By Peter Quinn
Teachers are warning that the focus will need to be on the mental health of themselves, parents and students if the effects of the Omicron COVID-19 variant force schools to close once more in 2022.
While the Scottish Education Secretary has emphasised that keeping schools open remains the “absolute priority”, the huge rise in cases across the country over the holiday period has forced the issue to be raised once more, as other aspects of daily life are facing the prospect of additional restrictions into the new year.
If a return to online learning for children does indeed take place, teachers will hope that the emphasis will be on mental health, just as it was the first time schools closed during the pandemic, in 2020. Roisin Timms, a primary school teacher in the Falkirk area, explained why the first closure should be used as a model if required, rather than the second closure in early 2021.
“We need to make sure that children are happy and supported”Roisin Timms, primary school teacher
“I know from speaking to colleagues and friends that the second lockdown was definitely much harder mentally than it was the first time around,” Mrs Timms told UWS News. “If we were to return to online learning, I think we need to go back to that focus of mental health. We need to make sure that children are happy and supported.
“I would be worried about how people’s mental health would be affected (if schools were forced to close once more). This has had a massive, massive impact on people and I think this might be the final straw for some people if we are to go back to online learning.”
The second closure did prove a particularly stressful time for teachers and students alike. A poll carried out as schools returned in February and March of 2021 found that one in three teachers were suffering so much from the additional pressures of online teaching that they had considered quitting the profession.
The poll, conducted by Ecclesiastical Insurance, also found that teachers across the UK have noticed an increase in mental health issues at their school among staff. 57% of those surveyed also believed that schools need to do more to support their staff’s wellbeing.
A similar poll conducted by Scottish trade union EIS in December 2021 discovered that 61% of teachers in Scotland had noted a “significant” increase in their workload during the pandemic. Additionally, over 45% of teachers stated that they were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their job overall following the events of the past two years.
The First Minister is expected to include an update on what the immediate future will look like for Scottish schools in her briefing tomorrow (Wednesday 5th) at around 2pm.