A TEACHING union has called for face-to-face college classes to be suspended until February over worries about risks to staff health.

The EIS has said that some colleges, which it does not name, plan to return to in-person teaching from next week.

The union claims this could be in breach of Scottish Government guidance issued by education minister Richard Lochhead, which urged colleges to keep numbers attending “to an absolute minimum”.

READ MORE: Private school head launches furious attack on closure of Scotland's schools

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said colleges should not operate in person until the end of the current lockdown period.

Nicola Sturgeon announced this week that mainland Scotland would be put into lockdown until February 1, including the closure of schools to the majority of pupils and a legally enforceable stay-at-home order.

“The EIS calls on all colleges and universities to suspend all face-to-face teaching during this national lockdown and rely on online teaching and learning,” Flanagan said.

“There is no reason for lecturers to attend their workplaces; they are not designated as key workers and they should be working from home as per the Government’s advice.”

He added that the union “will consider all options in order to safeguard the health and safety of our members”.

Lochhead’s guidance to the higher and further education sector said: “Colleges can open under their area’s protection level guidance as before but as with universities we will be reviewing this during the course of this week to see if any further changes are required and again numbers attending colleges should be kept at the absolute essential minimum.

“Our fundamental advice, for everyone, is to stay at home. It will only be permissible to leave home for an essential purpose. Anyone who is able to work from home must do so.

“Education will remain an essential purpose, but I want to be clear that for universities and colleges any education that can be done online during this period of tighter restrictions must be done online.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The minister for further and higher education wrote to all principals this week to emphasise any education that can be done online during this period of tighter restrictions must be done online, and that numbers attending college should be kept at the absolute essential minimum.

“We are looking very urgently this week, working with colleges, universities, unions and student representatives, as to whether any further changes are required to arrangements for the start of term.”

It comes as a powerful Scottish Government advisory group backed classrooms being closed until February 1.

READ MORE: Scottish schools should shut until February, say government advisers

Their position will now be considered by Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet and an announcement made in an emergency statement at 2pm today.

If endorsed, it would mean only children of key workers would be able to attend classes in school while remote and online learning would continue for all other pupils until the end of January.

Mainland Scotland has been in level four lockdown since Boxing Day and face-to-face learning is currently scheduled to be back on January 18.

However, concerns about a new strain of covid-19 are growing, and the Scottish Government is expected to announce additional restrictions - including a stay at home order.

On schools, it is understood that the Government’s advisory sub group on education recommended that classrooms should remain closed until February 1.
This was backed by the Education Recovery Group (ERG), which met this morning, according to a report in the Record. If agreed by the Cabinet, it would be kept under rolling review.