No one wanted schools and colleges to be shut again but the evidence clearly pointed to the necessity for this to happen weeks ago.

Commenting on the announcement of new national restrictions which now include the closure of schools and colleges except to the children of key workers and vulnerable children, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“This is a crisis point for the nation, and a great deal of what got us here should not simply be blamed on new strains of the virus. 

“The government has had eight months to prepare for a renewed period of remote learning, and for alternatives to exam assessment at GCSE and A Level, but it has not used that time wisely or well. Gavin Williamson has become an expert in putting his head in the sand – ignoring the mounting evidence of COVID-19 transmission in schools to education professionals and into pupils’ households.  SAGE told ministers on 22 December that even a lockdown of the same severity as last spring would not be enough to reduce the R rate below 1.  It is incomprehensible that, with this information, the Prime Minister even yesterday continued to declare that schools were safe.  These are not the words of a leader who is ‘following the science’. 

“Under the first national lockdown, schools became a political football. This time things have to be different. Government must make pupils a priority. They can start by fulfilling a long-broken promise to provide laptops and internet access for all pupils so that they are able to access remote learning at home.  

“Much more has to be done for vulnerable pupils. This time government cannot falter in ensuring those young people are safe, have enough food and are supported in maintaining their mental health. 

“On 10 June the NEU wrote to Boris Johnson with its education recovery plan containing recommendations on all these important steps to promote children and young peoples’ health, wellbeing and education. (1) We received no reply. We commend it to Boris again. We want to work with the Government to achieve much better outcomes for our nation’s children and young people in this period of lockdown. 

“Government must take responsibility for neglecting schools and colleges – bringing back pupils and staff into crowded buildings, with no social distancing, poor ventilation and no PPE – which has resulted in primary and secondary pupils being the two most infected age groups. Their ability, with the increased transmissibility of the new strains of the virus, to transmit COVID-19 to their households and into their communities, and to adults in schools – teachers, support staff and leaders – has caused such fear in education professionals. Government needs now to exercise its duty of care, which has been sorely lacking, to those who have worked so tirelessly and heroically, to take care of the nation’s youth. 

“No one wanted schools and colleges to be shut again but the evidence clearly pointed to the necessity for this to happen weeks ago. Why Boris Johnson allowed such confusion and chaos to build up around school openings before making this belated, blindingly obvious decision is beyond belief. Government must take responsibility for this closure because it has allowed COVID-19 to become, again, out of control.” 


Editor’s Note

  1. NEU’s Education Recovery Plan, 10 June 2020: