

“The addition of blended learning to the digital schools award framework will help to give schools recognition for the hard work they have been doing and will continue to do during this time.

“Through the Education Recovery Group, we continue to work closely with councils, parent bodies, teachers’ representatives and trades unions to ensure that plans are developed collaboratively to prepare for a blended learning mode, should that be required.

“We are investing £30 million as part of a huge digital boost through the provision of laptops, tablets and connectivity solutions for disadvantaged children and young people, which includes £25m to enable a rollout of digital devices to school pupils to enable them to study online, with an initial provision of 25,000 Chromebooks.  

“We expect that, in total, around 70,000 devices and 18,000 connectivity solutions will be provided to children and young people across the country in the coming weeks.”

Elsewhere, parent campaign group Us for Them Scotland warned including schools in future local lockdowns would risk a repeat of this year’s exams chaos. It said schools should be placed on a list of buildings and institutions considered to be “critical infrastructure”.

Last week, senior political figures hinted that schools could be shut in Glasgow if rates of Covid-19 increase.

Jo Bisset, organiser for Us for Them Scotland, said closing schools for weeks at a time could lead to pupils sitting exams having missed hours of crucial face-to-face education.

She said a substitute blended learning model would not sufficiently replace that approach.

The latest increase in Scotland’s Covid figures, up from 141 positive cases on Saturday, takes the weekly total of confirmed infections to 1,079. This is the most over a seven-day period since May 6.

No new deaths have been registered. The 208 positive cases account for 2.3% of the 18,418 tests carried out.

Greater Glasgow and Clyde saw the highest number of new cases, with 92 positive tests.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Today’s numbers show a continued increase, including in % positive.

“While this reflects the substantial opening up of the economy, it reminds us of the need to deploy strong counter measures.”