The National Education Union is calling upon Government to move learning online in all primary schools including primary special schools in England for at least 2 weeks and issuing advice to all members informing them of their legal rights not to have to work in an unsafe environment.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"The National Education Union knows that the science suggests that to get infection rates down schools should not be open in the first two weeks of January.
'The reports from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from the 23rd of December, the Sage papers dated 22nd of December but released on 31st of December or the report from Imperial College on the 31st of December - all have the same message - that it will not be possible with the new variant to get R below one without at least a period of school closure.
'Cases were rising rapidly amongst school age children at the end of last term and they were the highest rates of any demographics. These children live as part of families and in communities and they can spread the infection into their families and into the wider community.
'There is scientific concern that the new variant might be more prevalent amongst younger people than the previous variants.
'We are calling on Gavin Williamson to actually do what he professes he does – to follow the science and announce, now, that primary schools in England should move learning online - apart from key worker and vulnerable children for at least the first two weeks of January.
'It is not good enough to always be behind the curve, playing catch up with new strains of COVID, seeing hospital admissions rise and cases numbers spiral out of control.
'Whilst we are calling on the Government to take the right steps as a responsible Union we cannot simply agree that the Government’s wrong steps should be implemented.
'That is why we are doing our job as a union by informing our members that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions which are a danger to their health and to the health of their school communities and more generally.
We are informing our members of their legal right to protection to be guided by the science. In order for viral levels in children and in the community to decrease to below R1 primary schools should not open in the first weeks of January. We will be informing our members that they have the right to work in safe conditions which do not endanger their health. This means that they can be available to work from home and to work with key worker and vulnerable children but not available to take full classes from Monday, the 4th of January.
'We realise that this late notice is a huge inconvenience for parents and for head teachers. The fault, however, is of the Government’s own making and is a result of their inability to understand data, their indecisiveness and their reckless approach to their central duty – to safeguard public health.
'Education is really, really important but you’re not going to get that education if this virus gets out of control in the community as schools will have to close then for a longer period of time.
'We do want schools to be open safely as soon as possible. We want to work with Government to achieve that central aim".