A round-up of the latest updated advice and information related to Covid and education, from the EIS
As reported in the ebulletin, following sustained pressure from the EIS some progress has been made in relation to the new Test and Protect (T&P) procedures regarding members’ concerns about teachers and schools not being informed promptly around positive cases amongst pupils.
The problem stemmed from contact tracing now being handled by Local Health Teams, which have adopted the approach that pupils are deemed low risk and therefore routine contact, such as sitting next to someone all day, is similarly deemed low risk and only something such as an overnight stay would create a high-risk category, instigating direct contact from T&P and the need for a PCR test.
The EIS argued for all close contacts, as previously defined, to be required to take a PCR test. This has not been conceded by either Public Health Scotland (PHS) or the Scottish Government, which argues that the rules for child to adult close contact procedures are the same within schools as in the general public i.e. only considered high risk where there is more than routine contact e.g. family circumstance. As a result, teachers are unlikely to be identified by Local Health Teams (LHTs) as high-risk contacts, with that aspect now reverting to schools (as it did under the old system).
It has been agreed, however, that all pupil contacts, as identified by schools, will now get a targeted “warn and inform” letter, renamed an “information letter”, with a recommendation that a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) is undertaken before pupils return to class. Teachers of classes where positive cases have been identified will receive an information letter also, which is an improvement.
Schools, however, are not routinely contacted by LHTs, whose default is to advise the parent of a positive child to report the matter to the school. In our view this potentially creates a delay in teachers becoming aware of any increased risks. Whilst double vaccination does offer a level of protection, it is clear, given the record high number of teachers infected despite nearly 94% double vaccination, that it is not a guaranteed protection. Additionally, many teachers have heightened vulnerabilities or live with family members in the same situation. We have expressed serious concern, therefore, at the potential lack of rigour in the communication process and are pressing for LHTs to automatically inform schools of all positive cases.
Once a school is aware of a case, it should issue the information letters to pupils and staff as required. EIS advice to members, thereafter, is that if you receive an “information letter” you should immediately take a Lateral Flow Test and, further, if you are anxious about the personal risk, believe that you are in fact a close contact of the pupil (as previously defined), or have increased vulnerability you should request that your Headteacher immediately seeks further advice from the LHT and you should book an asymptomatic PCR test (schools are now able to request a supply of PCR tests to enable quicker processing) whilst awaiting any contact from LHT.
The advice on Test and Protect applies to ASN settings also but clearly it is much more likely that there will have been closer contact between staff and students in such settings and the need for automatic PCR testing will be greater. The updated Scottish Government Guidance does have additional advice re ASN settings, which we have pressed for, which makes clear that ASN settings are likely to be higher risk environments to begin with and therefore where cases are identified advice should be sought from the LHT. We have asked for clarification on how this higher risk assessment by the LHT is triggered as at the moment it seems to depend on the school being alert, rather than being built into the process.
Uptake amongst teachers of the twice weekly lateral flow test is reported at below 30%. Whilst this figure is probably lower than reality, as not everyone records negative tests, the EIS would urge members to take advantage of the LFTs as an additional measure to protect themselves and colleagues and minimise the risk of in-school transmission
As we move into Autumn, with Winter just around the corner, the critical role of ventilation in combatting in-school transmission comes sharply into focus. £10 million was made available by the Scottish Government to facilitate the deployment of CO2 monitors across the country as a means of testing air flow in classrooms, with an October deadline of overtaking the mapping process (although not all Councils will meet this deadline.).
There is significant global demand for CO2 monitors, but most Councils have been able to source supplies and COSLA is coordinating some sharing where it is required.
The EIS will be delivering training for school reps in October on Ventilation challenges but some of the remedial action already showing up can be basic, such as the need for jammed windows to be unstuck or for fans to be provided in rooms with limited natural ventilation. Schools should be taking any obvious action such as these now, as opposed to waiting for any survey to be completed.
It would seem that a good number of Councils are allowing pregnant staff in the third trimester to work from home if they wish. As well as this being appropriate from a risk management perspective, it also gives Councils some capacity around supporting the vast numbers of pupils absent through Covid related reasons. The EIS met with COSLA representatives recently and pressed the need for best practice to be applied across all 32 Councils instead of a postcode lottery being in operation, especially in light of the high levels of infection which we are experiencing at the present time. A commitment was given to raise the matter further within COSLA structures.