Teachers have hit out over what they say are critical gaps and weaknesses in efforts to contain Covid-19 on school campuses, with some left feeling like “lambs to the slaughter”.

One secondary teacher in Glasgow told The Herald on Sunday that access to and advice on coronavirus testing for staff had been “pretty non-existent” – even when pupils are instructed to self-isolate after a case of the illness is identified.

It comes amid claims that educators are feeling pressure to disable the tracing app on phones and not go for tests in case this leads to significant numbers selfisolating and makes it impossible to ensure adequate cover at schools.

There have also been reports of teachers being asked to exceed class size limits because there are not enough staff. Warning that absence rates in some classes were at least 50 per cent, the teacher said guidelines on social distancing between colleagues and pupils were being routinely breached, and that no additional safety measures had been put in place despite Glasgow being subject to level four restrictions.

“I think we’re all feeling that nobody cares about us,” said the teacher, who is at a local authority-run school.

“Many of us are feeling unsafe. The Government is pretending it’s all fine on the ground in schools but it isn’t.”

Leaders at the NASUWT and SSTA unions backed the teacher’s concerns and said members had raised similar fears.

Earlier this week, the EIS union warned of possible strike action unless more pupils are educated at home in the areas hardest hit by the virus.

It comes as data for children and young people shows that, although infection rates declined across most age groups in the week ending November 15, they were still well up on mid-September.

Figures for 14 to 15 and 16 to 17-year-olds were higher than those for the full population. On November 24, 26,940 pupils were not in school either all or part of the day because of Covid-related reasons.

More than 2,500 staff were absent due to reasons connected with the virus, of which 1,502 were teaching staff.

Figures published last Sunday by this newspaper showed that around 1,000 teachers across regions under the most stringent restrictions were absent over a recent six-week period because they had either tested positive for Covid-19 or had symptoms.

Absences directly related to Covid positive tests had doubled in the past month in some tier four areas.

Igor Rudan, professor of international health and molecular medicine at Edinburgh University, has also suggested that uncertainty over the age at which teenagers are more likely to spread Covid19 could be grounds for a more cautious approach in secondary schools. The teacher in Glasgow, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “We have had a number of cases where children have been told to self-isolate but nothing has been said to teachers about our testing and treatment for Covid.

“There’s been no access to or advice about testing at all for teachers in our school. There’s been very little formal communication from school management about it ... I would say that, in my experience, access to and advice on testing ... has been pretty non-existent so far. If someone in my class has a positive test, a deputy head will come in and say anyone sitting within two metres of that pupil must self-isolate but nothing is said to the teacher about what they can or should do.”

The teacher said adherence to social distancing at school had been poor.

“There’s supposed to be two metres between teachers and pupils [but] pupils come up to us all the time, approach us all the time – because they’re kids,” the teacher said.

“The most I’ve had in a class has been 28 pupils. Other colleagues have had 30, others more than that – and that can be six or seven times a day. Some colleagues are teaching 200 pupils a day – easily.”

The teacher added: “In my fourth year class a number of pupils are self-isolating officially and then there are other pupils who aren’t coming in because classmates have been told to self-isolate and they’re fearful.

“I’m losing over half the pupils in some classes. Some pupils are self-isolating for the third of fourth time. There hasn’t been any extra safety put in place since Glasgow was put into tier four.”

Asked whether her union’s members had raised concerns about lack of access to Covid testing and advice at school, Jane Peckham, national official (Scotland) for NASUWT, said: “It’s an experience shared not just among our members in Glasgow but across the country.

“I’m aware that, sometimes, staff who are contacted through the test and trace app are feeling pressure from management not to self-isolate. And there is also an issue of staff in some areas being asked to disable the bluetooth switched on for their app in case it leads to significant numbers of staff being told to self-isolate.

“We are receiving some reports of members being asked to exceed class size limits because there aren’t enough staff. Members feel that they should be moving towards a blended learning model which would ... allow some degree of distancing.”

She added: “There’s a feeling among members that education staff are literally just lambs to the slaughter – that there’s this huge focus on keeping schools open but that the safety of teaching staff is not of paramount importance.”

The signs of growing unease with the situation in schools was revealed in a recent survey which showed that parents are demanding that a decision on whether to cancel next year’s Higher exams be made before Christmas, amid fears pupils have little chance of achieving deserved grades if they go ahead.

A survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) also revealed a majority of those who hold a clear view feel the 2021 tests should be scrapped, with nearly three-quarters warning their child’s learning has been significantly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Next year’s National 5 exams have Teachers told The Herald on Sunday that adherence to social distancing at Scottish schools had been poor already been axed and will be replaced with teacher-estimated grades after Education Secretary John Swinney said holding a full diet would be “simply too big a risk”.

The NPFS findings – based on analysis of answers from 4,196 respondents – suggest an overwhelming majority of parents and carers want clarity in the next four weeks.

Just over 74% felt their child’s learning had been significantly disrupted as a result of the pandemic, while only around one in five (21.66%) answered “a great deal” or “a lot” when asked if their child had received sufficient support for learning during periods of lockdown or self-isolation.

Seamus Searson, general secretary at the SSTA, said: “If there’s an instance of Covid in a class or any sort of question at all, a teacher should be told to go and get a test and offered the relevant advice. But there’s a reluctance because schools are then worried about who will cover the class if the result comes back positive and the teacher has to self-isolate.”

He continued: “In terms of safety, schools need to have the flexibility to be able to say, ‘because of infections, we don’t have enough staff at the moment to keep the school running as normal so we’ll have to go to blended learning’ ... but it’s not happening. There are no additional safety measures in schools in tier four areas.”

Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said: “It has been agreed already that every teacher who is concerned that they may be at risk should have access to testing, even if they are not displaying symptoms. Any failure on the part of an employer to facilitate this will be challenged.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “We are sorry to hear that one of our teachers feels like this ... However, the allegations being made by this teacher about school and Covidrelated processes are just not true. Extensive Scottish Government advice has been issued since the return of our schools in August – to schools, pupils and parents.

“New information – including updated guidance on all levels – has been shared with headteachers, as recently as November 18. This includes additional measures in relation to risk assessments that all our schools are continuing to update to make sure that they follow the current rules and help reduce the risk of the virus. Our schools adhere to the expert advice from our public health colleagues ... one agreed process is followed and support given to teachers, support staff, pupils and our families.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said “robust measures” were in place to protect school communities and that there was “no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children”.

She added that only 0.9% of total absences as at November 24 were due to pupils who had a Covid-19 related sickness.

“We have already put in place arrangements to allow members of school staff who are concerned that they have been at risk from infection to request a test whether or not they have symptoms,” she said.

“An enhanced surveillance programme for schools is in place and a nationwide voluntary survey of education staff in schools or early learning and childcare settings is helping to identify whether those tested are likely to have had coronavirus (Covid-19). From the return of the school term in January, a number of school pilots will also get under way with the aim of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing among school staff.

“The updated guidance on reducing the risks of Covid-19 in schools clearly sets out additional protection measures for schools at all five levels in the Strategic Framework, with further enhanced measures for those in level three and four areas.”