EVERY teacher, pupil and member of support staff in our schools should feel safe. It’s a simple principle and every party in Parliament agrees but in the era of Covid it’s far more challenging than ever before and, unfortunately, that sense of safety simply isn’t there in too many of our schools.

That’s why the Greens proposed our safe schools measures to Parliament this week, which I’m glad to say passed by 64 votes to one, with all SNP MSPs abstaining.

Understandably, there was a huge amount of stress and anxiety amongst staff when schools re-opened in August. That has only worsened as the second wave hits Scotland.

Our young people’s education has unquestionably been damaged but disruptions and closures have far wider impacts on their mental health, social development and for some, losing the stability and security of school has been a direct risk to their health and wellbeing.

This can’t be a binary choice between total closure and just pretending that schools can operate as if everything is normal though. Safety measures like social distancing are essential but we know that this is functionally impossible in classrooms no bigger than they were in March.

And we can see by the sheer number of absences that schools are struggling. Several have had to partially close already due to low staff levels.

Across the country more than 2500 school staff are off due to Covid-19, along with over 26,000 pupils, but from what I’m being told, that is an undercount.

I say that with huge reluctance. I do not want to undermine confidence in official statistics but I cannot ignore what so many teachers are telling me with such consistency.

Many are reporting being prevented from listing every pupil or staff member who was a close contact of a positive case by senior managers wishing to keep self-isolation numbers low. Predictably, this just results in more pupils getting sick as infectious kids aren’t sent home.

And some councils have, to the First Minister’s frustration, even told teachers to turn the protect.scot Test and Trace app off. Much more seriously, a number have told me that they’ve been advised to ignore notifications from the app to self-isolate.

Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) staff in particular feel incredibly exposed. More than a thousand teachers have had requests to work from home rejected and I’ve been contacted by dozens with vastly reduced lung capacity, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with heart conditions and severe asthma who have all been told that they must attend in person.

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These are individuals whose GPs, specialists and occupational health officers have all recommended they do not expose themselves to a school environment but whose employers have insisted that they come in. These are teachers terrified, with justification, that going to work right now could kill them.

In an increasing number of cases the behaviour of their employers has escalated to bullying and unions are now involved.

Parliament has now backed a Green call to make sure vulnerable teachers can work from home or in a safer environment. Where that isn’t possible, they should be supported to go on leave without loss of income. The Government must now act to ensure that CEV staff are supported.

Some councils have been quite open about the reason why they are preventing staff from working from home or self-isolating – that there aren’t enough other staff available to keep schools open. Not only is this grossly irresponsible towards CEV staff, who frankly feel like it’s been decided that they are expendable, it is short-sighted and dangerous when it just leads to infectious individuals staying in school and transmitting the virus.

Social distancing can only happen with smaller classes, which is why teaching unions called in the summer for 3500 additional teachers. Since then only around 1400 posts were funded and recruited, which is why my motion called for funding for the recruitment of another 2000 teachers.

Given staff absence rates already, before flu season begins, additional recruitment will be critical to simply keeping schools open, never mind reducing class sizes.

Finally, testing is still an area where the Greens have been consistently concerned by the Government’s approach and lack of urgency or ambition.

The World Health Organisation is clear on this. We have to test as many people as possible and do it regularly, whether they have symptoms or not. In Liverpool, where they have introduced mass testing, 700 cases have been found where the person showed no symptoms.

That’s why our calls to provide weekly tests for frontline staff have been backed twice by Parliament, firstly for NHS and care workers (of which only regular testing for care staff has actually been delivered by Government), and now when it comes to school staff and senior pupils too.

Parliament has given the Government a clear instruction to act, to deliver regular testing, protect vulnerable staff and recruit the additional teachers required both to avoid school closures due to Covid-related absences and to take on the huge additional workload created by the pandemic.

This is the least our school staff and pupils deserve during a very difficult winter.