General Secretary Larry Flanagan updated Council on the previous day’s meeting of the Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG). It has been announced at that meeting that it was the final time that CERG would meet – this had come as a surprise to the EIS, said Mr Flanagan, which had not been consulted on this decision. The Scottish Government and COSLA had agreed between themselves to call a halt to CERG without consulting other group members, he said. Instead, there will be monthly meetings of Officials to review data.
Mr Flanagan said that these changes highlighted that the Scottish Government is set on the path of removing Covid mitigations, due for late March. Essentially this means that most Covid mitigations will be removed, and guidance will replace statute in many areas. The EIS has raised concerns over this, as we have already seen significant variance in practice across the country, which is likely to become even more of an issue once regulations are lifted. The EIS has also raised significant concerns over the removal of the availability of testing in schools, which is likely to increase risk of further significant outbreaks. There has been a surge in infections in recent weeks, with another new variant (Omicron B) making up the vast majority of new cases.
Andrew Fullwood (Glasgow) said, “Would like to say that I was surprised that CERG is being wound up, but I am not surprised at all. Authorities are already making assumptions of ‘back to business as usual’ at the end of March. This highlights the importance of Health & Safety Reps, where the EIS should look at building on the capacity that we already have by training more H&S Reps.”
Nicola Fisher (Glasgow) added, “I never cease to be disgusted by the wishful thinking on the part of government. It’s all political – it’s not about safety, and shows a cavalier disregard for the safety of people in schools. COSLA and the Scottish Government are in cahoots displaying a total disregard for the welfare of staff and pupils in schools. If education recovery was so important to them as they claim, they wouldn’t be doing this – absences on the part of staff and students will derail education recovery. There is more Covid than ever in our schools, which is a huge concern. It is unbelievable that they are getting rid of testing in schools in these circumstances.”
Vice-President elect Paula McEwan (Inverclyde) said, “We need to push against the mitigations being lifted. The back to business as usual doesn’t mean that we are recovered as a sector – our members are still being impacted and young people are still being affected.”
Alison Murphy (Edinburgh) said, “Clinically vulnerable staff are increasingly terrified by what is going on, and the increased risk they are being placed in as mitigations are removed.”
Susan Quinn (Glasgow) expressed serious concerns that special leave arrangements for Covid and long-Covid might be discontinued, and that Covid absences would then be treated like any other sickness absence. “We need assurances that there will still be special leave arrangements”, she said.
General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “We will write to the Cabinet Secretary highlighting all of the concerns raised by Council. We must challenge the business as usual agenda, which too many councils are already looking to implement.”
Claire Robertson (Edinburgh) and Anne-Marie McDermott (Glasgow) raised concerns about the mixed message of EIS opposing lifting of mitigations, but planning for a return to in-person Committee, Executive and Council meetings. The President responded that this is remaining under review, and Executive was aware of the concerns around this.
Larry Flanagan added, “A return to physical meetings is a balancing act, weighing up the benefits versus the risks. There will be facility for people to attend remotely if they so wish. We are planning for a physical AGM in June, and holding Committees and Council in person is an initial step towards this.”