EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney has been told to adopt a Danish method used to protect vulnerable teachers by seeking doctors' advice before working in schools.

It is thought around 16 per cent of Scotland’s teachers were in “at-risk” categories, while four per cent had been shielding over the summer before rules were relaxed by the Scottish Government and shielding was paused from August 1.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have now called on Mr Swinney to follow a system in Denmark where teachers with existing health conditions seek consultations with their doctor with the clinician’s advice over the individual teacher returning to work being followed by the employer.

In a letter to Mr Swinney, Lib Dem education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart, has warned that teachers who were previously asked to shield “are understandably anxious” with rising case numbers of Covid-19 across Scotland.

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Ms Wishart pointed to the Danish system “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”.

She has insisted that “this would seem a sensible step and has reportedly meant that school staff who returned to work in Denmark felt safe and trusting”.

Ms Wishart added: “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.”

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Ms Wishart suggested that since schools were re-opened in 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”.

She added: “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.”

Ms Wishart has called on Mr Swinney to clarify whether the Scottish Government considered giving “consideration to shielding and vulnerable school staff during the course of planning for a return to schools” and whether the Danish model will be considered.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary John SwinneyEducation Secretary John Swinney

The Scottish Greens' education spokesperson, Ross Greer, wrote to Mr Swinney about the issue earlier this month - warning he had been contacted "by a number of teachers who were previously shielding and whose requests to continue working from home, which have been backed by their doctors or other health practitioners, have been refused".

Instead, Mr Greer claimed, "they have been told to either go on sick leave, which many cannot afford, or return to the classroom."

Mr Greer said: “I’m glad the Lib Dems have now backed the Greens’ long-standing demand for vulnerable teachers to be better protected. I wrote to the Scottish Government at the start of October on this very issue.

“We all know that social distancing and other mitigation measures just aren’t happening in many schools, but a number of vulnerable teachers have contacted me after being pressured to return to work, despite their doctors acknowledging that they would be at high risk.

“The Education Secretary should have already intervened to ensure that vulnerable staff across Scotland’s schools are supported to work remotely where possible, not forced to return to classroom environments which put them in immediate danger.”

The EIS union is investigating whether legal action could be taken on behalf of previously shielding teachers, and has been reassured by Mr Swinney that the issue will be re-examined.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan, said: “At the last meeting of EIS council, an action point was approved to demand contingency planning for staff previously shielding in the context of rising levels of infection.

"After writing to Deputy First Minister John Swinney earlier this month, we received confirmation that the matter of previously-shielding staff would be reviewed at CERG (Covid-19 Education Recovery Group)." 

He added: "The EIS is clear that working from home must be accommodated for paused-shielding teachers where that is the clinical advice. Some local authorities are resisting this, which we regard as a failure in their duty of care to staff.

"The EIS is looking at legal challenges where necessary. Councils must urgently address the daily risks being faced by previously shielding teachers who are back in school and whose physical and mental health is at greater risk.”

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Mr Swinney has previously said that the latest guidance “indicates that those who were formerly shielding can return to work in schools, and that an individualised risk assessment should be undertaken”.

He added: “As the guidance outlines, risk assessments should consider measures that can be taken to lower the risk of transmission amongst staff and pupils in all parts of the school.

“The decisions on where teachers and school staff who have previously been shielding are deployed are for individual schools and local authorities, in line with their responsibilities as employers, following individualised risk assessment.”