Commenting on today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said:
“We are astonished at today’s announcement by Gavin Williamson.
With warnings from eminent scientists of an ‘imminent catastrophe’ unless the whole of the UK is locked down, and with more cases in hospitals than ever before and our NHS facing an enormous crisis the Secretary of State is sending the majority of primary pupils and staff back on Monday to working environments which aren’t COVID secure.
The Government has not, despite being repeatedly asked, published the scientific guidance on the risks involved in school and college reopening. This information is desperately needed - particularly as the new variants of the virus are 50% more transmissible.
The Government in Scotland will not reopen schools till 18 January at the earliest. The Government in Westminster should have done that at least.
A longer period of online working for all primary, secondary and college students could suppress virus levels and buy time both for the roll out of the vaccine and to put in place measures that can keep schools safer.
Uniquely school and college staff are being required to work in overcrowded buildings, with no effective social distancing, no PPE and inadequate ventilation.
We would like Gavin Williamson to explain, if schools are not centres of transmission why school age pupils are now the most infected age groups?
Why is it that Primary age children are the second highest infected of all age groups, or that levels of infection amongst Secondary pupils have multiplied by 75 times since the start of September?
Serious questions also have to be asked about the Government’s plans for lateral flow testing in secondary schools, in particular about the effectiveness of these tests in identifying COVID infection in young people who are highly likely to be asymptomatic, with the tests being supervised by non medically trained volunteers. We do not think it likely that these tests alone can make our schools Covid secure nor protect the communities they serve.
We believe the Government's steps will fail, that cases will continue to rise and that the question of school opening will have to be re-visited but in a worse situation than now. We again call on the Government to engage with us and with the suggestions we have made.
We do not believe, as they are currently organised that schools are safe enough places for education staff to work. We demand the following:
- A review of all risk assessments in the light of the much higher transmission of the new variant.
- Social distancing of 1 metre between pupils in all schools and colleges to replace the current practice of cohort distancing which allows whole year groups to mix without any social distancing.
- Masks to be worn by pupils and staff in secondary school classrooms and colleges
- School staff to be made a top priority for vaccination - along with health care staff and starting with the most vulnerable.
- Until vaccinated, Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff and other high risk groups to work from home, supporting children who are at home.
We reiterate that even with these steps we are concerned that cases will continue to rise making the spread of the virus in our communities more dangerous. We repeat our call on the Government to release its scientific advice and modelling”.
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