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Teacher in class room with school pupils raising their hands.

News: High absence levels and continued ventilation issues as term starts

Posted 11 January, 2022 by Nina Joynson

As children return to classrooms, schools are experiencing high levels of teacher and pupil absences while trying to handle ventilation responsibilities.

Following a festive season of record-breaking numbers of coronavirus cases, councils are facing increased levels of Covid-related staff and pupil absences.

Amongst the highest was Aberdeen City Council, which reported 222 teacher absences at the end of the first week back to school, representing 6% of teachers in the area. Figures were similar elsewhere with data from West Lothian Council suggesting approximately 5% of the teaching workforce is off for Covid-related reasons.

Return to remote learning

While many schools across Scotland have returned from the holidays to in-person teaching, a number have had to utilise remote learning in some capacity due to the high level of staff absent.

Local authorities across Scotland, including Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Falkirk and Highland each reported having at least one school that had to operate remote learning for one or multiple year groups.

Self isolation period reduced

In an update to Parliament last week regarding the reduction of the self-isolation period from 10 to 7 days, Nicola Sturgeon said that “our priority is to keep schools open and to minimise further disruption to education”.

She also promised the Government’s coordination with councils “to ensure the guidance issued before Christmas is followed to keep schools not just open but as safe as possible.”

Ventilation concerns

In an ongoing and long-running debate about the air quality in classrooms, teachers have been instructed to make their own judgement on ventilation during the winter months, balancing pupil comfort with necessary air circulation - advice which has not been well-received by the teaching community.

Scottish Teachers for Positive Change and Wellbeing, a community group founded in 2020, has criticised the approach, arguing that no changes have been made to improve ventilation despite the issue first being identified in May 2020.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament today, Nicola Sturgeon announced additional funding for local authorities, with £5 million made available to support any remedial work that councils need to do to increase airflow in learning environments. This comes in addition to previous funding for the provision of carbon dioxide monitors in classrooms.