Our union is calling on all primary and post-primary schools to extend remote learning to the first two weeks of January, except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
We will write to employers, urging them to look at the advice of SAGE, the Government’s scientific advisory group, and we are urging our members, on the basis of that science, to use a model letter to inform their school Principal that it is no longer safe for them to be in school – in crowded buildings with no commitment to social-distancing, limited PPE and often inadequate ventilation
We are asking members to be available to work from home and to support remote learning.
This is a step we take with huge reluctance. But the Executive is failing to protect children, their families and our communities. And it is failing in its duty of care to education staff who have worked tirelessly to look after children during this pandemic.
In December, we called for schools to be closed for two weeks at the start of the spring term in order to provide a circuit breaker and lower infections. Our view was ignored but our call has become even more urgent as the new variant of Covid-19 is spreading far more quickly than in March.
We now know that SAGE also called for all schools to be closed in January to keep the R rate below 1. This advice was issued on 22 December and the Minister and the Minister and Executive have done little to follow it.
The science now tells us that, although children largely do not become ill with Covid-19, they spread it effectively to others. To their parents, their families and into their communities.
That is why SAGE wanted schools to close – as a way of keeping the public safe.
If Government does not act to follow the science, we must.
Our NHS is on severely stretched – infection rates are at their highest since March, people are dying every day and hospitals are struggling to cope with a tidal wave of new cases.
We cannot stand by and see our members, their pupils, their families and the communities we serve put in harm's way like this.
NHS staff have been working flat out since March and are exhausted and fearful of how they will cope with the hugely increasing number of very sick patients.
We are education professionals, and we all want schools to be open for all pupils. We know, to our very core, how important education is to children’s wellbeing and life chances.
But we will not sit by and see the worsening of a health catastrophe in this way.