• 44% of schools did not open more widely to the any of the year groups suggested by the Prime minister on 1 June - with the vast majority of them remaining open to key worker/vulnerable children as they have been since 23 March. (Table 1a)
  • 35% of schools opened on 1 June on the terms expected by the Prime Minister. (Table 1a)
  • 21% of schools opened more widely, but on less than the terms expected by the Prime Minister. (Table 1a)
  • By the end of this week, an additional 6% of schools (Table 2) will have opened more widely, but more than two-thirds of them to less than the eligible set of year groups. (Table 3)
  • The regional variation in school openings tracks closely with the levels of Coronavirus in each region. Just 12% of schools in the North East and 8% in the North West – where levels of coronavirus are higher – opened fully to all eligible year groups in their school. (Table 1b)

23,045 members responded to the survey. One representative from each school was used in the final weighting. In total 10,953 schools are covered by the sample, amounting to 63% of nursery and primary schools in England (17,322). Results have been filtered where relevant to exclude ‘don’t know’ or ‘no answer’, resulting in a smaller sample for some questions while remaining a reflection of schools not members.

Wider opening and pupil attendance

Nationally, schools’ understanding of the proportion of eligible pupils who will attend at the point of wider opening is as follows:

Less than 25%

16%

Between 25%-50%

41%

Between 51%-75%

32%

Between 76%-99%

9%

100%

1%

(Table 4)

Staff availability

There remained uncertainty around staffing going into 1 June.

The survey shows that the majority of schools are behaving sensitively to the needs of vulnerable staff and those who live with vulnerable people.

The union is however actively supporting hundreds of vulnerable members being asked to return to work in schools where social distancing is not possible and PPE not provided.

15% of schools appear to be asking staff who are clinically vulnerable to work on the school site from 1 June. Another 1% of schools are asking the same of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Staff who are clinically vulnerable

15%

Staff who live with someone clinically vulnerable

20%

Staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable

1%

Staff who live with someone clinically extremely vulnerable

4%

(Table 5)

In comments, respondents expanded on vulnerable staff:

“It appears that staff who were previously not coming in (to support looking after key worker/vulnerable children) due to their circumstances are now being included on the new rota/’social bubble’ groups (wider opening).”

“Everyone expected at work unless they have a government letter or are ill with Covid-19 and it would go down as a sickness absence.”

“My employer has shown no consideration for my situation and the position she has put me. I am considering leaving my job because of the stress it has caused myself and my family.”

“There has been no formal agreement for clinically vulnerable to work from home or be socially distanced on site at present.”

“We have all been ‘rated’ by our head (who has limited medical knowledge!) and being brought in when needed. The hope is that extremely clinically vulnerable won’t be needed but plenty of clinically vulnerable are already needed due to size of school.”

Schools will continue to need to show flexibility for some time given the number of staff who may only be available to work from home because of their level of vulnerability.

Priorities for pupils

When asked to choose their priorities during the period when pupils return to school after months in lockdown, the top choices of NEU members were as follows:

Mental health and emotional wellbeing of pupils

84%

Supporting upcoming transitions between schools/settings or year groups

42%

Re-establishing relationships

41%

Supporting families

32%

Tailoring care and support for pupils’ circumstances

31%

(Table 6)

“We have been asked to focus initially on pupils’ mental wellbeing and not to rush back to learning.”

“Mental health and transition focus for Year 6.”

“Learning isn't the largest concern coming back. More a focus on settling anxiety and building back mental wellbeing though project work.”          

“It will be extremely difficult to teach core curriculum as we are limited by resources, feedback and marking, the proximity in which we can work with them and they can work with their peers.”

“Cannot see normal learning being able to take place with Reception and Year 1 pupils, but maybe for Year 6.”

“National tests are at the very bottom of our priority list. Support and reassurance for staff, pupils and families is the priority.”

The latter comment reflects the national mood, with almost no respondents (39 in all) saying that “preparing for national tests” is in their top three priorities.

Regional Hotspots

There was a clear regional variation in the proportion of schools meeting the Prime Minister’s criteria, tracked to the levels of Coronavirus in the region. Schools in the North East and North West of England were least likely to have opened to all eligible groups, these regions having amongst the highest levels of Coronavirus.

East Mid

East of England

London

North East

North West

South East

South West

West Mid

Yorkshire/Humber

All year groups at school

37%

50%

32%

12%

8%

48%

48%

41%

29%

Pillar 1 positive test results per 100,000 on 22 May

1.62

1.50

0.61

1.95

2.53

1.43

0.56

1.89

2.05

(Table 1b)

Commenting on the results, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Schools have been open throughout lockdown, caring for children of key workers and vulnerable children. It is clear from our latest survey, marking the start of lockdown easing, that many schools intend to delay wider opening. Some are not extending their opening beyond key workers and vulnerable children this term. Many have delayed wider opening until later in June. Others will be opening for some but not all the age groups recommended by Government. All this will make our communities safer.

“It was always reckless of Boris Johnson to set an arbitrary date and expect schools to fall in line. Heads and their staff know far more about their individual challenges than Whitehall ever will. As the regional variation according to Coronavirus levels show, schools are listening to the science rather than politicians.

“This disconnect should be a wake-up call for Government. Not only is the safety of the Government’s plan in question but also the feasibility of it and confidence of headteachers in what the Prime Minister requested. The Prime Minister should now act to ensure that education unions are involved in the planning of further steps as they are in Scotland and Wales.

“The NEU and many prominent scientists, including Independent SAGE, believe it would have been safer for all schools to begin the move to a wider opening in a couple of weeks from now, when the number of new cases per day should be lower and the system of testing, tracking and isolation of new cases is bedded in.

"Our survey shows this continues to be a complex, challenging situation for schools. Heads, teachers and support staff are using their professional judgement, working with the children they teach in circumstances where official guidance has been published long after planning needs to start.

ENDS

Editor’s Notes

Wider School Opening survey

Respondents to a survey conducted by the National Education Union between 31 May and 1 June, reveals the pragmatism of schools when asked to open more widely under easing of lockdown.

Fieldwork: 31 May 2020 - 1 June 2020.

Staff from 10,953 mainstream state nursery, primary, primary deemed middle schools and all-through schools in England are represented in this survey. Results have been de-duplicated by school.

On 11 May, in a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister announced his ambition to open schools to nursery, reception, years 1 and 6 on 1 June. This was understood to be conditional on the Government’s own Coronavirus alert system dropping from Level 4 to Level 3. Despite remaining at Level 4 on 28 May, the Prime Minister confirmed wider opening of schools from 1 June as first proposed. 

2020-096-NEU